As we reach the tail end of 2020, it’s essential that we talk about how you can tackle burnout at work, and how to identify the symptoms of burnout in case you’ve noticed a colleague or family member is suffering in silence. Stress and emotional exhaustion takes a huge toll on individuals, and I believe it’s something brushed-over by management teams as merely one of the side-effects of ‘business as usual’ and pushing their staff to the limit to drive shareholder value.
The problem with this notion is that the shareholder value you’re delivering is unsustainable if you’re pushing people with a whip, rather than acting to support them in their mission to be a productive member of the team.
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Burnout at work is proving a significant problem for workplaces around the globe, regardless of their size or operations. A recent report from Deloitte that surveyed 1,000 employees in the U.S. says that burnout was noted in 77% of respondents, with more than 50% this group saying they’ve experienced it more than once in the workplace. 91% of this group also agreed that “unmanageable stress or frustration negatively impacts the quality of their work,” so we can see the scale of the problem, as well as its impacts from the get-go.
Back in Australia, SafeWork says that as many as 92% of mental health issues in Australians are attributed to work-related stresses, with researchers putting the cost of the problem at as much as $10.9 billion every year; $4.7 billion in the form of sick days and leave, and as much as $146 in the form of compensation claims.
There’s no need for me to remind you of the type of year that 2020 has been, so with that in mind, let’s break down how you can tackle burnout at work, identify the symptoms and address some issues that employers can take onboard to ensure that the welfare of their employees is a top priority.
What are the Causes & Symptoms of Workplace Burnout?
It’s important to take note of the early symptoms of burning out at work, before they become a mental health issue for yourself, or before they take a potential toll on your employer. These symptoms come in both mental and physical aspects of your health, and while some are noticeable, some others can be easy to miss. Burnout in the workplace can materialise from a number of different areas that aren’t limited to the workplace, either. However, high workloads, a lack of support systems and an absence of leadership are the most notable and common causes of wide scale burnout in organisations.
The major symptoms of workplace burnout include a drop in productivity and output, fraying of professional relationships inside the workplace, detachment and apathy toward the workplace and projects, as well as physical signs of stress, exhaustion, fatigue, headaches, body pains and a depleted immune system, which makes you susceptible to colds and flus. Researchers say that it’s important to note the signs of emotional exhaustion for yourself, and for the people around you. If you’ve noticed that a colleague of yours is considerably more anxious or lethargic, and this persists for more than say, a few days, you should consider helping them.
How Can you Tackle Burnout at Work?
It’s important to remind yourself of a few basic principles that are designed to help remind you of your self-worth. Keep a tidy and organised workstation – which can work wonders for your brain – and make sure that you’re not multitasking to the point that you’re overwhelmed. For the most part, directing 100% of your attention to a project for a short amount of time is more effective than spreading yourself thin over a longer period; this, too, encourages you to burnout. A study from Gallup says that employees, treated fairly and given a reasonable amount of time to complete a task were 70% less prone to workplace stress and burnout.
Perhaps the most significant consideration in this context, however, is to ensure that you’re either passionate about what you’re doing right now, or you believe in the organisation that you’re working for, and you buy into their mission statement. Position descriptions can change, but if you don’t appreciate the workplace you’re in, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to remediate the situation until you get a complete change of scenery. A lack of passion is the primary driver for burnout in the workplace, so if you’ve noted the signs, you can either try to learn new skills to reinvigorate your passion for that particular employer or industry, or perhaps you should be looking at other employment opportunities.
I, of course, recognise the difficulty and stresses involved in looking for employment – but the science says that it’s unlikely you’ll bounce back to your productive and content sense of self if you don’t make a significant change to your working habits.
Below are a number of ways you can tackle burnout at work, or help your colleagues if you’ve noticed a drop in their motivation:
- Work at a steady pace; don’t sprint
- Break large projects down into smaller, bite-sized chunks you can achieve in a single-sitting
- Keep a journal, and note down things you’re appreciative of in your life
- Recognise progression, and celebrate incremental progress
- Take regular breaks; go for a walk, step outside, if possible
- If you’re feeling unwell, seek help; be it internally at work, or outside of the workplace
- Talk to friends and family about how you’re feeling
- Tell your manager that you’re interested in learning new skills
- Eat healthy ingredients, exercise and practice mindfulness; be it meditation, or a simple walk in the park
- Create a self-care strategy that focuses on your happiness; make an effort to do something you love each day
What Can Employers Do to Tackle Employee Burnout at Work?
Research indicates that “nearly 70 per cent of professionals feel their employers are not doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout within their organisation,” meaning that employers have a lot of work to do. To remediate the damage of burning out at work, and to ensure that their employees’ wellbeing is a top priority for the organisation, there needs to be an investment of time, resources and consideration from management in this area.
According to research, the three major drivers of burnout in the workplace are:
- A lack of support or recognition from the leadership or management team
- Unrealistic deadlines or result expectations
- Consistently working long hours, or on weekends
- Working a job they’re not passionate about
One of the simplest, yet most effective ways for employers and management teams to curb burnout in the workplace is to practice the simple art of empathy. Once they put themselves in the shoes of an employee, logic would assume they’re less likely to demand after-hours work and needlessly stressful deadlines and expectations from staff. Once they understand the potential monetary implications of their staff burning out, they’re more likely to become empathetic leaders; after all, the organisation can’t function without it’s employees.
Workplace Strategies for Mental Health writes that some of the most effective ways for managers to curb employee burnout are to:
- Provide ongoing training and parallel competencies to employees
- Destigmatize conversations around mental health & burnout in the workplace
- Provide an organisational chart that shows how one employee contributes to the wider ecosystem
- Projects, deadlines expectations should be challenging, but not unnecessarily stressful
- Ensure boundaries and trust is not broken between managers and employees
- Encourage physical activity in the workplace, before, during or after work-hours
- Provide nutritious food in the workplace that is low in refined sugar; avoid processed foods
- Develop a workplace plan that addresses the signs & impacts of workplace burnout, and provides employees with the opportunity to express their concerns with the management team free of reprisal
I’ve always said that I’m not in the business of hiring people, I’m in the business of hiring brains when I’m looking for staff in my organisations. A core part of my management and leadership philosophy is to help those brains grow, and to provide enough support that the spiritual and mental needs of my staff are at the very least heard, and ideally, actioned upon once raised. While some of the more traditional leadership styles struggle to grasp both the cause, effect and prevention of workplace burnout, it genuinely is a major issue that can be tackled from the ground-up with some simple strategies.
For now, though, thanks for your time – and I’ll see you in the next piece.
Kobi Simmat, Director & CEO of the Best Practice Group
Burnout at work is a serious problem that can have a huge impact on your wellbeing and mental health. It’s important to reach out to organisations like Lifeline and Beyond Blue if you’re feeling as though you’re overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.