Preventing employee burnout

Avoid burnout becoming part of the work culture at your organisation

While stress is by its very nature, the feeling of too much pressure, when it is chronic and unrelenting, and disrupts our relationship with work, it can lead to employee burnout.

The definition

One of the greatest myths is that employee burnout comes in the form of sudden anxiety and nervous tension – far from it. Burnout is defined by the ICD-10 [the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Disease] as a state of vital exhaustion, “a process in which everyday stresses and anxieties gradually undermine one’s mental and physical health”.

The reality

For organisations, the difficulty is that employee burnout cannot be attributed to any one personal issue or single event. Rather, it is an experience that’s specific to the individual, influenced by isolated or integrated social, organisation and personality factors. Therefore, instead of being overlooked as a personal issue, burnout should be viewed by organisations as an ongoing challenge – one that, for the sake of employee talent, retention and productivity, must not be ignored.

The statistics

Unfortunately, burnout has become a common work-place phenomenon. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2017/18, 595,000 workers suffered from new or long-standing work-related stress, depression or anxiety, with 15.4 million working days lost. That same year, not only did stress, depression or anxiety account for 44% of all work-related ill health cases, says the report, but 57% of all working days were lost due to ill health – with the primary reasons cited as workload, lack of managerial support and organisational change.

The symptoms

Symptoms of employee burnout are as gradual as they are broad, and can affect every aspect of an employee’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. Employees might start to experience a combination of physical and emotional exhaustion and increased disengagement, as well as cynicism towards their role where previously, they were motivated and personally fulfilled.

Ways to prevent employee burnout

The good news is that as many of these symptoms are driven by factors that are within an organisation’s control, there are plenty of practical ways to make the workplace a positive and productive environment for employees.

Create Clarity

One of the main factors contributing to employee burnout is a lack of clarity about the job – especially top performing people who are more likely to take on additional tasks. Organisations must remove the grey areas and the ambiguity for their employees to allow them to feel more in control. This doesn’t just mean making sure the job description is fully understood by the employee, it means putting in place sufficient resources, training and information to get the best out of them.

Encourage Teamwork

Spotting burnout symptoms is an uphill challenge if you don’t know your employees. That’s why it’s so important for organisations to encourage social ties within the workplace, to be able to work out what’s normal for their employee’s personality and what isn’t. Supporting positive teamwork and healthy employee collaborations with a common goal in sight, also shares out the stress and purpose in equal measure.

Channel Communication

Another way for organisations to look beyond ability and support the individual working for them, is through involving employees in the decision-making process. Being able to have a two-way conversation with senior management not only makes the employee feel they have some degree of influence over their own job and career path, it gives them a proper voice to be able to speak up about concerns or issues they have.

However, while communication in any organisation is important, beware of putting a premium on endless collaboration and communication. Too many emails, voicemails and conference calls can interfere with daily business operations and take on a stressful life of their own.

Take Time Out

Employees working all the hours to prove themselves is unsustainable long-term. That’s why it’s so important to regularly pay attention to the work-life balance. In addition to allowing time for holidays, sick leave and parental leave, organisations must encourage employees to have sufficient time away from their desk every day, to clear their head and stretch their legs.

Find a balance

There’s also a fine line between being challenged and being completely overwhelmed. Organisations should have proper business systems and processes in place, to ensure that employees are neither spending unnecessary amounts of time on non-productive, administrative work, nor doing cognitively demanding tasks that test them on an ongoing basis.

Educate and Inform

Creating a company culture that encourages open conversations around the subject of burnout – one that empowers employees to speak up if they are experiencing the symptoms – can go a long way to ensuring that organisations can prevent issues before they arise. Relevant online and physical resources can also offer organisations and their employees crucial access to professional expertise and practical information on this chronic condition. Whether it’s online seminars on relaxation techniques, or private consultations on coping skills, having access to a wellbeing marketplace can cut through the complexity of employee burnout, to help organisations and their employees enjoy a safe place of work.

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