According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout was first linked with helping professions in the mid-1970s. Burnout has broadened beyond helping professions to other industries today.
Burnout is a syndrome that includes: emotional exhaustion, disillusionment, and withdrawal. Symptoms include low energy, chronic fatigue, weakness, weariness, increased susceptibility to illness, frequent headaches, nausea, muscle tension, sleep disturbances, and more.
Future Forum surveyed over 9,000 knowledge workers on their experience with remote work. They collected data from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia. Results showed that flexible remote work arrangements reduced stress and anxiety.
A 2022 burnout research study,(during the Pandemic), identified the following information about the participants:
- 4% had great energy levels
- 31% were ok or good
- 47% were tired all the time
- 65% had energy levels that put them at risk of burnout
- 31% lie awake at night worrying about their energy and work
What are the Warning Signs?
- Struggling to concentrate
- Working longer hours
- Making mistakes
- Irritability and negativity
- Low mood
- Lack of motivation/enthusiasm
- Shorter fuse with colleagues
- Regularly switching off video on calls
- Unexplained stress-related symptoms /pain
Factors that Contribute to Burnout
Workload: Work overload results in the inability to complete tasks and provide quality work.
Leadership: Poor leadership/supervision results in staff feeling unsupported or not valued at work.
Poor orientation/job training: Does not provide the necessary skills and knowledge to do a competent job.
Lack of control over the work environment: This is a key risk factor in burnout. It includes the ability to manage your day-to-day work, repetitive or routine work, and lack of challenging work.
Lack of social interaction or support.
Too many Pings: Joss’ study found that the variety of ways an employee could be pinged such as Slack channels, Teams, WhatsApp, email, text messages, etc. was distracting and stressful for 86% of the study population.
Pings make people feel that they need to respond immediately, and it distracts them from what they are doing. A ping can create a “fight-flight-freeze” response because it is seen as a threat. The body is flooded with adrenalin and cortisol which adds to chronic stress and anxiety. Eventually the constant pinging, especially if it is seen as a threat, can lead to hypervigilance and the body gets “stuck” in the stress response, resulting in burnout.
Too many meetings. According to Fortune Magazine, a survey of 9,000 workers found the requirement to participate in too many and unnecessary meetings contributed to burnout. Interestingly, remote workers were being asked to join more meetings than those in the office (50% vs 37%). Additionally, remote workers were working longer hours than those in the office.
Facts about Burnout
- According to Benefits Canada, a survey of nearly 7,000 people in workplaces across Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States, said their level of burnout was high or extreme.
- Nearly 21% of the participants, said they were looking for a new job, and 39% said they would leave their current employer for the right job. The reasons given were, increased workload, poor compensation, and mental health challenges.
- Burnout in early career stages does not seem to lead to long term negative effects, however, in later career stages, burnout might have more serious effects.
- Factors that help people recover from burnout are the same ones that prevent it, such as a new job, more job autonomy, support, and interesting work.
- Personality plays a role in burnout. Those who are anxious, have unrealistic goals and expectations, have low self esteem, and are inflexible, are at greater risk.
- The burnout problem is so big that some countries are addressing it through legislation, like the United States, Canada, and Europe to help protect workers by giving them the right to disconnect from work responsibilities after work hours. In other countries, fines are imposed on employers that have caused death because of burnout.
- Develop realistic expectations and goals.
- Monitor your progress.
- Participate in educational opportunities to improve role effectiveness.
- Learn and use coping strategies, especially time management.
- Ensure that you have received appropriate orientation and training to do your job, especially regarding difficult situations.
- Managers and supervisors should monitor staff workload and check in with them periodically.
- Train management staff on difficult aspects of their role, and follow up with regular feedback on their performance.
- Limit case or workload.
- Allow for breaks, vacations, and short notification for time off.
- Develop/encourage social support systems at work to help prevent or minimize the effects of burnout by providing a forum for a positive exchange of ideas to manage stress.
- Control the number of meetings staff are required to attend.
- Some employers are doing “stay interviews.” Employees are being asked what motivates them to continue working for the organization, how their work experience can be improved, what they envision as the next stage of their career in the organization, and what would cause them to leave. This may help ease some of the effects of burnout and reduce turnover.
Establish Company Priorities and Goals.
- Priorities and goals help managers and staff understand and deliver on the high priority items first.
- The Fortune article goes on to suggest that everyone should be able to say no to additional tasks when work becomes overwhelming. (This is a tricky situation-many staff and management are not comfortable saying or hearing no, unless the company culture is such that this is an acceptable practice).
So what does burnout have to do with leadership mindset? Leaders cannot lead effectively if they are burned out
Burnout is not going away; the numbers are getting higher, not lower. Employers that ignore the problem will likely feel the consequences in the future with lower productivity, unengaged employees, and higher turnover.
Strategies to management burnout and stress:
- Take care of yourself, relax, exercise, eat right, and get sleep.
- Take advantage of any mental health resources that your organization provides or find community resources, that can help with managing your stress and emotions. Try not to use your family or friends as therapists, it can damage the relationship and place unnecessary stress on them.
- Try breathing exercises, meditation, tapping, hobbies, etc. to help manage stress.
- Find another job, profession, or trade.
If what you are experiencing, is making it difficult for you to cope on the job, or at home, seek out professional help, especially if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Take care and take action!
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