If you’re reading this blog right now, you probably work for a living (and if you don’t, you severely misspelled Buzzfeed), and this means there’s a good chance that you have suffered from work burnout at some point in your career.
Even stock photography models can experience work burnout.
We’re not just guessing at this either. In fact, according to a 2017 survey by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace, “95 percent of human resource leaders admit employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention,” citing it as a cause of up to 50% of employee turnover.
And before you dismiss work burnout as a minor inconvenience that people can just brush off with a nap, Harvard Business School researchers have estimated that stress from high demands at work is responsible for $48 billion in spending and contributes to about 30,000 deaths, annually. It’s more of an epidemic and a severe health issue than we are led to believe. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that “occupational burnout” is a recognized psychiatric disorder in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
In short, work burnout is a real health issue for both employees and employers. So what can you do to prevent and/or recover from it?
Step 1: Recognize the symptoms of work burnout
There’s a difference between being a little tired and experiencing work burnout. By training yourself to recognize the symptoms of the latter, you’ll be better equipped to nip it in the bud when it does creep up. Ask yourself:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
These questions come from the Mayo Clinic (they have more listed), and if you have answered “yes” to any of these, you might be experiencing burnout. Also, according to a study outlined in the New York Times, watch for these symptoms as well:
- Feeling emotionally drained and mentally unwell.
- Being unable to sleep or constantly fighting sickness.
- Feeling alienated/ostracized by peers and bosses.
Again, everyone has bad days at work. But if days turn to weeks and months, it might be time to address the work burnout you are experiencing.
Step 2: Realize that it’s usually a company problem
Another misconception is that burning out at work is an individual’s problem. Sure, there are people who are just made to be workaholics. Sure, there are people who are cynical because they just ended up in the wrong job. But remember the statistic at the top of this post. If it were only these reasons, 95% of HR professionals wouldn’t be worried about it.
In our book… we note that when employees aren’t as productive as they could be, it’s usually the organization, not its employees, that is to blame. The same is true for employee burnout. When we looked inside companies with high burnout rates, we saw three common culprits: excessive collaboration, weak time management disciplines, and a tendency to overload the most capable with too much work. These forces not only rob employees of time to concentrate on completing complex tasks or for idea generation, they also crunch the downtime that is necessary for restoration.
So why does realizing this matter to you? Because it means that managing burnout isn’t solely up to you, but rather up to the company as well. Not only does this destigmatize talking about it, a good company will recognize their part in mitigating burnout and thus provide resources to help their employees manage work stress.
Also, this prevents you from thinking “I need a new job” as the ultimate answer. We all know that employee turnover is hard on both the individual and the company. Instead of quitting to find a “better” work environment, your current work environment can be changed with the help of those in charge.
Here are some real-world examples of companies actively preventing employee burnout:
- Mojo Media Labs allows for “Work-from-Home-Wednesdays” that breaks up the work week and provides freedom and autonomy.
- Quirky has a “blackout” week once a quarter where no one (except customer service) is allowed to work.
- Even Goldman Sachs has told their junior workers not to work over weekends.
See a pattern? Companies that institute forced vacations can be great allies to you, because it takes away the guilt component of much needed rest. That equals less stress, and more relaxation.
Step 3: Addressing the sources of stress
By taking the first two steps above, you’ve already come a long way to addressing work burnout. After all, it’s a very internal and mental issue, so simply by acknowledging it and bringing it up to your bosses or HR department, you’re doing yourself a solid.
Now it’s time to tackle the specific sources of your work stress. Unfortunately, it’s hard to have any sweeping generalizations here as the specifics will vary, but take cues from the cited block above that lists the three common sources: excessive collaboration, time management, and having too much on your plate. Which resonates with you?
For example, spanning those first two sources, many workers find an overload of emails to be a source of major stress. In fact, a report out of Future Work Centre in London showed that constant email notifications can be “a toxic source of stress.” They also found that “the average adult spent more than an hour a day consulting emails.” Sound familiar at all?
Other stressors may include unrealistic deadlines, overcrowded or unpredictable schedules, and work beyond your scope. Addressing these will require talking to your bosses, which can be a major source of stress in of itself (so maybe share this blog post with them?), but a necessary step to take to resolve these issues.
And remember the little things to de-stress throughout the day:
- Take frequent breaks. Every twenty minutes if you can.
- Talk to your peers. Venting is important for stress relief.
- Find a hobby outside of work that fulfills and relaxes you.
- And of course, drink less and sleep more!
Have you ever experienced work burnout? How did you deal with it? Let us know! And if you think email is a source of stress, we can help. Click here to find out how!