When you think about the past 18 months, you'd be forgiven for thinking burnout isn't a huge issue in workplaces at the moment. I mean, no one has been able to travel, many businesses have been closed, we've all had much more time at home with our families than in years past..... But you'd be wrong.
Financial pressures have been rising, living through COVID has brought us all new stresses and pressures that we didn't have before, we've been living without our usual support structures, and we've lost that major break between work and home life.
The term “burnout” was coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions. In 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognized burnout in its International Classification of Diseases but clearly stated that the term “should not be applied to describe experiences in other [nonoccupational] areas of life.”
So what can burnout look like?
Work-related apathy: People who are suffering burnout tend to see their jobs as frustrating, negative and pointless. They might become disenchanted bout their working conditions and colleagues, and feel that getting up everyday to go to work is a struggle. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb or apathetic about their work - things that used to give them job-satisfaction may no longer.
Physical symptoms: Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches, chronic fatigue symptoms, as well as other symptoms like intestinal discomfort, non-specific aches and pains and exacerbation of other health conditions.
Mental Health: Burnout causes a variety of mental health related symptoms, including depression, anxiety, mood issues etc. A person may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and feel that there is no point in getting up and continuing to work everyday. Alternatively, they may experience a high degree of anxiety about attending the workplace, have trouble sleeping and concentrating, and might become agitated, disgruntled or quicker to anger than usual.
Reduced performance: Burnout affects every aspect of a person's home and work life. You might see their performance level dropping, mistakes increasing and an employee with a previously spotless record, may begin receiving complaints about their work or manner.
What can be done to avoid employee burnout?
Make employee roles and responsibilities clear. A lack of focus, direction or understanding of their role, can lead to uncertainty, anxiety and burnout. Ensure the position description is clear, objectives are adequately understood and appropriate training and coaching is provided. Flying blind with a lack of role clarity is in key trigger for burnout.
Provide appropriate support. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP's) are a great source of professional support that employees can access when feeling out of their depth or overwhelmed, and are staffed by appropriately qualified psychologists and social workers.
Ensure excellent communication. Set up different communication channels that are easy for employees to access, and are non-confrontational and promote easy, supportive and productive two-way communication between employees and their managers
Promote work-life balance. And don't just promote it, live it as a value and key tenet of your business. Encourage regular leave utilisation, sick days and time off for important events. Encourage flexible working, but never at the cost of a person's down-time. Provide additional leave if you can afford it, and make sure that your managers aren't unnecessarily contacting their staff while they are not at work.
Encourage career progression. If an employee has a goal to work towards, and a future within their business, they are protected slightly from the insidious arms of burnout. Ensure that you have appropriate career progression strategies, policies and processes in place, and that your staff are aware of how to communicate and promote their ideas about future opportunities to their managers.
So, you think you are burned out! What can you do?
*If you are experiencing severe symptoms, significant depression, or if you are having any thoughts of self harm, contact medical support immediately. This could be your doctor, an online or telephone crisis centre (like Lifeline), or in the case of immediate risk or danger of self harm or suicide, call emergency services (in Australia, 000).
Talk to your manager, or another supportive managerial employee at your workplace. Explain to them how you are feeling, what you are experiencing and be open to their suggestions
Make an appointment with your usual medical practitioner. There are several medical illnesses that share symptoms with burn out symptoms, so it is important to get these ruled out so that you are treating the right issue.
Take time off. If you are at all able, time off without the distractions of work can do wonders. During your time off, spend your time doing 'selfish' things, focus on self-love and self-support. It may be sleeping, meditating, socialising and just generally doing things that feed your soul.
Reflect. Spend some of your 'me time' reflecting on your role. Think of the positives that it brings, what attracted you to it in the first place, what you like about it, what type of tasks make you tick. Then think about the negatives..... What led you to burnout? What are the tasks that you find soul-destroying? Can this be managed?
Career counselling. If you can afford to, a good career counsellor is worth their weight in gold in terms of clarifying how you feel about your current occupation, and whether with some changes you can love your job again, or whether a change is in the wind.
Work with your manager on some long-term strategies. It could be that you change your work hours, or cut back a day, or start studying to move into a different role. There are many day-to-day changes that can be made to ensure that burnout gets extinguished and never comes back again.
If you would like a free 15 minute business or career consultation - you can book online here.
Take care, stay self & love yourself xx