How to Prevent Burnout and Keep Your Organization on Track
This story was first published on Hackernoon.
We’ve all heard the stories of other colleagues or friends abruptly leaving a job or calling in sick for an extended time. However, this is a severe type of burnout that is preventable. Most stressful work circumstances occur at a low incident level, but each incident can still have reverberating business impacts. As a result of significant events going against me, I had a burnout in 2016.
The key to overcoming and potentially protecting your staff and colleagues from burnout is understanding the emotional impact inherent in specific job responsibilities. Of course, any job or career can cause burnout. However, what matters most pertains to the circumstances of how the job is executed. To understand this phenomenon, burnout needs to be better understood.
What is burnout
When an employee experiences the condition of burnout, they aren’t necessarily violent, outspoken, prone to quitting, or prone to causing a scene. You may never even notice that something is wrong. Most burnout cases exhibit few exterior symptoms that could be identified besides being a little down or not as productive. Often these symptoms are rationalized away because of other life issues or a particular time of year.
However, burnout is a problem in all industries and has medical symptoms. Most medical practitioners define burnout as an amalgamation of three symptoms or issues, reduced work or personal accomplishments, depersonalization, and emotional exhaustion. In addition, burnout syndrome (BOS) exhibits post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in most affected employees.
Reduced work or personal accomplishments
Reduced work or personal accomplishments has two components. First, someone going through burnout syndrome may start to take longer for job items that generally aren’t hard to complete. Their stress levels are causing them to feel burdened by the work. So, you might see a colleague either barely getting through their typical workday or forgoing any standard on the quality of their work.
Second, the work that they are completing isn’t satisfying. They no longer feel the value they offer, nor get any satisfaction from the quality product they are offering the company, public, or client. Often you can see this after a significant accomplishment doesn’t seem to make them happy or pleased when it would otherwise.
Depersonalization isn’t typical or readily apparent in all cases. However, it exhibits profoundly in subjects such as hospital workers or managers. Any position that requires interaction or responsibility for another individual requires a “bedside manner.” When the responsible party becomes depersonalized, they start treating the patient, colleague, staffer, or member of the public as if they were an object rather than an individual.
Emotional exhaustion is commonly felt and is considered the first stage of burnout syndrome. The overwhelming sense of burden defines it. This burden feels like a physical weight on an individual even though it is purely phycological. Every little extra task or ask can feel ten times more overwhelming than it would be under normal conditions.
Why is burnout a problem
Burnout syndrome is a problem in two concrete ways. First, it is a problem for the individual and their mental/physical health. Second, it is a problem for the company and the other employees. So, when you are considering the issues that burnout may bring, categorize them to start to identify ways to solve or help the situation.
Burnout and the individual
Burnout among all industries is a common occurrence. However, it is more likely in physicians. In 2012 over half of all US physicians polled in studies showed at least one sign of burnout syndrome. A Mayo Clinic Proceedings article documented a similar extent. The Mayo Clinic study found an increase of 10% in burnout syndrome among physicians from 2011 to 2014, from 45.5% to 54.4%.
The studies show that companies and industries with more cases of burnout syndrome have less productive employees, higher health care costs, and lose staff to turnover or retirement more often. The key indicator of high burnout syndrome is the low reliability and productivity of the employees.
Burnout and the company
Countless industries have high turnover rates and low production numbers. That isn’t necessarily revolutionary. However, burnout syndrome has higher financial impacts on a company than one might expect in the long term. In 2009 a study was conducted on the effects of burnout on patient outcomes and economic impacts. Here are the results:
Lower quality services
The higher error rate in diagnosis
Lower consistency between offices on medical procedures and overall patient care
So, when you think about the effects to the bottom line, burnout syndrome is similar to having employees who aren’t competent for their job.
