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Preventing and Healing Workplace Burnout

What is burnout? Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Employees with burnout find that problems seem insurmountable, everything looks bleak, and it's difficult to gather the energy to care, much less take action to help oneself. Burnout is a gradual process. It doesn't happen overnight, but it can creep up on you.

According to a 2014 study by Monster, 61% of employees have experienced illness because of work-related stress, with 42% deciding to quit to avoid burnout.

The World Health Organization has now identified workplace burnout as an "occupational phenomenon" that may warrant medical attention.

Today's workplace has an interesting dichotomy. We have greater benefits and freedoms than ever before - but job satisfaction is very low. Employees do not feel valued and they are not happy. What are some of the reasons for this?

Some believe that workplace burnout could be the result of feeling powerless to balance work with life. Workers feel a lack of control over their time, which causes greater stress.

Another aspect to workplace burnout is that today employee's can't see and appreciate the results of their work. Farmers a century ago may have worked long hours, but could see the fruits of their labors. A computer programmer today, however, works long hours but sees no connection between their work and the company's mission.

What are some symptoms of workplace burnout?

  • Cynical and critical at work
  • Irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients
  • Lack energy to be consistently productive
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • Lack of satisfaction in your achievements at work
  • Difficulty sleeping at night
  • Irregular physical ailments such as headaches and stomach aches

Part of addressing burnout falls on managers. Manager's need to ask themselves, "Are people in the right roles? Is their work making them happy?" Managers need to help employees understand what they do best and where they can use their strengths. During team meetings or 1-on-1s managers should take a few minutes to check in to see if anyone is feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps another team member can step in to help, or the project modified or timeframe extended.

But part of the responsibility falls on the employee - to learn what type of work motivates them and what aspects of their work are stressing them. Employees should come up with a proposal that would be good for both them and the company and see if they can adjust their work duties and hours to make their job more satisfying and less overwhelming.

Also, employees should have a conversation with their manager about what work-life balance means to them. Do they need "offline hours" to rest and rejuvenate where they do not feel responsible to respond to work requests? Setting clearly defined boundaries will take some of the guilt away from feeling one is not putting in enough hours, or responding quickly enough to clients.

Building healthy routines and habits can strengthen one's overall mental and physical health, and protect one from burnout. Routines like waking and going to bed at the same time every day, eating a healthy breakfast, and reading or meditating. Self-care is essential at keeping job burnout away.

Finally, employees feeling depressed or anxious need to seek professional help. These conditions can be managed, but only if one seeks treatment.

Workplace burnout can cause productive, high-valued employees to become sick, to become unproductive, and even seek employment elsewhere. Companies cannot afford not to address this issue. Look out for the signs in your employees and train managers to identify and help prevent burnout in their team members.

By Ann Condon - Communication Manager, E.A. Dion, Inc.