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How To Identify, Pre-empt, And Deal With Workplace Burnout

We’ve all been there. We’re working hard, putting in the extra hours, and suddenly we hit a wall. 

We’re tired, we’re cranky, and everything feels like a chore. We may even start to dread going into work. 

This is burnout, and it’s a real problem that can have serious consequences for our health, our careers, and our lives. 

In this article, we’re going to explain its symptoms, causes and show you how to deal with work burnout should it affect your life. I'll cover:

What is workplace burnout?

Let's start off by putting a definition to the name of what we're talking about. Burnout syndrome is a work related stress syndrome characterised by feelings of exhaustion, mental distance, and negativism towards one's job.

It's most frequently seen in individuals who have traditionally high-stress or emotionally demanding roles at work, but can be developed by anyone under the right - or in this case, wrong - conditions.

Understanding Workplace Burnout And Its Symptoms

Burnout isn't just an 'excuse' people use to get out of work, it's a real occupational phenomenon recognized by the World Health Organization. Specialists view it as a distinguishable problem with quantifiable effects that differ from regular workplace stress.

Burnout was first discovered in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who used the term to describe the implications of high stress levels and ideals in 'helping' professions. He found that individuals who experienced prolonged stress without adequate support or rest eventually became irritable, cynical and emotionally exhausted. 

While the effects of burnout were first discovered in the 'helping' professions, it's now estimated that over 75% of employees experience burnout on the job. And it's not just affecting our mental health, recent data from Gallup shows that workers suffering from burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit the ER. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Workplace Burnout?

what are the symptoms of workplace burnout graphic

Chronic workplace burnout can lead to serious physical and mental health issues, so it's important to be able to identify the symptoms early on.

According to the World Health Organization, symptoms of burnout include:

Exhaustion

This is the most commonly observed symptom of burnout and refers to the physical and emotional fatigue individuals feel as a result of their work. It can manifest in a number of ways, including feeling physically drained, mentally 'foggy', or emotionally depleted.

Mental Distance

This is characterised by a growing sense of detachment from one's work. Individuals may begin to feel like their work is no longer personally meaningful, and may start to see it as a series of menial tasks. This can lead to a decrease in productivity, and may eventually lead to complete disengagement from one's work.

Negative Attitudes

This refers to the development of negative or cynical attitudes towards one's work. Individuals may become critical of their organization or colleagues, and may begin to see their work as a source of personal stress. This can lead to further decreases in productivity, and may create a toxic work environment.

Decreased Professional Efficacy

Decreased professional efficacy refers to a decrease in one's belief in their ability to perform their job. Individuals experiencing this symptom may feel like they are not meeting the demands of their role and begin to doubt their skills and abilities. This can lead to a decrease in quality of work, and may eventually lead to job dissatisfaction or resignation.

What Are The Common Causes Of Burnout?

As we touched on earlier, burnout is a phenomenon most commonly seen in professions that are innately fast paced and high demand as  the nature of these jobs makes it easy for factors that cause burnout to manifest. 

However, individuals in any profession can develop burnout if the right conditions are present.

Some of the most common causes of workplace burnout include:

Workload

A healthy workload is an amount of demand that matches your individual capacity. It offers you enough challenge and feat to grow and develop as a professional, however still leaves you time for recovery and rest.  

An unhealthy workload is one that consistently exceeds your capacity, leading you to compromise on other facets of your life. In these cases, you end up working longer hours, taking work home with you, and feeling like you're never 'caught up'. This can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, and eventually lead to burnout.

Lack of Control

A sense of control over your own work is essential to feeling  satisfied and engaged in your role. When you feel like you have no say in how your work is done, or what tasks you're assigned, it can lead to a sense of powerlessness. 

This can be particularly damaging if you feel like you're not being given the opportunity to use your skills and abilities to their fullest potential. Over time, this can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment, which can eventually lead to burnout.

