Burnout is now listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its International Classification of Diseases. It defines it as
“A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
It lists the three characteristics of occupational burnout as:
- low energy, or exhaustion
- feeling negative towards your job
- being less effective professionally
Which age group experiences burnout?
Interestingly, it’s every generation of employees that are suffering from burnout, including millenials. According to a Gallup survey of 7,500 full-time employees:
- 67% of employees say they are sometimes, very often or always burned out at work
- 23% reported feeling burned out very often or always
That could represent a massive proportion of your employees and executive officers who have no motivation, no energy and are less productive overall. Employees who experience burn out are also 2.6 times as likely to look for another job, affecting your company’s retention rates and recruitment costs.
Passionate about your work? You’re more at risk of burnout
This syndrome isn’t exclusive to those working for a major company or organisation. An article for the Harvard Business Review explores how those who are passionate about their work are actually more likely to experience burnout. As the article’s author Jennifer Moss explains,
“Work is like being involved in a complicated love affair. One minute it’s thrilling, passionate, engaging. The next, it’s exhausting and overwhelming, and I feel like I need a break.”
The problem with being passionate is that the work you are passionate about can easily become an obsession. Whilst most employees want their work to have purpose, those who are defined as “purpose-driven” are more at risk, according to a survey by Canada-based Plasticity Labs. They define purpose-driven work as:
“Any work that makes a meaningful and prosocial contribution to something that is greater than the self.”
Purpose-driven professions include physicians, nurses, caregivers, health workers, emergency workers, highly-driven executives, non-profit employees and teachers. The Plasticity Labssurvey found that:
“Purpose-driven employees are significantly more stressed than non-purpose driven employee, and reported significantly lower levels of general well-being, resilience, and self-efficacy.”
Burnout has also been linked to the unusually high suicide rate amongst physicians in the US: a medical journal review noted that rates were 40% higher for men, and a staggering 140% higher for women.
How to reduce burnout
The HBR gave five factors that business leaders and managers should watch out for that are highly correlated with burnout:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of role clarity
- Lack of communication and support from manager
- Unreasonable time pressure
The Plasticity Labs survey suggested that the effects of purpose-driven work can be minimilised by a positive, supportive team culture in the workplace. Equally, a culture where employees are recognised and rewarded for their efforts, and are able to give feedback to managers and leaders, reduced employee levels of stress and improved their well-being. It also encouraged peer-to-peer well-being checks amongst employees.
“No one understands the stress of your job like your colleagues and frequent check-ins can provide an opportunity to reset and provide support where needed. It all begins with a simple “how are you?”.
It’s important to keep on top of burnout-inducing factors and remove them as soon as possible, due to the risk of "mental quicksand”. This is when, as a result of poor performance or set backs (contributed to, if not created by, the factors above the factors listed above), employees become stuck in a a negative loop of thoughts and actions, leading to potential panic, stress and inertia due to lack of confidence. In an article from Baseball the Mag, the author describes how baseball players are coached out of mental quicksand, suggests three simple actions.
- Stop struggling. As with real quicksand, the more you struggle, the worse it gets. Relax, breath and recenter yourself.
- Lift your body. This is a great tip for anyone, to physically stand tall and move out from a slumped position, In the workplace, this could be as simple as getting up from the desk, and walking away to do some stretches.
- Change your focus
“Typically in quicksand, the athlete will focus on what is going wrong and how poorly they are playing. By refocusing on what is important now, the athlete can re-adjust his mentality and climb out of the quicksand.”
Switch off, switch out
Our ‘always on’ culture has had a profound impact on they ways in which we take work out of the workplace and into our homes. Whilst working at home might seem a bonus, the growing number of employees with an inability to set boundaries and ‘switch off’ is growing. According to Amy Blankson, founder and CEO of Positive Digital Culture;
“More than 50% of U.S. employees feel like they have to check their email after 11 pm to keep up with work.”
As managers, leaders and work colleagues, we can all help by gently encouraging family, friends and colleagues to put down their phones and reclaim their personal time.
Talk to other people
A problem shared is a problem halved. If you are experiencing burnout, or are near to it, talk to people; your manager, your colleagues, your family and your friends. It can also help greatly to talk to people in other business. They might have solutions that have worked for them, or at the very least can commiserate with you! Why not come along to one of our Business After Fives, and chat with fellow business people in the area over a drink – with your phone switched off!