Let’s do the REAL TALK about Burnout
Ways to Recognize and Prevent it
In the fast-paced world we live in, burnout has become a silent companion in our workplaces, and among our employees. Originally coined by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1970 to describe the detrimental effects of chronic stress on professionals in the helping professions, burnout has transcended those boundaries to affect us all, regardless of profession and work modality.
Did you know that burnout can be recognized and prevented? Let’s dive deeper into this topic and find out more!
Understanding Burnout: A Four-Stage Development
So, what is Burnout? Burnout is the effect of very intense and long-term work-related stress that has not been successfully managed. According to Ajduković’s model (1996), burnout develops in four stages:
- Enthusiasm and Idealization of work: It starts with high expectations and a sense of purpose. The employees are enthusiastic, committed, and optimistic. Their achievements are numerous, and work is a source of fulfillment.
- Initial Discontent and First Signs of Burnout: As time passes, signs of burnout become evident. Physical and mental fatigue creeps in, and employees start to feel frustrated. Work morale plummets, and they struggle to communicate effectively with colleagues.
- Withdrawal, Isolation, and Intensified Stress: At this stage, employees begin to withdraw. Avoiding colleagues becomes a norm, and negativity clouds their outlook. Emotional struggles, depression, difficulty concentrating, and physical and mental exhaustion set in.
- Apathy and Loss of Interest: Burnout culminates in apathy and profound stress. Employees experience a loss of self-worth, detachment from work, and an overwhelming desire to escape. Feelings of depression may emerge, ultimately leading to the decision to leave a job.
Unveiling the Impact: Consequences of Burnout
Years of research and study of burnout show us that burnout is associated with numerous negative consequences, not only for individual well-being but also for the organizations we serve.
Psychological consequences: difficulty in concentration, mental exhaustion at work and outside of work, a feeling of personal inefficiency, low personal and professional self-esteem, hypersensitivity to criticism, depression, and insomnia.
Physical consequences: headaches, physical exhaustion and muscle pain, heart diseases, palpitations, digestive system disease, dizziness, hot flashes, high pressure, and other health problems.
Organizational consequences: job dissatisfaction, low motivation, reduced productivity, reduced contacts, low commitment to the organization, poor communication and distorted messages, poor decision-making, absenteeism, and turnover (Salvagioni et al., 2017).
Cognitive Consequences: impair short-term memory, attention, and other cognitive processes essential for daily work activities (Gavelin et al., 2022).
Acting: Strategies for Prevention
Having in mind the gravity of the situation, here are the strategies for burnout prevention:
- Learn about Burnout: Educate yourself and your employees about burnout signs. You can bring in people who have experienced burnout to share their stories so employees can better relate to the topic and feel its importance. Your HR team can write a mini manual on burnout symptoms and strategies for its prevention that will be available to all employees.
- Manage Workloads: Regularly assess and adjust workloads. Ask employees for their opinion on whether their tasks are too demanding or monotonous. Help employees to establish SMART goals and monitor progress.
- Measure Employee Satisfaction: Use anonymous surveys and 1:1 conversation to measure employee satisfaction with work tasks, workplace climate, interpersonal relations, and management practices. Ask your employees for opinions and suggestions for improvement.
- Build a Culture of Care and Trust: Your organization needs to be a place where employees will be able to openly say when something isn’t right for them or when they aren’t satisfied. Pay attention to changes in the behavior of employees, such as increased exhaustion or decreased participation. These can be the first signs of burnout.
- Prioritize Employee Well-Being: Research from 2022 shows only 24% of employees feel their company is doing enough to support them, compared to 49% during the pandemic. Support your workforce because employees who feel supported by their managers are approximately 70% less likely to experience burnout regularly. Organize workshops or training on effective stress management and provide employees with access to free psychotherapy sessions. Encourage them to utilize breaks and vacations to recharge.
- Set Clear Roles and Expectations: Every employee must know what his role is and what is expected of him, otherwise insecurity and frustration arise. Clearly define roles and responsibilities to prevent overwhelming individual employees. Set clear expectations about work hours and availability, especially for remote workers.
- Give your Employees Recognition: Recognize and acknowledge employees’ contributions to show them that you value their work and that each of them is an important and indispensable part of the company. You can give them recognition for a well-done task/project through praise (e.g., via social networks or in the form of a diploma/charter), a day off, or a prize in the form of a joint trip.
- Teach Your Employees to Set Boundaries: Many employees who don’t know how to say “No” take on too much work and burn out slowly but surely. For this reason, you should learn assertive communication and boundary setting together to alleviate the stressors that come from poor communication and the inability to say “No.”
- Emphasize the Importance of Social Relationships: Organize social gatherings and activities for employees to socialize more and to reduce the feeling of isolation. Encourage work-life balance and foster positive interpersonal relationships within the company, because healthy relationships with others can help buffer workplace stresses.
Preventing burnout isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity and responsibility of all of us. The implementation of prevention strategies requires continuous effort and support from every level of an organization. It’s important to build a culture that promotes employee well-being as a priority, which will benefit the company in the long term through increased employee satisfaction and engagement.
Ajduković, M., & Ajduković, D. (1996). Pomoć i samopomoć u skrbi za mentalno zdravlje pomagača. Zagreb: Društvo za psihološku pomoć, 52-68.
Gavelin, H. M., Domellöf, M. E., Åström, E., Nelson, A., Launder, N. H., Neely, A. S., & Lampit, A. (2022). Cognitive function in clinical burnout: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Work & Stress, 36(1), 86–104. https://doi.org/10.1080/02678373.2021.2002972
Salvagioni, D. A. J., Melanda, F. N., Mesas, A. E., González, A. D., Gabani, F. L., & de Andrade, S. M. (2017). Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PLoS ONE, 12(10), Article e0185781. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185781
Author: Marija Malenčić