Who is affected by burnout
Healthcare workers are the most at-risk population of burnout syndrome. However, anyone and everyone have a job that could lead them to develop at least one symptom. Usually, burnout is common when employees feel undervalued, ignored, belittled, and disrespected. These issues could be passive and not stated directly to the employee, for the employee to feel negatively treated. Four main risk factors will increase both the chances and severity of burnout syndrome. Here is the list:
Time Pressures Associated with Individual Performance
Chaotic or Disorganized Workplaces
Lack of Influence on Workplace Dynamics
Lack of Consistent Ethical/Moral Values from Management to Employees
Based on the above criteria, anyone is susceptible to workplace burnout syndrome if the circumstances are right. Don’t think that because you don’t feel the pressure, your colleagues or employees don’t. Each job brings different responsibilities and stresses along with it. Seemingly carefree positions could end up being powder kegs for depression due to issues only known by that employee.
How to spot burnout
Spotting burnout syndrome can be complicated as it often exhibits symptoms readily explained as unrelated or just passing. In addition, employees don’t want to seem tired of their work or unable to perform at the level they need based on prior performance or expectations. As a result, you might find an unwillingness to engage in a candid discussion about the topic.
So, for the sake of discussion, spotting burnout symptoms in yourself is a helpful analogy to spotting the same signs in others. Let’s discuss how and why you have or are currently having burnout symptoms.
As discussed earlier, burnout most often occurs under highly demanding circumstances where employees feel little power to help their condition. This leads to a lack of control or a dysfunctional workplace environment when the management enjoys better treatment or expectations than others. Further, burnout happens when there are poorly communicated job expectations, extremes of activity (hyper-busy to hyper-slow), and little social support or camaraderie amongst colleagues – I have experienced this when I worked as a private security guard. I was not integrated into the team, and I was left out. My values did not connect with theirs. Poor work-life balance is also a major contributing factor.
So, compare your current work-life with the abovementioned points and ask yourself the following questions to see what applies and doesn’t. Of course, you don’t have to answer every question affirmatively to have symptoms, but the more you answer, the more likely burnout may occur soon:
Is your job demanding?
Do you feel stressed before you get to work?
Do you think about work even when you aren’t there?
Are your work conditions healthy or happy?
If they aren’t, do you feel like you can change them?
Are you comfortable speaking openly with your boss about your stress?
Are you close with your co-workers?
Do you feel supported by your office or team?
Are your job expectations clear, or are you often confused about your goals?
Do you feel like you spend enough time at home?
Do you feel physically and mentally tired at the beginning of the day?
Is your work consistent, or do you have long stretches of little or a lot of work?
Do you believe that your manager or colleagues have the same work philosophy as you?
Burnout can lead to significant physical issues with employees that ignore or refuse to address the problems. Besides being stressed, angry, tired, irritable, and cloudy, individuals with severe burnout syndrome have an increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, respiratory issues, high blood pressure, and early death.
When assessing whether burnout is a problem in your office, don’t look to your personal experiences. Instead, you need to engage with your employees at their level to identify issues before they become HR issues truly. This might mean engaging with an outside firm, having group discussions, asking people to submit anonymous surveys on workplace conditions, or develop an in-house team to study workplace culture.
What to do about burnout
Regardless of what you do to figure out whether burnout syndrome is a potential risk for you, your colleagues, or your employees, you need to react appropriately if your co-workers are at risk. A healthy and holistic approach to a solution is the best way to combat the problem at the source. However, you may still experience many of the burnout symptoms in your office. Treating cases immediately and head-on will keep the issues from getting worse or spreading.
Prevention is your best friend when considering burnout solutions. This entails understanding the root causes of your co-workers’ stresses and finding proactive ways to make a real difference in those levels of stress. This could mean that your workflow and work culture change. However, this will invariably lead to happier and more productive employees.
If burnout is still a problem even with the proper prevention tactics in place, you will need to address the individual personally. This means that you will need to tailor a specific solution to help them combat the mental anxiety and physical manifestation of the overwhelming work stressors.
In the short term, this may mean working from home, sick leave, or paid vacation. This could mean a lateral position move, alteration to workplace responsibilities, or addressing an unknown work culture issue in the long term. Just remember to stay flexible, open, and concerned to ensure the employee or colleague that their emotions are valid, heard, and understood.
Having been employed, I had a burnout – as a business owner, I pay attention to my team. Empathy, understanding and open-mindedness are some of the assets that will lead you to a healthy accompaniment just like I do on a daily basis.