How to prevent burnout in the workplace

Burnouts have become a collective term for people in demanding jobs. Various factors contribute to having one, but there are always telling signs before the eventual “running out of steam” take place. It does not pick and choose the industry it affects people on. A public school teacher can have a burnout as easily as a divorce and family law expert. The cause is, however, the same; chronic stress.

The recipe for chronic stress does not change either; the manifestations are the same. The telling signs are the diminished mental and physical functions a person has. Indeed, there are a lot of red flags along the way to burnout. There is however hope for recovery, and therefore one ought not to despair should they find themselves in this challenging space. This and more will feature in this article on how to prevent burnout in the workplace. First, we begin with the definition.

Definition of a burnout

Various interpretations get attributed to burnout, but overall, it speaks of emotional and physical exhaustion due to chronic stress. It also brings with it suspiciousness, cynicism, and detachment, as well as the feelings of being unable to get things done. When it does happen, one’s personal and professional life grounds to a halt. However, there is a progression when it comes to burnouts; it doesn’t happen suddenly.

If you have negative coping mechanisms in place, then you are susceptible to burning out. We cannot always control the type of work environment we are in, especially if it is fast-paced and with a lot happening. A burnout will also likely occur when a person has placed high expectations on themselves but end up feeling they are not doing enough. That brings with it feelings of inadequacy, especially when they cannot meet the demands placed on them.

Other factors that affect people are the feeling of not being appreciated for one’s efforts. That often happens when one does not fit into the role or do not have an understanding of their role and what is expected of them. Equally, how much work a person has can lead to burnout and more so if there is no reward system for the effort they are putting in place.

Burnouts do not happen in isolation. Before that, there are other areas of one’s life equally affected. We shall explore three ways to tell if you are likely to have an upcoming burnout in the future from events taking place in and outside the workplace.

Exploring the data on fatigue

If the data available is a reference point, it would be safe to assume that fatigue is prevalent globally. In the United States, more than half the drivers in the nation have confessed to getting behind the wheel when they are drowsy. Police reports gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal an annual figure of 100,000 crashes as a result of the same. Of these, injuries stand at 71,000 and fatalities as 1,550.

While those numbers are staggering, data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety say that the figures could be much higher, by about 350 percent, accounting for cases that go unreported. This comes to show that drowsiness is toe to toe with drunk driving and texting while driving. Various reasons cause a person to be in such a state. However, the most preventative measure is rest and getting adequate sleep. We will later explore the role of sleep in preventing burnout in the workplace.

Another aspect that has come up in the past years is the effect of fatigue on productivity and performance. About 66 percent of them confess that they have made mistakes at work because they were too tired. Missing meetings and deadlines as well as forgetting some work items are the other consequences of lack of sleep. This tiredness also results in dozing off, and generally, as per a Red Bull, and Glassdoor commissioned survey, considered more of a distraction in the workplace than social media or chatting with others.

The tired aspect to look at that might be the source of an impending burnout is one’s mental health state. The reality of it is gone beyond the medical book. People are coming out and sharing that anxiety and depression are the contributing factors of why they are always tired. Among the issues stated is that it takes a person who has a mental disorder a much longer time to fall asleep, even hours. These same people have responsibilities, and in a fast-paced world, that makes it increasingly difficult to keep up with the day-to-day demands. That in turn drastically affects the economy due to the diminished output.

There are more reasons for burnouts in the workplace, but there are more telling signs that it is about to manifest well in advance. Therefore, if you are experiencing the above, it is an indication that you ought to make quick changes to avoid what’s coming. Equally, use the below tips to aid you in overcoming a burnout.

Noticing the signs of a burnout

Burnouts are not always an even where someone is incapable of doing anything, though for the most part that is the outcome. Those in the midst of it continue to go to work. It is management’s role to recognize the symptoms, but not everyone is lucky enough to receive such attention. You can take note of the manifestation to help yourself or a colleague.

Low energy and negative attitude change

What comes first is a dip in energy levels. It almost appears as though one is laboring through the day and carries a sense of dread with them. That also brings about a change in attitude toward the work done. It looks like a person doing things with an air of all is in vain, and they are no point to it. Equally, a person will be rude, irritable or sarcastic in their speech, and quick to snap at people. This transformation of often shocking if you are typically considered a peaceable person.

