Burnout Is Now A Recognised Workplace Syndrome⁠—Here’s How To Avoid It

Because there's only so many late nights one can take...

Burning the midnight oil regularly and worried you’ll seem ‘weak’ to your boss if you say anything—despite the fact your health is suffering… a lot?

Be it complete exhaustion, mind fog, a racing heart or ongoing ‘can’t cope’ feelings, burnout is a serious problem. And finally, thanks to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it’s getting the recognition it needs.

As of this month, the World Health Organisation has deemed ‘burnout’ an occupational syndrome, listing it within their ‘International Classification of Diseases’ (ICD-11).
Just short of calling it a disease, the WHO has recognised burnout as a ‘syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’

Image: iStock

According to WHO, the symptoms of burnout can include:

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

Also, important to note, unlike other medical conditions, ‘burnout’ as defined by WHO only applies in an occupational context not within other personal areas of life. So that ‘late night TV binge burnout’? Not going to cut it in the workplace, sorry!

As for burnout at work though, it’s not only now a recognised problem, but it’s a big deal. Currently, burnout affects 23 per cent of workers in the US, according to a Gallup survey, and leads to 120,000 deaths a year according to Harvard Business School, resulting in $125 billion to $190 billion in healthcare spending each year.

Image: iStock

Bearing this in mind, it’s important to understand what triggers the burn-out spiral and learn what can we do to swerve it, stat!

And who knows how to bounce away from burnout better than a resilience expert? To learn how to avoid it, Amodrn asked Peta Sigley, Co-Founder and Chief Knowledge Officer at Springfox (the Australian arm of The Resilience Institute) to share her insight into burnout and how we can put practises in place to stay on our game.

What is burnout and what can it stem from?

“Burnout is essentially the result of overload leading to poor health (physical, emotional, mental or spiritual) and in my line of work (coaching workplaces in resilience), I see this all the time,” says Sigley.

“The main contributor to burnout is excessive stress, which is sadly, extremely common. Our Global Resilience Report of over 26,000 professionals found that 55 per cent of us worry excessively, 50 per cent are hyper-vigilant, 45 per cent experience distress symptoms, and 35 per cent are unable to relax. In fact, employee stress levels have risen nearly 20 per cent in three decades.”

Image: iStock

“These feelings of extreme stress generally come about as a result of feeling sustained pressure or strain or feeling compromised by workplace demands. As of late, technological disruption in the workplace have also fuelled pressure to be ‘always on’ which isn’t leaving people adequate time to wind down or rest,” says Sigley.

“When we aren’t given the opportunity to recover from burnout (often the case in fast-paced office environments), these symptoms can evolve into more serious mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, as well as have an impact on our physical health—for example, obesity, diabetes, poor cardiovascular health etc.”

What are the most common reasons people burnout?

“People end up in burnout for a number of reasons, but generally, fast-paced, high-pressure environments are typically the key culprits, as well as things like—extensively large workloads, unreasonable deadlines and a lack of resources—whether that be IT, equipment or staff,” says Sigley.

“Certain workplace cultures also can be conducive to burnout such as ‘low-trust’ environments where employees are regarded with suspicion or a lack of confidence, leading to self-doubt and anxiety. This is then compounded by poor communication between managers and staff, where expectations are not clearly expressed, leading to false perceptions of pressure.”

“While these perceptions may contrast reality, they nevertheless have a very real impact and this is where it’s the responsibility of the organisation’s leaders to take into account the potential consequences to the employee’s well-being when delegating roles and encouraging feedback,” says Sigley. 

Image: iStock

What can we do to avoid burnout?

“There is a degree of responsibility that rests with the individual to commit to working in a way that enables recovery and changes in the intensity of work,” says Sigley. “The best way to recover from and prevent burnout is to build resilience. Resilience is a learned skill that is best honed through positive lifestyle practices.”

5 practical ways to avoid burnout:

1. Take both micro and macro breaks

“We actively encourage individuals to build in micro and macro breaks into their day to essentially come off the pressure performance curve every 90 minutes,” says Sigley.  “A macro break is simply changing tasks, standing and stretching. Whilst a macro break can be taking ‘smoko’ of course without the smoking.”

2. Try intermittent working

“We recommend working in intensive blocks of 25 minutes with a five-minute rest or recovery period at the end of the 25-minute period (otherwise known as the Pomodoro Method),” says Sigley.
“At times the five-minute break might be to get a coffee or stretch, other times it is changing work intensity (e.g reviewing the work produced, preparing for the next 25 minutes or changing task (e.g. emails or a quick chat to a colleague or manager). Small changes such as these have a huge impact on your sense of control and recovery throughout the day.”

3. Invest in self-care

One of the most dangerous misconceptions of self-care is that it’s a luxury rather than a necessity,” warns Sigley. “Looking after your body is a great place to start—make sure you’re exercising regularly and eating a balanced, nutritious diet. Both have a significant impact on the overall function of your body, so make this a priority, along with making time for activities you enjoy—such as reading a good book or doing a crossword.

4. Value repetition

Sometimes it pays to be a creature of habit. Frequent change or disruption to our daily routines can cause fatigue,” explains Sigley. “Aim to establish two or three non-negotiable daily habits—whether that’s five minutes of meditation in the morning or a walk around the block on your lunch break. Regular habits give our brains a predictable pattern to fall back on in times of overwhelm and give us something to look forward to in our day.”

5. Connect with nature

Burnout can be more commonly experienced in Winter, as Seasonal Affective Disorder and its accompanying symptoms set in,” explains Sigely. “To counteract the Winter blues, seek out fresh air and sunlight for an instant mood boost, open up your blinds as soon as you wake  to let as much natural light in as possible and try to get outside to soak up some sun or go for a quick walk.”

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