Occupational burnout is a growing problem in today’s constantly-connected workforce, and many companies are facing huge staff turnover as a result. In this article, we’ll explain what burnout is, how it can be spotted by both employees and employers and how it can be prevented and avoided.
What is Burnout?
Occupational burnout, known as burnout colloquially, is a state of work-induced fatigue, chronic stress and apathy towards work and is a growing problem for human resources departments across all industries. It typically occurs in people with high-stress, “always-on” jobs, and occurs after prolonged periods of stress, but can happen to anyone if there is a severe disconnect between the worker and the work they’re carrying out. Burnout shares many symptoms with depression, and a 2014 study showed that about 90% of workers with severe burnout met the diagnostic criteria for depression, leading many healthcare professionals to believe that they are one and the same, though this is hotly debated. This is one of the many reasons why burnout should not be treated lightly.
How Can You Spot Burnout?
The classic symptoms of burnout are exhaustion, cynicism, lack of motivation, drops in work output, concentration problems, irritability and detachment. The most visible signs of burnout can be the withdrawal from responsibilities, isolating themselves from others, short tempers and skipping work or arriving to work late and leaving early. On a personal level, burnout can make you feel like every task is futile or insurmountable and can make you feel emotionally blunted, depressed and can even make you feel like life isn’t worth living.
How Can Employers Prevent Burnout?
Employers of staff in “always-on” roles such as sales, medicine or upper management should be mindful of work/life balance. Make sure any annual leave is respected as an effective separation of work and personal life, and keep an eye out for the classic symptoms of burnout. This should be a constant concern but should also be addressed in regular HR and wellbeing meetings.
Of course, some jobs are necessarily “always-on”, so businesses should develop an open and understanding culture of care for their employees where employees do not feel pressure to bottle up their feelings for fear of punishment or derision – replacing a burnt out employee is a lot more expensive than taking the time to listen to and address their problems.
Additionally, employers with high burnout problems may want to re-evaluate their organisational values and restructure them so as to make them values to which employees can feel committed and aligned with – a significant cause of burnout being value misalignment.
How Can You Personally Avoid Burnout?
The most fundamental way to avoid burnout is through a rigorous separation of your work life and your home life. This means taking weekends for yourself and using them to reinvigorate your energy stores. Practically this means leaving any emails and any other work until Monday morning, and switching off your work mobile unless absolutely necessary – if you’re really needed urgently, someone will call you on your personal mobile.
The importance of breaks cannot be stressed enough either. Take lunch breaks for yourself – make the most of the upcoming short British Summer we have and eat your lunch outside, away from technology. Regular breaks from technology – even for as little as 30 minutes a day – have been shown to work wonders for mental health and stress reduction.
Most importantly though, let someone know. Whether that be family, a close friend or your HR officer, let someone know that things are getting on top of you. They might be able to help, and unloading emotional stress has been proved to reduce it. Your human resources department should be well-versed in the causes and treatments of burnout, and would much prefer to help you out with your problems than see you leave the company without knowing why you felt you had to leave.