5 Tips To Steer Clear Of The 2021 Sharply Rising Burnout Epidemic

Feeling burned out? You’re not alone. Typically, employee engagement and well-being are inexorably connected, and worker engagement reduces burnout and increases productivity. But in 2020 Gallup identified a reverse trend dubbed, the “Well-Being-Engagement Paradox” in which the well-being of the American workforce plummeted to lows not seen since the 2008 Great Recession. “Employee engagement and well-being became disconnected from each other and went their own ways,” according to Gallup. “This divergence presents critical implications for workplace leaders in the coming year.” As this trend continued during the 2021 pandemic, work as we know it got turned upside down. An exhausted work force, burning the midnight oil at home, claim they became modern-day workaholics (40% by one account).

Workplace Burnout On The Rise

A new Visier survey showed that the pandemic created widespread remote work with burnout at epidemic proportions (89%), driving a major resignation rate as a result. Employees reported their number one burnout contributor was being asked to take on more work. Other significant contributors include a toxic workplace culture, being asked to complete work faster, being micromanaged and a lack of control in the workplace. More than two-thirds (70%) of employees said they would leave their current job for a different one that offered comprehensive resources, benefits, support or policies intended to reduce burnout. So what do workers believe helps address burnout? More flexibility and support, according to the Visier survey. When asked which employer-provided benefits would do the most to alleviate burnout, 39% of respondents named flexible work hours. Others said they wanted better mental health resources (31%), paid sick days (25%) and a wellness program (24%).

What Burnout Is And How To Prevent It

In 2019, The World Health Organization (WHO) reached a milestone, officially classifying it as a medical diagnosis, including the condition in the International Classification of Diseases: “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout is diagnosed by three symptoms: “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.”

The more severe your burnout, the more stressed you are at work and the more difficult it is to fulfill your professional obligations. Burnout isn’t the same as stress, and you can’t cure it by taking an extended vacation, slowing down or working fewer hours. Once burnout takes hold, you’re out of gas, and you’ve given up all hope of surmounting your obstacles. But work performance and well-being don’t have to come at the expense of sweat equity, burnout or loss of mental and physical health. Here are five tips on how to prevent it.

  1. Practice Radical Self-Care. The first and foremost priority must be your health and well-being and willingness to protect it on a daily basis. It involves being a proponent of “Good Enough” instead of requiring yourself to give 100% to everything (which is impossible). Making sure you have work/life balance is a feature of self-care that can mitigate stress and burnout. There is value in “Microbreaks” throughout the workday to unwind and reset your energy. After hours of sitting, short breaks—I recommend five minutes or less—are effective energy management strategies and can be as simple as stretching, walking up and down stairs, gazing out a window at nature, snacking, deep breathing, yoga or a five minute mindful meditation.
  2. Lead With Self-Compassion And Empathy. It’s important to practice self-compassion as well as respect and empathy for colleagues. Concern for yourself and one another is the foundation of workplace morale and ultimately the company’s bottom line. The ability to put yourself in a coworker’s shoes and see her or his perspective is a powerful tool. The 18 inches from your head to your heart is the longest professional journey you’ll ever take. Empathy connects you to the feelings of others, makes you a more compassionate colleague and frees you from your own narrow thoughts and snap judgments. It neutralizes anger and frustration and helps you recognize that everybody you encounter at work is struggling with their own inner burdens. So it’s important to check in with one another for support and to feel supported and to lend a helping hand to an overwhelmed coworker in need.
  3. Set Boundaries. If you’re a remote worker, establishing clear boundaries between work and home life is essential. Confine work to a specific area so your job doesn’t intrude into the lives of other household members and you can concentrate. Have a designated space for your workstation instead of spreading work out on the kitchen table or in front of the TV. After hours, keep your work space at arm’s length as if it’s five miles across town and learn to say no to a job request when you’re already overloaded.
  4. Sharpen Your Outlook. Your overarching ally is your perspective. It can victimize you or empower you. Tunnel vision on stressors blinds you to possibilities and impedes tranquility, happiness and productivity, so it’s important to see the bigger picture where workable solutions lie. When you look for the upside in a downside situation and figure out what you can control and what you can’t, it’s easier to accept circumstances beyond your control. In an uncontrollable work situation, your power lies in finding the opportunity in the difficulty instead of the difficulty in the opportunity.
  5. Ask For Help. A Vida Health survey by Onepoll reported that 47% of workers believe taking advantage of mental health opportunities is a sign of weakness, and the Visier study reported that only 7% of burnt-out employees seek support for fear of being stigmitized as incompetent if they speak to a boss. A total of 42% more women (42%) than men (30%) said they feel uncomfortable talking to their boss about burnout. It’s important to remember that management can’t offer support if they don’t know you need it. Your first responsibility is to yourself to not let intimidation keep you from talking to your manager about the possibility of a deadline extension, a more flexible schedule or reduced work load. Seeking professional help is essential if burnout symptoms worsen or after you’ve tried the measures at your disposal. Take advantage of counseling and other support programs offered through employee assistance programs. Or you can contact Mental Health America to find resources closest to you or call 800-273-8255, a 24-hour crisis center.


A Note To Employers

At the Ending Physician Burnout Global Summit, Dr. Paul DeChant, asserted that workplace burnout is not driven by employees, but by six factors in the workplace: (1) a chaotic work environment (2) loss of control (3) insufficient rewards (4) breakdown of community (5) the absence of fairness and (6) conflicting values. “It’s not a lack of personal resilience,” DeChant said. “We take highly trained professionals and put them into a clinical workplace that’s very dysfunctional and requires us to be constantly vigilant and focused in order to do our work successfully.”

The Visier report admitted giving employees a week off to recharge is a step in the right direction, but also emphasized companies must do more to address the burnout epidemic using a strategic, holistic approach with the right policies, processes and technologies in place to support them. By engaging employees in conversations about their burnout and using workplace tools to gauge stress levels, managers can help their direct reports develop action plans for alleviating work-related fatigue. These strategies ensure employees don’t feel solely responsible for addressing a problem that is, in many instances, triggered by their work—not their own shortcomings. When organizations don’t address burnout, top talent will leave for companies with better benefits and support, driving up turnover and recruitment costs. 

The Tycoon Herald