How to prevent burnout in the workplace
27 July 2020
Recently, for the first time, the World Health Organization classified workplace burnout as an occupational phenomenon.
The WHO says it is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Burnout is not classified as a medical condition but classified by 3 factors:
• feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
• increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job;
• and reduced professional efficacy.
We tend to think of burnout as an individual problem, solvable by “learning to say no,” more yoga, better breathing techniques, practicing resilience — the self-help list goes on. But with ‘burnout’ now officially recognised the responsibility for managing it has shifted away from the individual and towards the organization. Leaders take note: It’s now on you to build a burnout strategy.
Companies without systems to support the well-being of their employees have higher turnover, lower productivity, and higher healthcare costs.
The top five reasons for burnout are:
1. Unfair treatment at work
2. Unmanageable workload
3. Lack of role clarity
4. Lack of communication and support from their manager
5. Unreasonable time pressure
This shows that the root causes of burnout can, in the main, be averted with prevention strategies.
First, ask yourself as a leader, what is making my staff so unhealthy? Why does our work environment lack the conditions for them to flourish? How can I make it safe for them to work every day? We need to better understand what causes people to feel motivated in our organizations, and what causes them frustration.
In many cases burnout is the result of a sustained level of lots of different small frustrations like ‘pebbles’ that mount up. Leaders could save themselves a huge amount of employee stress and subsequent burnout if they were just better at asking people what they need. When investing in burnout prevention strategies, it’s best to narrow the efforts down to small, micro-pilots, which mean lower budget and less risk.
Start by asking one simple question: If we had this much budget and could spend it on X many items what would be the first priority? Employees may not have the perfect silver-bullet solution, but they can most certainly tell us what isn’t working —and that is often the most invaluable data. Ensure that something is done with the data, if you ask questions and don’t bother with a reply, people begin to get wary and stop answering truthfully, or at all.
Other ways to address burnout in the workplace
1. Hold regular staff meetings
2. Emphasize positives and downplay negatives
3. Recognize and acknowledge their work
4. Clarify expectations and job requirements
5. Find out what motivates your employees
6. Encourage stress relievers
7. Show your appreciation
8. Encourage getting fresh air
9. Encourage people to take their annual leave days
Coronavirus impact - Workplace burnout doesn't just happen to people who put in long hours at the office. It's also a current threat to the millions of people working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. With so many workers suddenly working from home and juggling multiple responsibilities including the loss of childcare, the worries of the pandemic & its economic fallout, they could be more prone to burnout.
A lack of work-life balance is a big contributor to burnout and working from home can make it even harder to achieve that balance. Leaving the office every day and commuting home is a forced boundary that helps separate work from their personal life. While losing the commute when they work from home can be seen as a major perk, it also means there is no barrier between work and home. If they never really shut down the computer or walk away from work, it's easy to just continue working into the evening or over the weekends.
Missing social connections when working from home can be isolating, even when they’re in a house full of people. Having colleagues at work to turn to with a problem or to provide some relief when things get stressful helps mitigate burnout. When you don't have that built-in support network at home, it can feel very isolating.
In these uncertain times communicating with and supporting staff is paramount for looking after your employees and developing a burnout strategy will go a long way towards prevention.
If you would like to discuss this further or your healthcare communications recruitment needs then please do contact me.