Work-Reward Imbalance

The concept of work is pretty straightforward - you commit your time, effort and talent to a particular project or task and receive compensation for it. 

But what about when you're given less than you expect? Whether it's feeling like you're not being adequately compensated for your work, or not receiving the recognition you feel you deserve, an imbalance in this equation can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction. 

Over time, this can lead to a feeling of devaluation, which can eventually lead to burnout.

Community and Social Support

The workplace is not just a place where we go to complete tasks, but it's also a community of people with whom we interact on a daily basis. 

In order for this community to function well, there needs to be a certain level of social support present. A lack thereof can lead to feelings of isolation and alienation, which only points you  further down the road to burnout.

What Are The Consequences Of Burnout?

what are the consequences of burnout graphic

While burnout may seem like something that only affects the individual experiencing it, the consequences of burnout reach much further than that. In fact, workplace burnout can have a significant impact on both the individual and the organisation as a whole.

Some of the most common consequences of burnout for employers include:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Higher rates of turnover
  • Decreased work quality
  • Negative impact on team morale
  • Damage to company reputation.

Some of the most common consequences of burnout for employees include:

  • Decreased job satisfaction
  • Increased anxiety and stress
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Substance abuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure.

How To Prevent Burnout?

At the end of the day, prevention is much more effective than care when it comes to burnout. By taking the right steps to stay in check with your own wellbeing, it becomes possible to foresee and mitigate many of the  risk factors for burnout before they have a chance to take hold.

There are a number of things you can do to prevent workplace burnout, including:

Invest In Psychometrics

A psychometric assessment is a scientifically validated test that measures an individual's psychological traits. These tests can be used to measure things like personality, aptitude, intelligence and more. 

While they are often used in hiring and development processes, they can also be incredibly useful for individuals in terms of self-awareness and growth. Taking a psychometric assessment can be a great way to better understand yourself, your needs, and how to prevent burnout.

Taking a psychometric assessment can help you to:

  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses
  • Gain insights into your personality type
  • Understand how you process information and make decisions
  • Find out which careers would be a good fit for you
  • Learn more about how to manage your time and energy levels.

The STRONG and MBTI Assessments are two tools that can help you identify the answers to these questions.

At mindfulcareer.ca, we specialize in the administration and analysis of these tools to guide you to increase your self awareness and provide you with the clarity around identifying your strengths, personality type, how your mind works to process information and make decisions, what careers are best for you, and how you can manager you stress and energy levels. 

Take Control Of Your Workload

Workload is one of the most impactful factors at play when it comes to burnout and is therefore a good place to start when trying to mitigate it. 

For many professionals, especially those whose character or role incline them to be people pleasing, taking a proactive effort to control their workload can be difficult. 

It's important to remember that your time and energy are finite resources, and it's perfectly acceptable to say 'no' when you're already feeling stretched too thin.

Try these strategies:

  • Planning your workload
  • Prioritizing your tasks 
  • Delegating work as needed
  • Saying 'no' when necessary
  • Letting go of perfectionism.

Assess Your Circumstances

Burnout is the result of circumstantial stressors that exceed our ability to cope. Therefore, another key way to prevent it is to take a step back and assess what factors in your life may be putting you at risk. 

Once you've identified these risk factors, you can begin to put systems in place that will help you to better manage them.

Some things to consider when assessing your circumstances:

  • Are you taking on too much responsibility?
  • Do you have adequate social support?
  • Do you feel like you're being fairly compensated?
  • Do you have a good worklife balance?
  • Do you feel like you have enough autonomy?
  • Do you feel like your work is fulfilling?

Know Your Stress Profile

A stress profile is a test that considers your individual circumstances, traits and habits to gain a holistic understanding of the unique factors that influence your wellbeing. There are several tests out there, but two of the most effective include:

Personal Stress Profile Test

This is a comprehensive stress profile that covers all aspects of your life. It includes a detailed questionnaire and an in-person interview with a qualified professional.

