With the December holidays just around the corner, many of you are crossing off the days on your calendars until you are free from the stresses of work for a couple of weeks (assuming you take leave over this period).

When assessing our health, we often don’t place too much importance on what’s going on in our heads. Yet our mental health can impact our physical health in so many ways.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon, which is an important step towards recognising workplace burnout as a real problem. They define burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

According to the WHO, burnout is characterised by 3 dimensions:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
  3. Reduced professional efficacy.

If you already have workplace burnout you will experience all 3 of the above symptoms, but if you are experiencing 1 or 2, it’s a good idea to take stock and make some changes so you don’t continue down the path to actual burnout.

You may be as happy as a pig in mud, but it’s important to know what the symptoms are so you can identify if other people around you are suffering from it. Whether it’s your work colleagues, employees, or even your family and friends, the first step to resolving anything is identifying and acknowledging that a problem exists.

As an employer it is your duty to look after the wellbeing of your employees. If you identify more than one person heading for or experiencing burnout, it may be an indication that you need to review your staff morale and workload to see if there is something that has to be addressed.

Every person deals with stress in their own unique way, so just because someone experiences burnout, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something wrong with the workplace environment. It may be a case of assisting the person with stress management and morale support to help them get through it.

Potential causes of burnout:

  1. Long work hours.
  2. Unrealistic expectations from employers.
  3. Difficult relationships with superiors or colleagues.
  4. Jobs with no potential for growth or development.

How do you identify burnout?

Even the most optimistic person will have some days that they don’t like their jobs, but if the negative feelings continue for a long time, it may be a warning sign for burnout. If you take a break and come back feeling refreshed, it’s unlikely to be burnout. It’s when nothing can pull you out of the negativity that you should be concerned.

These are some of the warning signs:

  1. You are unable to sleep well and have a good rest.
  2. You get unreasonably angry and short-tempered, possibly being rude to others.
  3. You feel like your job has no purpose.
  4. You go through the motions in autopilot, without engaging with what’s happening around you.

There are a number of online tests that have been developed to identify possible burnout, but the results should not be taken as conclusive.

  1. MindTools Burnout Self-Test
    a. 15 statements for which you select from varying degrees between “Not at all” to “Very often”.
  2. Psychology Today
    a. Burnout Test (Service Fields) – 42 questions for which you select from 1 to 7, 1 being “Completely false” and 7 being “Completely true” (15 minutes).
    b. Burnout Test (Non-Service Fields) – 45 questions for which you select from varying degrees between “Strongly agree” to “Strongly disagree” (15-20 minutes).
  3. Verywell mind risk assessment quiz
    a. 20 multiple choice questions.

How do you guard against burnout?

If you’ve noticed some warning signs of burnout, here is what you can do about it:

  1. Take some time off work to relax and unwind (without checking your phone and/or laptop continuously).
  2. Focus on the tasks at work that you enjoy the most.
  3. Speak to your boss about how you are feeling and see if there is any assistance offered.
  4. If your company is not interested in your health and wellbeing, consider looking for another job.
  5. Look after yourself by getting more sleep, eating healthy and exercising regularly.
  6. Set clear boundaries for when work starts and ends, switching off from work entirely once the work day has ended.

If you are doing a job you really don’t like or you don’t see any potential for the situation to improve, it may be time to look for a new job.

As an employer you play a major role in making the work environment a favourable one for your employees.

Here are some ways to create a place where people want to work:

  1. Identify the strengths and interests of your employees and see if you can give them more tasks that play to these.
  2. Spend time on career development so they know there are opportunities to grow and to advance.
  3. Find ways to recognise employees for their achievements so that they feel valued and appreciated for what they have to offer.

How do you recover from burnout?

It would have taken a long time to build up to the point of burnout, so recovering from it will not be an overnight affair. As with anything challenging in our lives, take it one day at a time and be patient with yourself.

An article in the Business News Daily provides advice on how to start on the road to recovery.

  1. Acknowledge that you have burnout and decide to do something about it.
  2. Reorganise your priorities so that work is not at the top of your list.  
  3. Make a list of all the non-work-related things that are important to you and allocate time to give your undivided attention to each one, one at a time.
  4. Look after your body by getting plenty of sleep, exercising and eating healthy.
  5. Improve your mental state by deciding to be grateful for the good things in your life every single day.
  6. Set reasonable business hours for work and stick to them.
  7. Learn to relax and enjoy your leisure time again.
  8. Surround yourself with supportive people who will be there for you and with you each step of the process.

As we close out 2019, let’s take the time to look out for one another and to reach out if we notice someone needing help. If you are the one needing help, don’t go it alone anymore. There are people and resources available (e.g. Beyond Blue, Reach Out Australia, Sane Australia) to help you regain your zest and purpose for life. If you know anyone who could benefit from reading this article, please share it with them. As we all know, sharing is caring.

One thing you don’t need to stress about is your insurance. We are here to make sure you have the appropriate insurance cover to protect what you’ve worked so hard for. You can go on holiday with peace of mind, knowing that you are covered!

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