Key takeaways from this blog:
- What is burnout in the workplace and how do we fight it?
- The role of HR in addressing and managing/eliminating burnout.
- Is it possible to have a burnout-free workplace?
Over the past years, we have been hearing about various psychological conditions that have been appearing both in the workplace and in day-to-day life. Perhaps the most popular among these is burnout – a syndrome that is characterized by a state of mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress.
While it is normal and somewhat expected to feel tired and drained from time to time, constantly being pressured to meet work demands could cause a loss of motivation and interest in roles and work we previously found exciting. With the pandemic slowly calming down, now might be the best moment to address this issue, especially with the popularization of remote workplaces.
To better understand how to fight burnout in the workplace, we have to dive deeper into its main causes.
It should be no surprise that the recent glamorization of the so-called hustle culture has created the idea of overworking, staying up all night to get the job done, and being on the top of your game as an accepted modus operandi for this generation of workers. However, as tempting as it might be to be the best all the time and constantly deliver the best results, some precautions should be taken, by employees themselves and by managers.
The World Health Organization classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon and not as a medical condition back in 2019. In this classification, it states three dimensions of how it is characterized:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling of negativism and cynicism
- Reduced professional efficiency.
In recent years, several studies have shed new light on the effects that untreated burnout can have on one’s mental and physical health. One such study, by Ahola and Kirsi from the University of Helsinki, showed that burnout correlates with an increased prevalence of anxiety and depressive disorders among both men and women.
The same study shows that the occupational burnout was related to musculoskeletal disorders among women and cardiovascular disorders among men. Another study shows that job burnout is a solid predictor for respiratory problems, prolonged fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, and many more. It’s clear now that burnout is not just about feeling exhausted and moody after a workday.
With all this in mind, we can take a look at how we can reduce burnout happening in the workplace. The ideal approach would be to completely prevent it from happening of course, but as we know by now, sometimes, it can be nearly impossible to do so.
Making employee wellbeing a company priority
While it is true that there is a big push towards making the workplace feel more humane, many companies still put their focus on perks and benefits. However, this does nothing if the way you do your business comes to the expense of your employee’s well-being.
In short, if a company shapes its culture and environment to focus on well-being it will give its employees a chance to thrive. If it treats it as a nice-to-have commodity, it will become a place where bad habits that can lead to burnout will develop. This means not only focusing on employee well-being in the workplace, but also outside the workplace as well. In a study by Gallup, five essential elements differentiate those who thrive and those who struggle and suffer. These are career, social, physical, financial and community wellbeing. The results of the study show that workers who thrive on these fronts are 81% less likely to seek out new employers in the next year, 41% less likely to miss work due to poor health, and 36% more likely to fully recover from an illness or injury.
Implementing various strategies centered on employee wellbeing
HR has no small part to play in the effort to reduce work-related burnout. HRs should be in touch with employee needs and know what’s going on in the workplace. Regular engagement surveys will give valuable information about what can be improved and give insights into possible causes of burnout.
- Setting realistic goals
Good planning and communication are half of the success when it comes to business matters. Setting realistic and achievable goals will ensure that employees don’t overextend themselves in an attempt to complete as much as possible. Prioritizing tasks helps people avoid unnecessary stress that comes from trying to multitask.
2. Career development plans
One on one meetings between managers and employees should be done to ensure that career development plans are being followed. Such meetings can give better insights into any grievances related to the workplace.
3. Encourage employees to have some downtime and disconnect.
Too often people feel like they should immediately respond to an e-mail or return a call in an instant. While being available and punctual is great, it should not cross boundaries to the point of it being absurd. Introducing practices such as no-meeting Friday, and not replying to emails and calls after working hours can make a significant difference.
Educate managers to deal with burnout
At the end of the day, managers are those who are responsible for managing employee experience and have to come hand to hand with potential issues that may happen. Setting boundaries, clear rules and measurable and specific expectations can do wonders in order to avoid and reverse burnout. For this, it is important that managers and leaders in companies have a good grasp of the situation and can identify the main causes of burnout in a team. Encouraging teamwork and making their subordinates’ opinions count will give a sense of ownership back to the employees, thus, it will give them control over their workload. Additionally, giving employees a sense of purpose will give them a signal that their work is valued and give them a sense that what they do is important all stakeholders.
What happens if burnout is left untreated?
A study by Maslach and his colleagues suggests three things:
- People might become alienated from work-related activities. Individuals will view their jobs as stressful and frustrating.
- Employees will become emotionally exhausted. People will feel drained and will not be able to cope with everyday stressors.
- Reduced work performance. Workers who are burnt out will feel negative about tasks and have difficulty concentrating and lack creativity.
While it may not be possible to have a completely burnout-free workplace, this doesn’t mean we can’t try.
In fact, we can even argue that we must push for continuous improvement in the workplace. Even if we take a look just at the pragmatic side of things (improved relations between team members and staff, healthier culture and employee retention) we can see many benefits of such improvements.
Author: Strahinja Grujić