I’m no stranger to burnout and I’m not proud to say I’ve experienced it more than once in my previous lifestyle. In the workplace I’ve coached many people with signs of burnout. Sure, we can all feel stretched and overwhelmed at times, but when ongoing workplace stress occurs it becomes a serious problem that not only leads to highly skilled people leaving professions, it affects team morale AND your bottom line. According to a report by Medibank, stress related presenteeism and absenteeism is costing the Australian economy $14.81 billion per year. How much of that are you losing?
What’s burnout in the workplace?
Burnout is physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by excessive ongoing stress. People presenting with burnout often feel overwhelmed and unable to meet the consistent demands they’re experiencing. They start to lose motivation and passion in a career or position they once found meaning and purpose in.
Three components to burnout
Pioneering research conducted by Psychologist Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter describes three dimensions of burnout:
- Exhaustion: Physically, emotionally and mentally. This affects people’s ability to be able to perform in their position effectively and find fulfilment in their role.
- Cynicism: Feeling disengaged, negative and cynical towards their role.
- Ineffectiveness: Feelings of being incompetent due to lack of being able to achieve usual levels of performance and productivity.
Recognising the signs
In addition to the above there are many signs and symptoms of burnout.
- Forgetfulness and or lack of concentration
Being unable to concentrate and becoming forgetful are early signs of burnout. If left unchecked it can result in work piling up.
- Reoccurring illness or increased illness
When our body is under stress our immune system can’t perform at its best and it leaves us more vulnerable to colds, flus, infections and other immune – related medical issues.
People may initially find they’re unable to sleep for one or two nights a week in early stages with thoughts, tasks and “to do lists’ looping in their mind. This can progress to a point where they find themselves unable to sleep despite feeling exhausted.
- Increased irritability
Exhaustion and feelings of not being able to cope can leave people feeling irritable and ineffective. This can have a negative effect on their professional and personal relationships. If left unchecked and allowed to manifest it can destroy relationships and careers.
- Decreased productivity and performance
Despite working long hours, when people are burnt-out they’re unable to achieve the same level of productivity they once did. This results in work piling up and tasks incomplete which can leave them feeling overwhelmed and inefficient.
- Feelings of disengagement and apathy towards their role
This can start initially with feelings of overwhelm that progress to negative self-talk, feeling disconnected to their role and a “what’s the point” attitude. They may become unresponsive to returning calls, emails and withdraw from colleagues, workplace meetings and events.
- Physical symptoms
Our amazing bodies have many ways of telling us it’s under stress. Some physical symptoms include: heart palpitations, chest pain, headaches, irritable bowel, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, anger and depression. If a person is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical advice.
If you’d like to take The Malach Burnout Inventory self-rating test here it is
Burnout is preventable and according to Harvard Business Review it’s an issue with the organisation not the person it requires leaders to take a proactive approach through increased awareness on what causes burnout and how to recognise the signs.
How to keep burnout at bay
Become aware of stressors
Encourage team members to take stock of stressors and actively look for ways to reduce them. It may be that they take on too much and find it difficult to delegate, allow people to take up more of their time than necessary, they have difficulty in prioritising tasks, there are unrealistic expectations of their position, a toxic work environment or a combination of several factors.
Encourage staff to learn how to manage stress
Short term stress can lead to burnout if it’s not managed properly, there are several ways that can be achieved.
Keeping a simple stress journal of the things that cause stress is a great way to become aware and start establishing ways to prevent it – awareness is the first step.
Practicing breathing techniques and meditation to help calm down and re centre during stressful situations.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Maintaining a lifestyle that includes daily exercise for at least 30 minutes combined with a whole food diet that’s predominantly plant based and 2 litres of filtered water per day are essential in lowering stress levels and staying at peak performance.
Other self-care strategies include, massages, long baths, walking in nature and engaging in other healthy activities they find pleasurable.
The way we think can create stress, encourage your team to monitor their thoughts and practice positive thinking. By learning how to manage their mindset they can change unhelpful ways of dealing with stressful situations and create new positive outcomes.
Read the 2016 Snapshot of the Australian Workforce here