Recognising the Signs of Corporate Burnout

Has a stressful year left you feeling helpless, disillusioned, and completely exhausted? You may just be in need of a well-deserved holiday. On the other hand, you may be on the road to burnout.

Burnout doesn’t discriminate, and anyone in the modern workforce can fall into its foul grasp. If the idea of spending your December break simply recovering from work stress seems like more of a hindrance than a help, then it is time to recognise the signs of corporate burnout and how to prevent it.

What is Corporate Burnout?

The term “corporate burnout” was coined in 1974 by the German-American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. In his research, Freudenberger set out to describe what he came to call the "state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one's professional life". While the concept has therefore been around for decades, its classification in 2019 by the World Health Organisation as an official medical diagnosis has meant that this workplace malady is being taken more seriously on a global level.

More recently, burnout is conceptualised as a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been properly managed. This chronic stress affects more than just work performance.  Debilitating fatigue and exhaustion can lead to feelings of hopelessness and disillusionment. These feelings in turn negatively impact the motivation and morale of workers, possibly leading to depression, physical morbidity and complications such as cardiovascular disease.

Research has shown that more than 60% of work absenteeism is attributed to psychological stress and stress-related burnout. Burnout syndrome has been reported to affect 23% of full-time employees on a frequent basis and as much as 44% of employees have reported feeling burnt out sometimes. This phenomenon specifically applies to an occupational context, and the most notable symptoms include:

  • depletion in energy
  • increased mental fatigue
  • negative feelings and distancing from one’s job
  • a reduction in professional efficacy
  • withdrawing from responsibilities
  • using food, drugs or alcohol to cope
  • mood swings
  • procrastinating

How do you address corporate burnout?

Discussions around burnout and corporate wellness are gaining traction due to the sheer number of workers suffering from this chronic occupational syndrome world-wide. Whether you are an employer or an employee, it is important to know how to address burnout in a sustainable manner.

  1. Understand the issue

It is imperative to understand that burnout is not the same as mere stress.

Stress involves an overdose of pressures that demand too much of you physically or mentally. When you are stressed, you are still able to imagine an end or see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Burnout, on the other hand, is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Because it can be chronic in nature, affecting both the health and performance of employees at all levels of an organisation, prevention strategies are considered the most effective approach for addressing workplace burnout.  

  1. Recognise the signs

Burnout is more likely when employees:

  • Expect too much of themselves.
  • Never feel that the work they are doing is good enough.
  • Feel inadequate or incompetent.
  • Feel unappreciated for their work efforts.
  • Have unreasonable demands placed upon them.
  • Are in roles for which they have not been trained.

It is important to recognise the signs of burnout, whether your own or those of employees and team mates.

  • Disengagement
  • Blunted emotions
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Loss of motivation, ideals and hope
  • Detachment and depression
  • Emotional damage
  1. Prevention through effective management

Understanding the issue and recognising the signs are just the first steps. A third component of preventing burnout is building a supportive environment through effective management.

Reframing the issue can have a positive impact on finding sustainable solutions and building resilience. Clear communication of expectations can provide guidance to employees before they push themselves over the edge.

Support groups are an effective means of initiating conversation and action towards alleviating symptoms. As is the case with many issues surrounding mental health, reaching out can at first be challenging. Finding colleagues in similar situations can make the process of working towards a solution much less daunting. It is in the interest of employers to create a supportive environment for employees to voice their workplace struggles and challenges.

Talking openly and frankly about the intensity and frequency of workloads and encouraging employees to recognise burnout signals will prevent employees being pushed to their limits. Creating a platform for conversation around workplace stress also opens up channels of support resources and solutions that could benefit departments and the company as a whole.

  1. Build Resilience

How do you become resilient in the face of burnout?

On a managerial level, collaboration and effective communication are ways of ascertaining where capacity lies, and in so doing, delegating tasks more effectively. Identifying which team members are overwhelmed and finding a compromise to balance workload benefits cohesion and can boost productivity.

On an employee level, recognising symptoms is the first step towards their effective management. The next step entails boosting your productive habits. Adjusting the way you form workplace habits can streamline your day and make your tasks manageable and achievable without upsetting your work-life balance. Planning and reviewing your day is a good start towards optimising your time and capitalising on where you expend the most time and energy. A simple list of tasks ranked in sequence of importance can give your day structure and keep you accountable for your responsibilities. Regaining control and perspective amidst a burnout also relies heavily on making lifestyle changes.

It is vital to implement fundamental healthy habits like getting enough rest, eating a nutritious diet and having recreational outlets, especially to counteract symptoms of hopelessness and lack of motivation. Keeping yourself in the best possible mental and physical shape will only benefit your ability to achieve and exceed your expectations and responsibilities.

Finally, taking a break or vacation at strategic points within your work calendar can minimise feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Sometimes when we reach the point where we are forced to step back and take a break we have already taken strain under pressure. 

Do you have a burnout strategy?

Burnout is no longer a theoretical talking point, but a recognised workplace malady that needs to be managed. Cultivating an environment wherein burnout is understood and talked about and in which support structures are in place will boost productivity, decrease absenteeism and cut down on health-related company expenses.

Does your company have a strategy for dealing with employee burnout?

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