It's normal to feel stressed at work from time to time. But for some people, the stress becomes all-consuming, leading to mental and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness in the workplace. This is known as burnout.
Burnout is not classified as a medical condition, however, burnout is included in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. The inclusion of occupation burnout in the ICS-11 reflects that burnout is a work-based syndrome caused by chronic stress, validates its existence and thus can inform research and treatment.
Burnout is defined in ICD-11 as follows:
"Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
- reduced professional efficacy
Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life."
To this end, the World Health Organisation is about to embark on the development of evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace.
Research (Brown & Quick, 2013) indicates that burnout is having a growing and significant impact on the workplace, in particular in advanced economies and during times of economic downturn. It is important to be able to identify the signs and symptoms of burnout in yourself and others around you. Because it can be chronic in nature, affecting both the health and performance of employees at all levels of organizations, prevention strategies are considered the most effective approach for addressing workplace burnout.
Spot the Signs
Occupational burnout can occur for many reasons.
For example, employees may have greater instances of burnout when they feel that they are not making an adequate contribution to their organization, or feel their efforts are not appreciated, have role conflict, work overload (even when they say they can handle it), or a lack of predictable and clear expectations.
Many people may not recognise they are burnt out and will continue to work. They may be trying to keep up with work demand and think they are just stressed.
However, stress is usually defined as feelings of anxiousness and urgency in getting things done, while burnout is more commonly experienced as helplessness, hopelessness, or apathy. If unrecognised, burnout has the potential to develop into clinical depression.
Signs and symptoms of burnout are as follows:
- reduced efficiency and energy
- lowered levels of motivation
- increased errors
- increased frustration
- more time spent working with less being accomplished
- sarcasm and negativity
- debilitating self-doubt
- poor physical health
- clinical depression
- reduced job satisfaction
- decreased productivity
- increased absenteeism
- increased risk of accidents
- poor workplace morale
- communication breakdown
- increased turnover
Further to the above signs and symptoms, often people try to self-manage or medicate their feelings by using excessive caffeine, alcohol or other substances.
As previously mentioned, everyone can have a bad day or couple of days. It is unrealistic to be happy and overly productive 100% of time, however, if burnout signs and symptoms persist over 3 or more months then perhaps it is time to consider intervention.
Prevention is better than cure
There are many approaches that organisations canor should consider to help reduce and prevent burnout in the workplace.
- Collaborate and provide clear expectations for all employees and ensure all parties involved understand those expectations
- Ensure employees have what they need to perform the role and expectations e.g., necessary resources and skills
- Help employees understand their value in the organisation
- Enforce reasonable work hours, including, if necessary, sending employees without good boundaries home at the end of their regular work day.
- Help assess workload for those who feel pressured to remain working beyond normal business hours.
- Set reasonable and realistic expectations. Organizations should be clear as to which activities require the highest standards and when it is okay to lower the bar and still meet business needs.
- Encourage social support and respect within and among work teams.
- Support physical activity throughout the workday.
- Strongly encourage the taking of breaks away from the work environment.
Be on the look for signs of burnout, especially in the current climate, and try to address them as quickly as possible. In your business, there is nothing more important than your employees and colleagues - let's take care of each other and the rest will take care of itself.