Burnout is common among most workers, but there are ways to combat this stressful feeling.
Burnout is something we have all experienced at some point in our work lives. But what we may not be aware of is that factors outside of work, such as a pandemic, can also aggravate work-related stress and our coping mechanisms or resilience against it. Having surveyed 1,500 U.S. workers across age groups, experiences and industries, job aggregator site Indeed found that more than half (52%) of the respondents experienced burnout in 2021, compared to 43 percent who reported the same in their previous pre-Covid-19 survey. The growing rates of burnout, together with the massive resignation trend, are reflected in a drop in employees’ productivity globally last year.
The thing is, burnout happens to everybody and can take a great toll on employees’ health. Since it is quite common nowadays, companies should not underestimate the dangers of burnout and must find new ways to keep employees healthy, engaged, motivated and productive. To help you forge a comprehensive strategy against workplace burnout, let’s first break down what the term means.
Burnout: an occupational phenomenon
Emphasizing that burnout is not a medical condition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially classified workplace burnout as an occupational phenomenon in its 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) issued in 2019. It is currently creating evidence-based guidelines for mental well-being at work. Its member nations will have to implement the revisions by 2022.
The WHO considers burnout as 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
Knowing what workplace burnout entails can definitely help you come up with the best plan to create a burnout-free environment. Here are our tips for companies and the management team to address each of the dimensions:
Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
This happens when workers are unable to strike a balance between their professional and personal lives, in particular parents who are juggling childcare or homeschooling with job demands. It can get worse when employees are working from home, when they have to deal with several stress factors, like numerous deadlines, heavy workloads and lack of help or support from their co-workers and the management team. In short, this has to do with the amount of work and the time given to them to complete it.
Of course, the first step is to assess and re-evaluate the current workload and deadlines taken up by your employees. Get to know your employees as individuals and try to understand what they’re going through daily by scheduling meetings with them. Is there too much work/too little time to finish given tasks? Is there over-communication? Are they required to communicate with different departments via various channels (e.g. emails, WhatsApp and Slack)? Listening and showing that you care about their opinions is crucial to closing the “empathy gap” (the difficulty in understanding the experiences and feelings of someone in a different state from ourselves) between managers and their teams. Then, you can address their problems in time before they turn into burnout.
Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
Not only does remote work keep you physically apart from the office, but it also makes one more mentally distant and isolated from their coworkers. When you are working alone, you are also less motivated, productive and more prone to negative feelings (e.g. lack of accomplishment, anxiety, sadness and anger) towards your job. Besides, it’s very easy to lose your work-life balance when your workday at home seems endless. These might lower work quality and productivity, making employees more susceptible to burnout.
Employers must act swiftly to ensure that employees who are stressed out for these reasons. For instance, the management team could start by introducing “mental health first aid” or mental health policies, such as confidential counseling sessions, (online) fitness programs to support their physical well-being, virtual town hall meetings and team-building activities. Of course, don’t forget to check in with your employees more often to support them along the way.
Reduced professional efficacy
This feeling occurs when employees don’t believe they are good at their job. We may easily fall prey to burnout when we don’t feel we are performing our best. Is my boss satisfied with my work? What should I have done better? Am I doing it right? Am I too slow? What does my future look like at this company? Are my talents being appreciated here? Questions like these might trouble your employees constantly when there is a lack of acknowledgement. This may further lead to a lack of responsibility and ambition if left unaddressed.
To combat these issues, you must not withhold constructive feedback and compliments so that your employees have a sense of accomplishment and confidence. Also, ask your employees about their feedback on their job as well. If they feel like they can shine better at some other tasks, give ample thought to this and consider assigning them different projects.
With the above tips, we hope that you can eliminate burnouts at your company and create a stress-free environment for your employees.
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