It’s coming to the end of the year, you’ve had a long, gruelling project to work on with a million other things sprung on you at the last minute. Understandably, you’ve been feeling the pressure, you’re exhausted, looking forward to the Christmas break, but is what you’re experiencing stress or burn out?
The term “burnout” was first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. Burnout is the result of prolonged work-related stress and has 3 major components: exhaustion, cynicism, and ineffectiveness.
In other words, if you feel exhausted, hate your job, and feel ineffective at work, you are showing signs of burnout.
It’s not just stress, exhaustion or job dissatisfaction. We all feel tired and negative about our jobs from time to time. Burnout is much more profound. There are 5 stages.
- Engaged – The employee is energetic, involved, and effective.
- Overextended – The employee is tired and overworked, but still productive.
- Disengaged – Cynical and negative, but somewhat productive.
- Ineffective – Less productive due to a lack of focus and energy.
- Burnout – Exhausted, cynical, and less effective.
According to a 2018 report by Gallup, employee burnout has five main causes:
- Unreasonable time pressure. Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70% less likely to experience burnout.
- Lack of communication and support from a manager. Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70% less likely to experience burnout.
- Lack of role clarity. Only 60% of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
- Unmanageable workload. When workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel overwhelmed which can lead to burnout.
- Unfair treatment. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favouritism, unfair compensation, and mistreatment from a co-worker.
What can we do about burnout?
Although the term burnout suggests it may be a permanent condition, it is reversible. Here are some considerations:
- Prioritise self care
Exercise, eat a nutritious diet, and get enough sleep. Include meditation in your routine which has been proven to reduce the impact of stress. All these habits fight exhaustion—the first link in the burnout chain.
- Make Time for Recovery
Hard work requires recovery to replenish cognitive, emotional, and physical reserves. To avoid burnout, schedule downtime into every day and take extended periods of time off work eg. at least 2 weeks not just a couple of days every now and again. If you’re lucky enough to have long service leave, make the most of it.
- Get some support
Talk to your manager, HR department or EAP. Get their help with prioritising workloads, setting clear expectations and working to your strengths. You probably can’t reduce your workload, but you can identify the most fulfilling parts of your job. Adjust your workday to spend a more time on these activities.
As a manager, we have a responsibility to our staff to help them avoid burnout too.
- Be clear about goals, expectations and time frames
- Be realistic about time frames, expectations and outcomes
- Support your team members – notice the signs of stress and burnout and communicate regularly with them about their wellbeing
- Work with employees’ strengths – provide some autonomy and allow them the freedom to do what they do best
- Play fair Ensure fairness across delegation of work, expectations, interaction and treatment
Enjoy the break if you’re taking one and have an awesome Christmas!