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8 Ways You Can Help Prevent Burnout Among Your Employees

8 Ways You Can Help Prevent Burnout Among Your Employees

When biology upsets the nervous system, and a worker gets caught in a cycle of mental exhaustion and unpleasant emotions (stress, fear of failure, fear of being fired), spending more time in unpleasant than pleasant emotions, their brains and bodies produce toxic chemicals that can disrupt sleep, rest, and recharging – putting them one step closer to actually experiencing burnout. 

One study recently reported that out of 1,000 participants, 64% self-identified as burned out, and 90% reported feeling this way for an extended period. While only 21% actually had the clinical markers of burnout risk (i.e., degree of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy), the fact that so many people felt they had reached this point is concerning. 


What is Burnout?

The World Health Organization defines burn-out as an occupational phenomenon “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • 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.

Chronic frustration is a gateway to burnout

Edelwich and Brodsky identified four stages of gradual disillusionment that help explain how burnout develops:

  1. Enthusiasm – This is typically how we feel when we start a new job or role and are ready to change the world.

  2. Stagnation – When things don’t go as planned, we start to get bogged down in the detail.

  3. Frustration – As the gap between what we had planned to do and what we perceive we are actually achieving widens, frustration grows.

  4. Apathy – In this final stage, we experience emotional detachment from the role we were once passionate about, and no longer find meaning or fulfillment in our workplace tasks.

My clinical experience is that when workers feel trapped in the frustration stage, they are more at risk of experiencing feelings of learned helplessness, fatigue, isolation, self-doubt, overwhelm, and can become emotionally reactive. 

An employee who is chronically frustrated and unable to cope may become depressed and start to feel angry at themselves and others due to feeling constantly disappointed or sad from feeling trapped. 

If left unchecked, this can lead to less effective coping habits such as increased food and alcohol use and, in the workplace, increase the risk of presenteeism, sick time, and turnover. 

Are priorities, policies and behaviours aligned in your organization?

Psychosocial factors can positively or negatively impact human emotions, thoughts, and well-being. Chronic exposure to adversity (e.g., long work hours, misalignment of values, command-and-control leadership, high job demand, low job autonomy, poor work relationships) can negatively impact workers’ physiology and psychological well-being. 

The entire organization must be committed to staying healthy and psychologically safe to maximize the organization’s ability to achieve its full potential with a viable, healthy workforce.

Addressing or preventing chronic frustration takes time and effort and openness to change

There is no simple solution, but it is possible to protect workers and reduce workplace mental health issues by addressing frustrations before they become chronic.

As leaders, we can manage how work gets done, clarify expectations, and ensure priorities, policies  are aligned.

The first step is to recognize that you may need to change ingrained habits and expectations, and re-imagine how work is organized and performed. It’s also essential that you acknowledge these three truths:

  • Employees have a physiological limit; they need rest, nutrition, and hydration to function to their potential. 

  • Employees’ emotions matter as they influence attitudes, beliefs, daily thoughts, and actions.

  • Employees’ environment plays a major role in facilitating and regulating stress. 

Learn about and pay attention to psychosocial factors that drain employees. Evaluate nd measure them with a Plan-Do-Check-Act framework. Accept that information, programs, and policies are of little value if they do not shape the habits that create positive emotions humans need to flourish.

Give employees the support, tools and knowledge they need to prevent burnout

Recognize employees’ situations and experiences vary and taking a one-size-fits-all approach won’t do. 

Educate your team about the connection between their minds and bodies and promote programs that  build mental fitness to help employees develop healthy coping behaviours. 

  1. Promote healthy life/work blending – Help them learn how to prioritize their health and engage in help-seeking behaviour. Talk about the benefits of exercise, sleep, oxygen, nutrition, cold water treatment, drinking clean water, living purposefully, and programming their brains to generate more positive than negative emotions. Reinforce the value of taking uninterrupted time for oneself and family and enjoying life outside of work. 

  2. Engage employee in open communications – Regularly check in with employees to see how they are doing and encourage honesty by being equally receptive to both positive and negative responses.

  3. Monitor employee workload – Pay attention to your employees’ workload. Humans have capacity limits that vary from person to person. It’s important to recognize this and be mindful of each employee’s capacity.

  4. Encourage employees to take time off – Encourage employees to use vacation time and make it clear that when they are on vacation, they should turn work off. Model this type of boundary setting on your own time off as well.

  5. Pay attention to the number of hours employees are working – Watch employees who consistently work evenings and weekends. These extra hours can catch up. 

  6. Ensure all employees are clear on psychological support programs – Do not assume employees know what is available through the EFAP program, or that they are aware of the provider’s paramedical psychological services. Remind employees of the valuable supports that are available and make sure they know how to access them. Share your experience using these resources to help break down stigma.

  7. Embrace professional development – Managers are human and can develop blind spots. They may not realize they are contributing to an employee’s feelings of burnout. Ensure that managers understand mental fatigue and burnout, and provide training to help them feel confident in supporting their teams. 

  8. Be genuine – Model behaviours that promote and align to work expectations, health, well-being and self-care. Be consistent and live the values you espouse. If you do not ‘walk the walk’, then encouraging words will not have the same effect. A mentally healthy workplace requires action at every level.

Burnout can happen to anyone – it is not a sign of weakness or incompetence. By giving your employees the support, knowledge and tools they need you can address tmisperceptions, curb stigma and prevent burnout from seeping into your workplace.

Get to know the author – Dr. Bill Howatt

 

 

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