What is burnout and how can it impact work?
Every job comes with a certain amount of stress. Tight deadlines, important projects, and even bosses and colleagues can contribute to work stress.
A little stress is good, it helps us stay focused, meet deadlines, and push ourselves to improve.
But too much stress at work can be damaging, impacting performance, and can even lead to long-term health or psychological issues. Chronic stress at work is one of the leading contributors to a condition that is impacting more and more businesses and professionals: burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of physical or emotional exhaustion. It can also involve a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. Over a long period of time, it can impact people’s productivity, motivation, self-esteem, and can damage the culture, output, and reputation of a company.
Over three quarters of workers say they have experienced burnout at their current job, so it’s a widespread issue that is impacting every sector.
How burnout can impact your team
Burnout leads to lower productivity
If your team is burnt out, their productivity will be lower. It’s hard to push yourself when you have no energy, and if a pattern has already been established where their work isn’t recognised or rewarded, it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t be motivated to go the extra mile.
Burnout leads to higher staff turnover
If everyone on your team is burnt out, they’ll start to leave, hoping for better conditions and support somewhere else. Given the prevalence of LinkedIn, it’s easier than ever for people to see what it’s like to work somewhere else. If they’ve been burnt out for a long time, they might well assume things will never change, and move on.
Burnout leads to more sick days
Burnout is tied closely to stress, which has a real impact on our immune system. The more stressed we are, the more often we get sick, and the longer we need to recover.
If your team is constantly tired, overworked, and worried, they’ll be more likely to need days off sick, impacting overall productivity, and putting more pressure on other members of the team to pick up the slack.
What causes burnout
When we’re given too much work, not enough resources, we’re more likely to experience burnout. Working too many hours has an extremely negative impact on our health, including weight loss, body pain, exhaustion, and sleep loss.
Sadly, it’s not as simple as just telling team members to not work more than they should. People worry that not working longer hours could be seen as not showing initiative, and fear they may be punished, formally or informally. There are many horror stories on LinkedIn of exactly this, indeed many people have personal experience of this at former places of work.
Managers should help identify low-priority goals for their employees, so team members don’t push themselves too hard to meet goals that aren’t urgent, and match people’s strengths to their job duties. It doesn’t make sense to force someone to struggle with a task they’re not suited for, when they could be excelling at something else.
Lack of control
Agency is key to feeling like you’re in control of your work and career. Ownership of objectives, or methods of working, can help your team have a real impact.
Micromanagement, lack of influence, accountability without power to make changes, these can make team members feel as if their ideas and opinions don’t matter.
Instead, it’s important to help employees feel a sense of autonomy by backing off and acting more as a coach. You can also increase autonomy by inviting employees to ask questions and express their needs, and letting people set their own schedules and goals.
If you give your team more control over how they do their work, they will often rise to the occasion in their own way.
Working long hours
Remote working has given many of us more control over our work/life balance. But for some, the lack of boundaries between work and home have resulted in them working more than they would if they were in the office.
Never switching off can lead to increased stress, and feeling that they need to prove that they’re always available can put even more pressure on already over-worked team members.
Lack of communication and unclear objectives
Nothing is more frustrating at work than poor communication. If your team don’t know what they’re meant to be working on, or what their priorities are, there’s no way they can deliver. Working in the dark, never feeling confident that their work is helping the overall drive of the team, is a sure way to end up with burnout.
Helping your team to understand their objectives is a great way to reduce the risk of burnout.
Warning signs that your team might be experiencing burnout
Not completing tasks on time or to a high standard
A lack of structure can sometimes contribute to burnout. If deadlines aren’t enforced, or high standards of work aren’t expected, team members can let things slide.
Burnout can sometimes manifest through a slip in levels of quality, with staff unable to get work done on time, or not caring if it’s as good as it could be.
If your team members are displaying sudden bursts of anger, sadness, or irritability, it could be a sign that they’re experiencing burnout.
Losing track of time
If members of your team are frequently behind on deadlines, burnout might be the cause. Chronic mental stress can impact our perception of time, with severe cases reporting loss of minutes or hours during work.
Not everyone will experience burnout the same way, but it can have a profound effect on people’s professional and personal lives. Despite this being widely known, 70% of workers have said that managers aren’t doing enough to prevent burnout.
How to prevent burnout
Provide recognition for good work
Some managers believe that a paycheque is reward enough for their team’s work. But many studies have shown that it’s the little things: recognition in meetings, an award for employee of the month, any kind of praise and validation that your work mattered, made a difference, and was noticed, that really makes a difference in how people feel about their jobs.
Setting healthy boundaries at work is a great way to separate work from personal life. Managers should set an example by finishing on time, not replying to emails outside of work hours, and generally enforcing the boundaries that are there to protect everyone’s mental health.
Have a sense of community at work
Having a sense of belonging is necessary for mental health and well-being, and this is true at work as much as it is in our personal life. Employees who have friends at work are capable of higher levels of healthy stress management, even though they experience the same levels of stress as those who don’t have the same connections at work.
The opposite is also true: poor relationships at work can lead to burnout. It’s important that employers pay attention to the social needs and give people spaces where they can connect with colleagues around non-work-related topics.
Have a fair workplace
Unfair treatment includes bias, favouritism, or mistreatment by a co-worker or supervisor. When people are being treated unfairly, they are likely to burn out.
Organizations should have complaint mechanisms in place, respond to them, and act promptly to resolve issues. Otherwise, resentment is bound to grow.
Have strong values
Having values that dictate the direction and purpose of your work can be incredibly helpful in reducing burnout. Work becomes more than just hitting targets, it takes on a deeper meaning for everyone on the team.
Organizations that communicate values clearly and strive to fulfil their mission will have more satisfied employees.
Provide mental health support at work
One of the best ways to help ensure your team doesn’t suffer from burnout is to provide mental health support at work.
Having team members who are trained in mental health awareness and first aid can make the difference between a team who are burnt out and ready to quit, and a team who feel valued, supported, and listened to.
Burnout can really harm your team, your culture, and your bottom line, but as we’ve outlined there are simple ways to recognise, stop, and prevent burnout from impacting your business.
Read more about how to support your team with the demands of work, or learn about peer support and manager support and why you need both.
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Posted on: 3rd October 2022