The biggest threat to building an engaged workforce in 2018 is employee burnout. Despite being so common, many managers are not aware of why it happens or how to keep it from happening.
Imagine a problem affecting 95 per cent of all businesses. A universal problem, so common that everyone in any career is susceptible to it.
The word burnout is thrown around a lot, so it would be easy to assume it is just a catchall term for stress and exhaustion, but it’s more than that, as I have come to understand it first-hand.
The wheels were set. 2018 was going to be a great year. I had spent the better part of 2017 getting ready for what was meant to be the best year of my career thus far.
We had evolved a 71-year-old brand and built a solid digital marketing foundation with limited funds and a team of two.
Looking back, it’s obvious that my lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. But back then, I wore my workaholism like a badge of honour.
As time went by, any semblance of a balanced life went out the window. I had no desire to hang out with loved ones, I was neglecting my mental health and I had become disillusioned with my goals.
Burnout effects people differently. For some, it literally feels like you are dying. It is a very physical sensation. You can’t breathe, you have no energy, you can’t focus and your head is spinning. For others, it is a cold they can’t shift or a general nagging feeling they are not well.
As it turns out my story is not uncommon. Despite being so common, many managers are not aware of why it happens or how to keep it from happening.
Understanding the issue
According to Grant Amos, who trained as a psychologist and conducts the Flying Without Fear programme, burn out is an individual’s response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors within the workplace and in your personal life.
This condition has been described and studied for more than 40 years, and multiple studies suggest burnout has reached epidemic rates.
Short-term stress is the fight-or-flight response that provokes higher levels of adrenaline and cortisol. The trouble is, persistently high levels of cortisol interfere with normal body functions, such as sleep, digestion and the immune system.
Don’t confuse burnout with stress. Individuals under stress know that it is temporary; they still have control and are committed to meeting their targets. By contrast, those suffering from burnout are beyond caring. They are exhausted both mentally and emotionally, disengaged from their work, and often struggle to think creatively and identify solutions.
The newest study in the Employee Engagement Series conducted by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace® found 95 per cent of human resource leaders admit employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention, yet there is no obvious solution on the horizon.
There are many common causes of workplace burnout.
We all know that employee with a stack of papers on their desk, a to-do list that spans over 100 tasks and a panicked look on their face. An overwhelming workload is the number one factor that contributes to employee burn out.
This combined with a mismatch in personality to tasks, uneven workload, conflicting job demands, role ambiguity, lack of appropriate resource and management support is a receipt for disaster.
Of course, there are personality factors that also come to play. Burnout is higher among high achievers or those that are particularly passionate about their work.
What to look out for & how to prevent burnout
No organisation wants to lose their best talent to burnout. However, most do not know that their employee is burned-out until it is too late.
The majority of employees experiencing burnout will remain at work. Being aware of changes in attitudes and energy can help with early identification.
There are many frameworks that have been used to describe burnout. A study produced by the Physician Leadership Journal published by Massey University, states burnout is built upon a foundation of fatigue, hindrance, frustration and withdrawal. These elements can develop in series, in parallel or even “out of sequence.” The course taken by an individual is based on personality traits, coping factors, recognition of the stages of burnout, and the availability and use of a support system.
When these behaviours are coming from an employee who is typically on his or her A-game, they might be signs of burnout.
Building Resilience. Support recovery at work
According to the Harvard business review, It is incredibly important for the organisation to create a wellness plan. It starts at the top. Be realistic and do not spread your team too thin. Define concrete roles and equip your team with the proper tools and resources to achieve realistic goals.
Employers and employees need coping mechanisms, individual coaching, and stress management techniques to regain their positive outlook, manage their workload, and recover productivity. The same is true for those heading for burnout, many of whom can avoid it altogether by recognising unhealthy patterns of behaviour and adjusting their lifestyle accordingly.
According to psychologist Grant Amos, if you are already burned-out to recover you need to regain your sense of control and ditch the victim mindset.
Yes, others may have contributed to your situation, but it far more beneficial to you if you opt for an ownership mindset. Then, increase your attentiveness to your body’s physical and emotional needs.
In times of high anxiety and stress, he recommends taking the time to focus on breathing exercises and creating a personalised wellness plan.
Burnout can often feel insurmountable. However, the sense of being overwhelmed is a signal, not a long-term sentence. Your harsh experience can serve as a turning point that launches you into a more sustainable career and a happier, healthier life.
By Mela Hajderaj