Stress Resiliency Profile Assessment

This assessment is designed to help you understand how well you currently cope with stress and identify areas where you can improve. It includes a series of questions about your thoughts, feelings and behaviours in response to stress.

Both of these assessments can give you valuable insight into the things that contribute to your stress levels and help you to develop a plan for preempting managing them.

The one I recommend is the following administered via psychometrics.com. It is called the Stress Management Report and it uses your results on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment to describe how you are likely to experience and react to stress.

It also suggests ways you can manage stress successfully. A sample report can be found here

How To Deal With Existing Burnout?

If you're feeling like it's already too late and that you've been consumed by workplace burnout, rest assured that there are a number of things that can be done about it.

Master A Good Mindset

Your mindset can be extremely influential to your overall quality of life—whether that's in regards to work or personal  matters. 

A fixed mindset, characterised by negative beliefs such as "I'm not good enough" or "I'll never be successful", can lead to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. This, in turn, can lead to increased anxiety and stress, which only further perpetuate the cycle of burnout.

But for many people, having a 'good mindset' isn't as simple as just flipping a switch. It often requires unlearning years of negative thinking and replacing it with positive, more productive outlooks.

Try the following strategies to better understand and manage your inner thoughts:

Identify And Address The Reasons For Your Feelings

When you're feeling down, ask yourself what the reasons for these emotions might be. Is it a specific event or situation that's causing you to feel this way? If so, can you do anything to change it? If not, what can you do to change your perspective?

Talk To Someone Who Can Help

If you're struggling to manage your emotions on your own, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist or counsellor. They can help you understand and manage your emotions in a more productive way.

Practice Gratitude

One of the quickest and most effective ways to change your mindset is to start practising gratitude. When you focus on the things you're thankful for, it's difficult to simultaneously focus on negative thoughts.

Make Self-Care A Priority

Self-care is often the first thing to go when we're feeling overwhelmed, but it's also one of the most important things you can do to prevent and recover from burnout. When you don't take care of yourself, both physically and mentally, it's difficult to perform at your best. 

Some self-care ideas to try:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly 
  • Take breaks during the day
  • Spend time outside
  • Disconnect from work after hours
  • Make time for hobbies and activities you enjoy

Dealing With Burnout In Your Team

dealing with burnout in your team graphic

What if burnout isn't just affecting you, but your whole team?

If you're a manager or leader, it's important to be aware of the signs of burnout in your team members. Common signs to look out for include:

● Decreased productivity

● Increased absences

● More mistakes being made

● Decreased motivation

● Increased conflict.

If you identify that someone on your team may be struggling with burnout, there are a number of things you can do to support them.

1. Encourage Them To Seek Help

If someone on your team is exhibiting signs of burnout, the first thing you should do is encourage them to seek help. 

This might mean going to see their doctor, talking to a counselor, or taking some time off work. 

Remember, it's important to respect their privacy—only offer support and assistance if they're comfortable with it.

2. Create A Supportive Environment

You can also create a more supportive environment at work to help prevent and manage burnout. This might involve:

● Making sure everyone has a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities (the CRA of leadership).

● Encouraging open communication

● Providing opportunities for breaks and flexible working arrangements

● Encouraging a healthy work-life balance.

3. Be Willing To Make Changes

If someone on your team is struggling with burnout, it's important to be willing to make changes to help them recover. 

This might mean changing their workload, providing more support, or giving them some time off.

Don’t neglect burnout

If you're feeling like you're on the verge of burnout, don't wait to take action. Use the tips and strategies outlined in this article to start making changes in your life today. You can also always contact a career counseling service that can help you on your journey to healing. 

And remember, always make self-care a priority. When you take care of yourself, you're better equipped to handle whatever life throws your way.

By Miriam Groom

Miriam is a nationally renowned industrial & organizational therapist and HR strategist with 15 years of experience in coaching, counselling, employee experience, recruitment, retention, and employee development.

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