Is There Burnout in Your Company?
All jobs carry some degree of stress and we all have periods at work that are more stressful than others. Stress can even be a powerful motivator for doing quality work that is delivered on time.
Consistent and unrelenting stress, however, can lead to employee burnout. The individual consequences of burnout are concerning and include numerous physical health problems (heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances), mental health issues (depression, anxiety, increased substance use), and social issues (feelings of hopelessness and alienation, unhealthy relationships, and reduced long-term career prospects).
The consequences of burnout to companies are also significant. Employees who feel burned out are more likely to take a sick day, more likely to visit an Emergency Room, and more likely to seek out another job. The quality of their work suffers and their relationships with co-workers become strained.
For these reasons, it’s important that managers and company leaders become familiar with burnout. By understanding the causes of burnout and how to spot it among staff, you will be better equipped to enact strategies to prevent it and support your team.
Psychologists, Maslach & Leiter, define burnout as a psychological condition caused by prolonged exposure to persistent interpersonal stressors at work. They contend that burnout is characterized by three central features:
· overwhelming exhaustion
· feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and
· a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
How does this actually show up in employees?
Exhaustion is an extreme fatigue that is experienced physically, mentally and emotionally and makes it difficult for an employee to do their job and feel good about what they are doing. It may also show up as feelings of apathy about work. Exhaustion can result from the expectation that employees will be available 24/7, intense and constant time pressure, or having an unmanageable workload. Employees in a state of exhaustion often struggle to concentrate. They may have difficulty seeing things from a broad perspective. Tasks that were once routine and enjoyable come to feel laborious. It becomes a herculean task just to show up to work every day.
Cynicism and detachment are ways workers get psychological distance from the stress they experience at work. It can show up as disparaging attitudes towards customers and coworkers, irritability, and pessimism. Cynicism can stem from work overload or from situations where there is high conflict, unfairness, and no participation in decision making.
A reduced sense of effectiveness is reflected in decreased productivity, self-doubt about one’s skills, a limited capacity to cope, and beliefs that one’s work is not valued by others.
Each of these elements can be influenced by the other two but you don’t need all three to be suffering and in need of support. Like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water, burnout develops gradually over a period of time.
It is not, however, an inevitable condition – even in traditionally high stress work environments.
While employees are responsible for themselves and how they manage the stress of work, environmental circumstances are the most prevalent contributors to burnout. This means company leaders have a role in making changes in the workplace that address the underlying issues that exacerbate employee stress.
Check back with us next week when we discuss what company leaders can do to keep burnout at bay. Until then, spend some time observing your staff. Do any of your employees appear to be at risk of experiencing burnout?
Let us know if we can help.