Burnout is a mental health issue that employers need to address
While everyone feels stress from work every now and then, employers should know when that stress is leading to burnout.
Job burnout is actually more common than most people realize – but the good news is that it’s something that can be minimized and prevented. Here’s what you can do when you or your employee are feeling burnt out.
Read more: Burnout: Employees say HR ‘not doing enough to help’
Burnout in the workplace
Burnout is defined as a response to prolonged exposure to emotional, physical, and interpersonal stress and exhaustion. It is usually characterized by a chronic feeling of fatigue, cynicism, and inefficacy.
According to a Deloitte study, 91% of 1,000 surveyed employees claim they have trouble handling stress, and 83% say job burnout negatively impacts their personal relationships.
Stress is different from job burnout because stress is temporary or tied to a particular event – unlike burnout, which results from a series of stressful situations. If left unresolved, burnout can give way to severe mental and physical health conditions like clinical depression and a deadly heart condition called atrial fibrillation.
Signs of job burnout vary from person to person. The most common symptom is restlessness and lack of motivation. Other signs employees and managers experience are difficulties concentrating, lack of sleep, growing frustration and irritability with co-workers, losing sight of personal and company goals, getting sick more frequently, isolation, losing interest in favorite pastimes and activities, and poor performance rates.
Read more: Burnout raises your risk for this deadly heart condition
Causes of a job burnout
Job burnout occurs when the demands of work are too much for employees to handle. This is influenced by a lot of various workplace factors, such as:
1. Unreasonable workload and deadlines
Managers and employees can feel stressed and tired when the assigned tasks are too much to handle in the limited time and resources they are given. In a 2018 report by Gallup, employees who claim they have enough time to do their work are 70% less likely to experience burnout.
2. Lack of communication and support between managers and employees
A lack of communication between co-workers leaves them feeling uninformed, lost, alone, and defensive. Gallup reported that employees who feel supported by their managers are about 70% less likely to experience burnout.
3. Unfair treatment at work
Unfair treatment can include bias, favoritism, discrimination, unfair compensation, and mistreatment by a co-worker. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly are more likely to feel unsafe at work and are demotivated.
4. Unclear roles and responsibilities
When expectations and responsibilities are unclear, both employees and managers can become tired just trying to figure out what is expected from them.
The 5 stages of burnout
Burnout is inevitable and affects people differently. However, there is a typical pattern of stages of burnout that most people go through:
1. Honeymoon phase
The first stage happens during the early days and weeks of the job or new tasks. Employees and managers are committed, motivated, and excited to work during the honeymoon phase. Despite work being challenging, employees continue to push themselves to produce high-quality output and may even take on more tasks than they should.
Employees should be careful during this stage as they can create an overworking routine, leading to burnout. Companies and their people should implement healthy coping strategies as soon as possible so employees can remain in the honeymoon phase without the fear of being burnt out.
2. Onset of stress
The second stage is where employees start noticing the stress and certain aspects of the job that they dislike. Employees now try balancing time for their personal life and the fluctuating work pressure, which slowly affects them physically, mentally, and emotionally. Common signs of this stage include job dissatisfaction, lower productivity, neglect of personal needs, and escapist activities – such as eating, drinking, smoking, and zoning out.
3. Chronic stress
Chronic stress is when the stress and negative emotions from the previous stage have intensified and are felt more often. The honeymoon stage's energy, drive, and performance have decreased significantly, and employees are left feeling overwhelmed.
During the chronic stress stage, employees may find themselves in a state of denial and may start blaming others for their stress. Employees begin to procrastinate to avoid facing work and co-workers. Some signs of this stage include chronic exhaustion, anger, and cynical attitude.
The fourth stage is burnout itself. Employees who did not address the previous stages and symptoms can have critical exhaustion levels that make it hard to cope with work demands. In addition, physical symptoms of fatigue and other ailments become very apparent in this stage.
Employees at this stage have become detached from their personal life and have lost a sense of control over their work. At this stage, employees may be at risk of a mental breakdown or a major crisis. It is advised for employees at this stage to seek psychological help and address health needs first before taking on any more work in the office.
5. Habitual burnout
Habitual burnout is the stage where employees no longer realize they are going through burnout because it has become embedded in their life. Although these employees may be seen as hard workers, they are unhappy with their work and feel trapped.
Common symptoms in this stage include chronic sadness, depression, burnout syndrome, chronic mental fatigue, and chronic physical fatigue.
Tips on how to survive a job burnout
While it is not officially considered a mental health illness by the World Health Organization, burnout is still a mental health issue in workplace environments that needs to be addressed.
Below are some tips on how leaders and employees can survive a job burnout.
1. Review the situation and seek support
When employees and leaders are experiencing and seeing burnout in the workplace, it is best to evaluate their issues and concerns with themselves, co-workers, and appropriate supervisors. Discussions can help them understand what is happening and what action plan to take.
Support and collaboration are great tools to have when combatting job burnout. Employees should take advantage of the company’s employee assistance program or any relevant company-offered services that could provide them the assistance they need. Considering this, companies should offer and regularly update company-offered services that help employees with their physical and mental wellbeing, such as employee assistance programs and health insurance.
2. Clarify roles and responsibilities
Companies should be upfront about their expectations for their employees as early as with the job description for new hires. When all roles and responsibilities are clear to each member, it is easier for them to map out their work and tasks and to manage expectations concerning work outputs.
3. Train leaders and members on handling burnout
It is important for every member of the organization to know how to handle stress and prevent burnout. Companies should hold training seminars for all employees and managers on how to identify signs and symptoms of burnout in the workplace and what to do.
4. Recognize hard work
Making employees and managers feel appreciated and well-compensated provides motivation for them to continue working with the organization. Providing a competitive salary and opportunities for growth is a great motivator. However, it is not enough to improve a hostile work environment or excessive workloads. Regular shout-outs in emails, group chats, meetings, or even frequent thank you messages to employees who did a good job can go a long way in preventing burnout.
5. Invest in work-life balance initiatives
Companies should encourage employees to have a proper work-life balance. Putting up initiatives that promote healthy boundaries between work and personal life can help employees take care of themselves and minimize the risk of burnout. Creating social clubs, offering discount gym memberships, and providing more leave benefits are great ways to promote work-life balance, but it is best to ask employees what initiatives could help them best.
Being able to identify the signs of burnout in yourself and your colleagues is vital. Even if it is hard to control the stressors in the workplace, there are ways to minimize and prevent severe job burnouts. And if you or a co-worker is experiencing burnout, be sure to reach out to someone. Even if it feels very isolating, job burnout is common, and you are sure to find a co-worker who understands.