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Dealing with workplace burnout

May 13, 2021

Burnout is a very unique form of workplace stress. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout is becoming increasingly common, particularly recently, with UK workers seeing a 24% increase in burnout in 2020 and 4 in 5 Australians working from home experiencing it too! With the great increase in reports of burnout among the workforce, the question must be asked: what can we do to address the situation? In this blog, we are going to talk about what causes workplace burnout and how we can resolve and reduce burnout.


What causes burnout?

Burnout is characterized by WHO by these 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; and 
  • reduced professional efficacy.


These feelings are often exasperated by taking on too much work beyond one’s capabilities, having a lack of control and a work-life imbalance. Those are traditionally pinned as the most common reasons, but it's coming to light that burnout does not just occur on an individual level, it occurs as a result of the work environment too. A survey by Gallup found that the 5 most common reasons for burnout are:

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Lack of communication and support from their manager
  • Unreasonable time pressure


This clearly indicates that burnout shouldn’t just be considered on a personal level, but leaders should also look to the wider work environment and consider whether it is indeed the environment that is causing burnout. 


How can we alleviate feelings of burnout and prevent it from occurring again?

There are two ways that should be considered for alleviating burnout. The first is on a personal level. This will help for immediate resolution of extreme stress levels and exhaustion. The second is relative to the work environment and is likely to take longer to implement.


Personal

In order to alleviate the feelings of burnout you might want to: take on less work, build a resilience towards stress, practice mindfulness, exercise, get some sleep and seek support. Not all activities work for everyone and perhaps there's something else that helps you relax and unwind. Essentially, the most vital thing for everyone experiencing burnout, is to tune out from work when you finish for the day. Don’t check your emails and leave all tasks at the office (or home office). Burnout is going to be near impossible to overcome without shutting off for the day so make sure you do it!


Work environment

Knowing now what may cause burnout at an organisational level, it's up to leaders to address the issues. Drastic changes won’t necessarily need to be introduced. In fact, research by Gallup found that employees who have managers who are always willing to listen to work-related issues are 62% less likely to experience burnout. It may not always be the case that simply listening to your employees is enough to reduce occurrences of burnout, but it's a great place to start! Other ways you can prevent burnout include: encouraging your team to unplug and take time off, foster a culture of collaboration, make everyone’s opinion count and make work purposeful. Resolving burnout cannot be left up to the individual. It is up to managers to ensure the workplace is healthy and supportive and to do whatever they can to help reduce burnout in the future. It doesn’t just affect the individual, it affects the company too. 


Burnout occurs due to a myriad of reasons and the blame cannot be placed on an individual. It is up to leaders to look at themselves and the organisation as a whole to address burnout and prevent it from occurring in the future.

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