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Work stress can lead employees to burnout. (iStockphoto)
Work stress can lead employees to burnout. (iStockphoto)

YOUR LIFE AT WORK SURVEY

Are you suffering from burnout? Add to ...

Jack started his new job full of passion, but over a period of time he started to feel the effects of the constant grind, stress and pressure. His inspiration and excitement declined sharply. As his passion waned, he realized that he no longer was enjoying his job and started to associate pain with work. Jack was headed toward burnout.

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Burnout is a psychological term that describes the negative outcomes associated with chronic job stress. This relates to employees developing symptoms such as mental and physical exhaustion and losing interest in their jobs.

Herbert Freduenberger first coined the term ‘burnout.’ While experts have yet to agree on a definite diagnosis, there is agreement that common symptoms are associated with a person experiencing burnout: emotional exhaustion, a negative view of their job, seeing their work as frustrating, and a decline in job performance.

The degree of risk for burnout depends on where employees fall on a stress continuum with respect to their perception of the frequency, duration and intensity of their stress. Employees experiencing burnout typically report a significant decline in their motivation to come to work, increased levels of concern about their capability to do their job and feeling that there is less purpose in their work.

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight; it occurs over a period of time when constant stress depletes an employee’s resources. It’s not uncommon for employees who get burned out to have once been engaged and excited about their job.

More employers are becoming aware of burnout and accepting that it is real; it’s not artificial or made up. This condition, though not a psychiatric condition, still can weaken an employee and put them at risk for chronic health conditions or mental health issues such as depression.

The root cause of burnout is often linked to an employee’s lack of skills to cope with or manage external stress. These include lack of time for family or friends because of constant work demands, chronic tension interacting with a manager, a gap in their job fit, lack of control over their schedule or workload, and unclear job expectations and authority.

Symptoms typically associated with burnout include:

– a decrease in the quality of their work

– a decline in their personal relationships in the workplace

– chronic fatigue

– increased absenteeism

– a pessimistic view of their workplace

– an increased incidents of forgetfulness

– a decrease in ability to concentrate and solve problems

– a decreased interest in doing quality work

– an increase in emotional symptoms such as being short-tempered, impatient, frustrated, moody

– an increase in physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, chest pain, loss of appetite, insomnia, and gastrointestinal pain

– an increase in psychological symptoms such as anxiety, addiction, depression, and anger

Burnout is expensive for employers because it saps employees’ productivity, results in increased incidents of presenteeism (coming to work feeling unwell and accomplishing little) that can result in higher employee turnover, accidents and insurance and benefits costs.

Employees who get caught in the burnout spiral often lose their sense of hope that things could ever get better, and this adds to their existing psychological burden. If they don’t find relief or get help to break this downward spiral they are at a greater their risk for developing conditions associated with burnout. These include both physical and mental health issues that increase the complexity of getting back on a healthy track.

There are proven treatments to help a person cope with stress. Developing coping skills is critical for curbing risk for burnout.

The Globe and Mail and Howatt HR Your Life at Work Survey provides employees an opportunity to evaluate their current level of stress and its impact on their health. Our survey has found that employees who report strong skills to cope with stress and the demands of their life and work also report being healthier and more engaged in their work. The findings also suggest a direct correlation between workers’ productivity and their coping skills.

This month’s mini survey (located at the end of the Your Life at Work Survey) focuses on burnout. It will allow you to self-evaluate your current level of risk. If you find that you are at risk there are resources that can help you understand your situation and find a plan to get better, such as your employee assistance provider, personal doctor and Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Mental Health First Aid initiatives.

All the stories and resources associated with our survey can also be found at tgam.ca/yourlifeatwork.

Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is president of Howatt Consulting in Kentville, N.S.

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