The only reason such a person would push through is not to get fired and to get a paycheck. This lack of energy and change in attitude is a sign that someone is burning out. In large organizations, such behavior will go unnoticed for weeks or months before being detected. In some companies it might never happen; the reality is that everyone has challenges they are dealing with on a personal and career level.

Lowered productivity and motivation

While you can note these changes in the actual person, you can also tell from their work. If you are making more mistakes in your work that you typically would not then that should be a red flag. As discussed, fatigue and mental health issues contribute to a loss in productivity. As it happens, the awareness of the impact it has on the global economy ought to help give a perspective on the more significant impact that these two issues have.

However, there arrives a time when the management begins to notice the impact of lowered productivity. The company bottom line will become affected. Managers who note the diminished output first ought to gauge the motivation levels and attitudes held by employees in the workplace. The first reaction therefore not ought to be placing individuals on probation or firing them, but instead addressing the overall factors contributing to the burnout.

Depression and physical illnesses

When your mind and the body are in a constant stressed state, the eventuality of severe mental and physical conditions ought to be expected. That mainly happens when the burnout remains unaddressed. While there are many manifestations of what these problems look like, sick days and trips to the doctor are a sign that the exhaustion has taken a toll on an individual. As a result, clinical depression and illnesses become one’s reality.

Some people will not take the route of getting medical assistance. There are various reasons, including stigma, a perceived lack of time or a lack of understanding of the dire situation one is in. As a result, such persons then choose to self-medicate. They will either use alcohol, over the counter drugs or other substances to push through the days at work.

Becoming honest with oneself

If you have manifestations of the signs above, the first step is being honest about the experience you are having. Denying burnouts, even when others point it out, only leads to increased situations where the very issues you are denying continue to appear.

Signs that you or someone else are in denial includes using statements like “I am fine” or “I am tired” to more snappy comments like “if people just did their job I wouldn’t be so stressed.” Another popular statement with people burning out is “I just need a vacation.” While the people making these comments might believe what they are saying is true, it is the effects on their mental and physical health that contradict what they are going through.

Recovering from a burnout

Once you accepted that you are experiencing burnout, there are steps you can take to guide you to wellness. The first thing is realizing if the circumstances within the workplace do not change, you will have to continually manage the situation to avoid recurring burnouts. It also takes time to undo years of attitudes and coping mechanisms to finally arrive at a place you can see the signs early enough and mitigate them.

Patience is a virtue that one has to develop. A work-life balance is something one first needs to establish. In the workplace, it requires learning more effective ways to cope with stress, tips, and tricks to become more productive at work, along with other aspects such as asking for help when you need it. On a personal level, self-care ought to become a priority. It also includes changing ones thought patterns and developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If that sounds expansive, it is because it is. You, therefore, ought to employ external help through the journey. Talk therapy is helpful; that means going to see a counselor for assistance in navigating the changes without feeling overwhelmed. You can otherwise get resources that assist you in the journey, giving you bite-size information for easy processing and adoption.

Overall, there ought to be a balance between the mind and the body. On a physical level, make sleep and rest a priority is vital. That means living a transformed lifestyle. Some of the changes to make are eliminating caffeine or alcohol from your body, having a diet with foods that slowly release energy to the body, and physical activity. The body is a carrier of the mind; for one to find balance, both ought to be functioning at optimum. When these are in tandem, fatigue will remain at bay.

Conclusion

Though burnouts are part of our everyday vocabulary now, it ought not to be a lifestyle. It does require some difficult changes on our part, but what to always remember is the payoff. Do not neglect the signs; the sooner you enforce balance in your life the less complicated the process is. Some workplace cultures even seem to glorify the idea of stress and doing too much, but do not be caught up in it. Remember that this is a personal journey that you will have to take sooner or later.

Lastly, you are a resource that requires sustainability to function for years to come. If you are depleted due to chronic stress and fatigue, then you will be unable to attain the very thing you are working toward. Eventually, your diminished function might lead to losing one’s job. Worst of all is that you will be replaced. The company will continue running, and you will have lost your income. Do not wait for such extreme examples to have a wakeup call about the importance of recognizing and recovering from burnout.

Author: Chakraborty

Dr Chakrabarty is the Chief Innovation Officer of IntuiComp TeraScience. Earlier she was Assistant Professor of Delhi University, a QS ranked university in India. Before that she has held research positions in IITs and IISc. She holds 2 patents and over 20 publications in her name. Her area of research is in smart technologies, integrated devices and communications. She also has a penchant for blogging and is an editor of Business Fundas.