The last few years have been stressful. An unprecedented global pandemic, soaring inflation, and a significant conflict in Eastern Europe have made worry and concern ever-present in day-to-day life, and it’s taken its toll.
A survey by Indeed found that more than half of respondents were feeling burned out, and 67% felt that the feeling had worsened over the course of the pandemic1. A similar study by FlexJobs found 75% of people had experienced burnout at work2. It’s an issue that employers can’t afford to ignore. Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day3, and 63% of workers reporting burnout say their overall health and wellness impacts their productivity4.
So, how can you support your staff in avoiding burnout and protect your organization from its damaging effects? In this article, we explain more about work-related burnout, how you can identify it, and what measures you can take to prevent it.
What Is Burnout?
The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. They say it refers “specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life” 5.
What Are the Causes of Burnout?
Burnout is often attributed to prolonged periods of mental and emotional exhaustion, as well as stress related to work. Mayo Clinic lists some of the possible causes of burnout as6:
- Lack of Control: An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments, or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of the resources you need to do your work.
- Unclear Job Expectations: If you're unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you're not likely to feel comfortable at work.
- Dysfunctional Workplace Dynamics: Perhaps you work with an office bully, or you feel undermined by colleagues, or your boss micromanages your work. This can contribute to job stress.
- Extremes of Activity: When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.
- Lack of Social Support: If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.
- Work-Life Imbalance: If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don't have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.
What Are the Symptoms of Burnout?
Someone experiencing burnout may encounter a variety of symptoms which can affect them physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. Here’s a summary of the signs of burnout7:
- Regularly feeling tired and drained.
- Suffering from frequent headaches or muscle pain.
- Experiencing frequent illnesses as a result of lowered immunity.
- Having a change in appetite or sleeping habits.
- Having a sense of failure and self-doubt, or feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated.
- Experiencing a loss of motivation or decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
- Becoming increasingly cynical and having a negative outlook.
- Feeling detached and alone in the world.
- Withdrawing from responsibilities.
- Coping using food, drugs, or alcohol.
- Taking out frustrations on others.
- Voluntarily isolating from others.
- Procrastinating and taking longer to complete tasks.
- Skipping work, arriving late, or leaving early.
If you identify these symptoms in members of your staff, it is possible that they are dealing with burnout.
How to Prevent Burnout
The effects of burnout can be extremely damaging to your staff as well as your organization, making it irresponsible to ignore the problem. The emphasis is on organizations and their leaders to put processes in place to prevent burnout and provide the support their employees need. What steps can you take to better protect your staff? Here are a few examples.
Offer Mental Health Support
Providing a clear avenue of assistance is a fantastic way to ensure your staff feel supported in their role. You should define how your employees can access mental health tools, such as a therapist, psychologist, or stress management specialist. In offering this service, you open a route for staff to receive help with any problems they are facing before they become deep-rooted, long-term issues that lead to burnout.
Create a Safe Space at Work
The general work environment can be inherently stressful, so it’s crucial for staff to have a safe space to get away from the noise and pressure. Find a physical location that is quiet and calm, offering respite from day-to-day pressures, and establish it is a sanctuary for staff to congregate, relax, and unwind in.
Acknowledge and Appreciate Staff
Feeling unrecognized and underappreciated can lead staff to becoming disillusioned with their job and losing motivation. This not only affects the standard of service you provide, but also their mental health. Go out of your way to show your appreciation for the hard work of your team; provide positive feedback wherever possible; and use methods of mass communication, such as bulletin boards or internal messaging systems, to acknowledge staff and their efforts.
Promote Healthy Habits
Whether it’s making fresh fruit available in break rooms or including discounted exercise classes in your employee benefits packages, encouraging healthy habits can only serve to improve the overall wellbeing of your staff.
Be as Flexible as Possible
Even the smallest of changes can have a huge impact on one of your staff. Whether it’s allowing employees to work from home on designated days or changing the schedule to give a worker the opportunity to collect their children from school, being flexible may be the difference between a member of staff leaving and staying.
Encourage the Use of Vacation Time
When your entire team is working tirelessly to cope with increased demand, it can cause members of staff to feel guilt over using their vacation time. It’s pertinent for you, as a leader, to encourage them to make use of their time off and dispel any feelings of guilt they may have by promoting a healthy work-life balance.