Be it death by Karoshi, inability to cope or lacking the readiness to handle today’s intense work environments, but there appears to be an increasing incidence of mental health issues across workplaces today. As employees stretch to keep up with fast-paced and intensely competitive workplaces, they are increasingly succumbing to mental health issues. Many check into mental health clinics feeling unhappy, exhausted, despondent and depleted. With most of their waking hours consumed by the demands at work, they struggle with a bleak view of their lives and fear feeling trapped or lacking the energy to even care or something about their situation.
Mental health professionals identify these as classic symptoms of burnout – “ a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress”. When left unattended, burnout can severely affect motivation levels, reduce productivity and leave individuals feeling disengaged, cynical, and resentful. Needless to mention, this is not a healthy trend within workplaces and organisations need to start acting on it urgently.
What causes burnout?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that stress and burnout, while they sound similar, are not quite the same.
Stress can occur in situations involving too much work, and its physical symptoms include low energy level and muscle tensions/aches, and emotional symptoms may include over-reactiveness or a tendency to develop anxiety related disorders. However, it’s possible that stress can be experienced as Eustress – where a demand for increased activity pushes employees positively in delivering more through improved solutions.
Burnout on the other hand develops as a gradual process in response to an unhealthy work environment and is largely presented with emotional symptoms including blunted feelings, apathy, and a sense of worthlessness and disengagement. In addition it makes the individual feel powerless and lacking a sense of control over their circumstances.
Work related factors that lead to burnout include chaotic and high-pressure work environments with excessive performance expectations, monotony and lack of challenging/meaningful goals at work. In addition, lifestyle issues such as inadequate socialising, lack of close and supportive relationship, minimal sleep and exercise, combined with personality factors such as excessive perfectionism, refusal to delegate work to others and being a high-achieving type A personality, with a high need for control can catalyse the burnout effect.
Beating burnout effectively
Employees can overcome the effects of burnout by bringing in a few positive steps into their everyday lives, such as –
1. Improving quality of social contact
Face to face conversations and quality time spent in the company of friends and close associates can help greatly in relieve stressful and overwhelming feelings. While they can’t fix the stressors at work, friends/loved ones help through patient and attentive listening and being non-judgemental of the situation at work.
Developing friendships with co-workers can also drive greater co-operation and understanding, and buffer the effects of burnout.
2. Working in a community group and developing meaningful connect
Joining a social cause or working as part of a support group fosters friendships with like-minded people and offers a way to channel energies into personally meaningful areas. Sharing time and resources with others also helps build feelings of generosity and gratitude, leading to improved energy levels and a sense of deeper engagement across all facets of work and life.
3. Creating better work-life balance
Making a conscious effort to drive better work-life balance and dedicating time for family, friends and hobbies drives increased sense of wellbeing. It is essential to go on vacations, take short weekend breaks, turn off work devices and take a complete break from work once in awhile, as they help recharge energy levels and accelerate recovery from burnout situations.
4. Being realistic and mindful of priorities
While working through a burnout, employees gain the opportunity to take a realistic view of their dreams, goals and priorities, and understand what is truly important to them. This allows them to set realistic boundaries and find a way to say no to unrealistics requests on their time and energy at work. Further, they can also learn to rediscover their strengths and focus on exercising them better to ensure success at work.
5. Improving lifestyle choices
It is important to take a break from all-day use of technology, and set a specific time to completely disconnect from all devices, including checking their laptops/ phones for emails and reminders from work. Taking up a sport/physical fitness activity and exercising help improve mood and energy levels and ensures better quality sleep. Avoiding nicotine and reducing alcohol, sugar and and carbohydrates consumption is also useful.
How can employers help?
Employers can help beat burnout within their organisation through several initiatives, including encouraging employee emotional/mental health and wellness workshops, setting up recreational and fitness facilities at work, enabling employees to participate in creative endeavours within and outside the organsiation, and involving them in community projects.
In addition, they can also create safe access to mental health professionals, and assure them of privacy while they seek support and remediation. Bringing in changes to the work structure and offering benefits such as flexible and remote working, and mental health days off also help secure employer commitment to employee wellness goals.