Signs of burnout and tips to stop it from happening
The World Health Organisation has recently announced that burnout is an occupational phenomenon and listed it in the latest revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). They define burnout as a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
What exactly is burnout? Burnout is a state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. It can happen when people are subjected to excessive stressors on a prolonged basis. In some cases, this can happen if a job is not rewarding enough or is very pressurised but, for many, it is due to a number of different factors and can be compounded by someone not looking after themselves and not having the right balance in their lives.
Some of the characteristics of burnout are:
- Health problems – prolonged stress can contribute to back problems, depression, recurring infections, heart issues, headaches, increased pain, changes in appetite or sleeping and much more.
- Cognitive issues – stress has an effect on the frontal cortex of the brain, meaning that the employee becomes forgetful and can make frequent silly mistakes and poor decisions and sometimes have emotional outbursts. People find it hard to switch off and often complain of not being able to sleep because of ‘racing thoughts about work’.
- Relationships can suffer – this can be either at home or in the workplace. The stress can either make the person snappy, or they can regress into themselves and become very quiet and withdrawn.
- Fatigue – burnout often leads to complete exhaustion. It doesn’t matter how many hours sleep the person gets, they still feel exhausted. Many people are good at hiding this, but little things like increased caffeine consumption, having energy drinks or increased eating of chocolates and sweets, can be ways that people try to boost their energy levels.
- Negativity – often the person with burnout becomes very negative about life, even when they are usually a positive person. They start to focus on the downside of things, can be judgemental of others and even cynical.
- Motivation is impacted – motivation can be reduced or, in some cases, disappear completely. Sometimes this can manifest in the employee stopping their normal exercise routine or avoiding going out socially. Motivation at work in this instance tends to come not from doing a good job, but from the fear of being fired, or letting others down.
- Performance issues – managers may start to notice a reduction in performance. High performers can be prone to burnout so if, as a manager, you notice a colleague’s performance starting to slip, then it might be worth looking for some of the other characteristics of burnout and talking to them about this.
- Poor self-care – a person with burnout often loses interest in their appearance, they may gain or lose weight and may even go from someone who was immaculate dressed, to someone who appears untidy.
There are a number of things that you can encourage your employees to do, to prevent burnout from happening.
- Learn to disconnect from work and to avoid working past normal finishing time, at weekends and especially not when on annual leave. Should it be necessary to check emails outside of work hours, then this should only be done at designated times, rather than being an ongoing process.
- Pay attention to the signals that the body is giving. Pains and aches, headaches and stomach upsets can all be signs that the body is getting stressed. The human body is always feeding information back to us, we just have to learn to listen to it!
- Schedule time to relax – it is as important to schedule relaxation time into your diary, as it is to schedule work. Find a hobby or an interest, schedule time in for it. Create a bedtime routine and try to stick to it every night.
- Avoid sleeping aids – this might be over the counter tablets, alcohol or even prescription drugs. All of these affect the brain’s natural sleep process, so should not be used on a regular basis.
- Be organised – a lot of stress comes not from the volume of work, but from not being organised, from jumping from one task to another, from constantly reacting to emails that arrive and disrupt the natural thought process. Schedule time for the important tasks and try to stick to the schedule.
- Take regular breaks during the working day – don’t wait until you feel tired to have a break, try to have a short break every 90 minutes. This might be to go and get a drink or to walk to the toilet – but try to step away from your desk and the tasks you are doing. Again, try to schedule time for breaks, they are an important part of the working day
- Develop a support system – don’t be tempted to withdraw into yourself, find colleagues, friends or family members that you can talk to. If your company has an Employee Assistance Programme then use this if you prefer not to open up to family and friends about your concerns. It is important to express, and not repress, your feelings.
At Lincoln Occupational Health, we can help you manage any employee health-related problems. If employees are having short term frequent absences for a variety of reasons, it is always a good idea to make a referral to OH, to ensure there is no underlying reason. Addressing short term absence, can often prevent burnout from happening and long term absence ensuing. For more information on sickness absence management, or for details of training that can be delivered to your employees, contact us via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0844 481 0093 .
For more information on health promotion events, sickness absence management, health assessments and bespoke training packages, please contact us for a no obligations conversation on email@example.com or 0844 481 0093 where our team will be happy to help.