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Dealing with Burnout in the Workplace

22 Apr 2013

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NLC

By Linda Eroke

Employee burnout is a serious issue that many workplaces are facing today in view of its effect on turnover and productivity.
In recent times, most employees seemed to have lost a certain spark in their lives as they feel the effects of unrelenting stress and demands and are no longer enthusiastic about their work.


Also the global economic down turn has continued to take its toll on workers as more employees than ever are reported to been overworked, stressed and basically burned out. This has caused increased absenteeism, lowered turnover rates and decreased productivity in organisations.
For instance, a survey carried out by a Chicago-based ComPsych, a global provider of employee assistance programmes, revealed that about 2 in 3 workers report high levels of stress with extreme fatigue and a feeling of being out of control.


ComPsych surveyed nearly 2,000 employees in September 2012 and the survey was set out to measure stress levels and their effects in the workplace.
According to the report more than half of those surveyed said they miss one to two days of work per year because of stress while nearly 1 out of 4 employees say their top work priority is just being present at work.


Although experts believe burnout can occur in any workplace; however, they are of the opinion that higher proportions could be found among human service professionals such as physicians, nurses, teachers and social workers. They also agree that burnout is brought on by long term workplace stressors and is characterised by exhaustion, de-personalisation among others.


Though they admitted that individual traits and work context could lead to the development of burnout, they however maintained that there is a strong relationship between work environment and burnout.


Ilya Leybovich, in an article ‘Fighting Job Burnout’ said burnout can significantly degrade an employee’s performance and, if left unchecked, eventually lead to a good employee leaving the company entirely.
Such consequences, Leybovich said, make it crucial to address burnout and re-energise enthusiasm for work before a person’s career starts to suffer.


“A sense of being overwhelmed at the workplace can stem from excessive workloads, lack of time off or general dissatisfaction with the current state of one’s professional life.


“High unemployment coupled with rising productivity means that many workers in the United States are handling more tasks with fewer resources, and these conditions often lead to a feeling of job burnout. In the post-holiday season, burnout effects may be more pronounced as employees return from vacation and must cope with the realities of the workplace,” Leybovich said.


According to Leybovich, spotting the early warning signs of employee burnout is a crucial step in repairing the level of workplace engagement.


Mary Rau-Foster, a certified mediator, and a nationally known speaker, who specialises in workplace issues, said high stress and a sense of loss of control over one's life and business contribute to burnout, otherwise known as stress syndrome.


Mary, in an article on ‘Burnout- Is it A Burning Issue in Your Company’ listed the symptoms of burnout to include emotional and physical exhaustion, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, sadness and depression, negativity, increased cynicism and deceased creativity. Others are quickness to anger, defensiveness, edginess and quickness to blame others, detachment and loss of satisfaction or sense of accomplishment.


In workplaceissues.com, she listed the factors that essentially contributes to burnout stress to include expectation of greater workload and longer hours, pressure to take on more risks as business system demands compliance, inability to balance personal and professional life and lack of positive and timely feedback from management and owners of the company.


Noting that it may take several years for the symptoms of this syndrome to fully manifest themselves, she however stated that the cause of executive burnout may be traced to perfectionism (trying to do too much because they expect it of themselves), business hero complex (feel that others expect it) or poor communication (failure to clearly define their limits to clients, co-workers, employees and others).


“Burnout has been identified as a prime factor in turnover, absenteeism, reduced morale and various kinds of personal dysfunction. People suffering from burnout seem to progressively feel a lack of personal accomplishment in their work.


“It is necessary to determine the legitimate, realistic and feasible expectations of what you can do, at what pace and rhythm, for how long and what creative or rest breaks will be needed. If you do not clarify, and then communicate, your plan and needs to others, there is a danger that the expectations that others have about your time and attention may be too great,” she said.
She explained that an understanding of the factors that lead to the feeling of burnout is important to the recovery process. This, she stated, will require an honest and in-depth assessment of how an individual became burned out.


“If you don't know what contributed to burnout, you won't know what corrective measures to undertake. What self-esteem needs were you trying to meet by your personal and business related choices and decisions? Is there another way to address those needs in a less stressful manner?


“Remember, stress can and does kill. The body has a no tolerance zone, which if entered into will manifest physical ailments or death. Studies have shown that more heart attacks occur on Monday morning than any other time of the week. The common factor here is that people are going back to work after a weekend off.


“What a shocking realisation; that people are not dying to go to work but are dying because they are going to work. How many of the people who suffer the Monday Morning Syndrome have been experiencing undetected or untreated signs and symptoms of burnout?” she explained.


Speaking further, she said burnout is preventable, adding that it requires an understanding that "heat" in the form of enthusiasm for a job is good for the employee and the business, but too much or prolonged heat can result in a scorched employee.


Against this backdrop, she advised organisations to implement a burnout avoidance programme the components of which include monitoring employees who look like “candidates for early flameouts”.


“Traditionally the workplace has rewarded that type of employee behaviour by pats on the backs, promotions or other forms of recognition. The message is subtle but clear: We like that kind of attitude and action. But will it feel so good when the employee flames out?


“As a manager or employer, do you encourage or even insist that employees take time off to vacate and recreate? Do you monitor your own actions to determine if you are setting an example that others will follow?” she enquired.


She continued: “We can also learn a lesson about burnout from Mother Nature. She demonstrates the importance of balance. Even she recognises that plants, trees and animals can't constantly grow and expand. They need an opportunity to rest and to replenish diminished resources. She provides this balance through the seasons of the year to accommodate the needs of nature.


Burnout is costly, and it is preventable. It takes a personal commitment by the employees, the management and by the company to take proactive steps to prevent or address early signs of burnout. It will take your commitment as a manager and as a person to detect and address those situations that lead up to this stress related syndrome. 

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