Stress is an unavoidable part of life, with work being one of the biggest stressors. Today’s culture places enormous weight on productivity – and many of us have fallen into patterns of a workaholic. We’re working later, taking fewer breaks, and constantly checking emails even when we’re out of the office.
When stress is not managed or continues for a long period of time, it inevitably spirals into burnout. Stress can be classified by the feeling of anxiety, but burnout is far more debilitating. There’s a chronic feeling of helplessness or apathy.
What causes stress and burnout?
There are many causes of stress, but some common culprits are:
· Workplace pressures – often in the form of tight deadlines and copious workload, hours or responsibilities.
· Lack of autonomy – some supervision is necessary, but no one likes being micromanaged. It breeds a lack of trust, and can leave employees feeling incompetent or dissatisfied.
· Lack of support – unsupportive teams and managers can leave employees feeling like they’ve been dropped in the deep end. It can be overwhelming and isolating.
· Lack of opportunities – when employees are denied development promotional or professional opportunities, it can feel like they’ve hit a dead end.
· Lack of appreciation – a thank you or a show of appreciation for hard work can go a long way. When efforts go unnoticed, employees can start to lose motivation begging the question – ‘why even bother?’
· Feeling of incompetence – inadequate training, insufficient skills or resources can leave individuals feeling incompetent and overwhelmed.
· Unrealistic expectations – expectations from an employer or even the individual themselves can drive them. But if the expectations are set unrealistically high, it can be demotivating.
· Workplace violence and bullying – humans are social beings and conflict with co-workers or bosses can be a source of stress.
· Threats to job security – potential redundancy causes financial uncertainty and instability
Why should you care?
Allowing employee burnout is poor economics – it leads to poor employee engagement and productivity, poor quality of work, increased frustration and shortness of temper that can adversely affect workplace relationships, and increased fatigue or absentee.
More importantly, it takes a huge toll on the individual’s health. Once an employee reaches the point of burnout, it can take weeks to months (if not years) to recover with an average recovery time of 6-9 months.
What are the signs of burnout?
Burnout is characterised by an increasingly cynical and negative outlook, emotional exhaustion, irritability and fatigue, and an overall negative response to stressors.
Everyone reacts to stressors differently, so how someone exhibits signs of burnout can be different as well. One of the best indicators of burnout is a noticeable change in behaviour or temperament.
Some common signs can include:
· Reduced work quality or productivity
· Fatigue and tiredness
· Irritability and frustration
· Increased absence from work, or arriving late
· Physical illness – nausea, headaches
· Loss of sense of humour
· More complaints and grievances from colleagues or clients
· Mood swings
· Loss of motivation, commitment and confidence
· Using drugs or alcohol to deal with work
· Sleeping difficulties
· Depression and anxiety
· Unable to concentrate or make decisions
How can you prevent burnout?
The saying – ‘prevention is better than cure’ – is particularly true in the case of stress and burnout. Recognising the signs and remedying stressors is the most effective way to manage employee burnout. This can be simply taking some time off work for rest and recovery.
Other prevention strategies include:
· Clear communication of goals and workload
· Setting realistic expectations
· Encouraging flexibility
· Taking breaks when necessary
· Take care of yourself – eat well, sleep well, exercise
· Schedule in downtime – once it’s in the calendar, it’s much more likely to happen
· Try relaxation methods – mindfulness exercises, meditation, yoga
· Monitor your workload – scale back if you’re overloaded. If you’re in senior positions, make sure the workload is evenly distributed – it can be easy to rely too heavily on your top achievers.
· Offer feedback – words of affirmation to your team and colleagues show appreciation for their hard work. It can mean more than you think.
· Find an outlet – take up a creative task or a hobby
· Attend regular professional training – keep your skills up to date
And finally, we can’t stress enough that if you’re feeling overwhelmed and you’re not sure where to start – it’s worth it to seek professional advice. It’ll set you on a personalised track to being back on top of your game!