Home Business & Industry Beating Workplace Burnout: How to Spot the Signs and Find a Solution

Beating Workplace Burnout: How to Spot the Signs and Find a Solution

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You’ve likely heard of burnout.  According to a post-pandemic survey, 1 in 5 UK workers felt “unable” to manage pressure and stress levels at work. In the same report 46% of workers identified themselves as “more prone to extreme levels of stress” than in the previous year. In young people and women, the figures are even higher.

What is workplace burnout? 

Burnout shows up in many aspects of our lives, not just in the workplace.  Whatever the cause, it’s unlikely to go away on its own and if not tackled can worsen over time, impacting on physical and mental health. In the workplace, even though employees recognise the symptoms in themselves they may be reluctant to seek help or take action because of stigma or a lack of understanding.

Workplace burnout results from chronic stress that has been left unchecked. Physically, it may show up as chronic fatigue or insomnia or as headaches and gastric and stomach problems, anger, isolation, irritability, depression, and more.

Signs of workplace burnout

  • Constant physical exhaustion at the end of the working day.
  • Increasing cynicism and detachment from colleagues, customers, clients, etc.
  • Unhappiness about your own work performance and worry and uncertainty about how to improve or progress in the workplace.
  • Those in helping professions (such as teachers, doctors, nurses, emergency service staff, therapists) may experience lessening compassion towards those in their care. This compassion fatigue can have serious effects on the most vulnerable.
  • Going to bed exhausted followed by a restless night, eventually waking up dreading the day ahead.

Causes of workplace burnout

There are many factors that contribute to workplace burnout, and it differs for every person. The common denominators that may result in burnout or cause stress in the workplace include:

  • A feeling of little or no control. Not being able to make decisions about your schedule or workload can leave you feeling powerless and lead to burnout.
  • Not knowing what is expected of you. If you don’t know what your manager will want and need from you, you will likely feed stressed and frustrated.
  • A toxic work culture. The degree of cooperation, respect, and morale of people around you will directly impact your satisfaction with your job. Being micromanaged or excluded from office cliques can leave you feeling isolated and depressed. Bullying, harassment, racism, sexism, and exclusive workplaces can leave employees feeling diminished. 
  • A lack of work-life balance. If you’re giving a lot of your energy and time to work, your personal life can suffer, which can lead you to resent time at the office and leave you irritable at home.
  • High engagement with your work. Not in and of itself a bad thing but being over-engaged with your job can lead you to feel a constant need to overwork and become involved with projects. This leads to stressful situations, and emotional exhaustion.  Work has become all consuming – taking time away or a holiday does not feel like an option.
  • Moral injury may be a contributing factor to burnout. Moral injury can result from an expectation that you do or say things that violate your moral beliefs or failing to prevent an action that causes harm or distress to another. Examples of this may be witnessing “teasing” or “banter” that is actually bullying.  What to do or say can be a significant stressor.
  • Tech culture. Tech anxiety can be caused by dependence/overdependence/lack of training and resources in a tech driven culture.
  • Uncertainty about post pandemic processes. Hybrid working vs going into an office and then when there, is there a desk/office available?
  • Miserable commuting has a cumulative effect.  With expense, cancellations, strikes and unreliability around even getting to a place of work or related meeting, additional anxiety or dread soon mounts up. 

Effects of workplace burnout

Workplace burnout can severely impact on body, mind, and spirit. It is important to understand how subtle it is, taking time to take its toll. Any of the following can result from unaddressed burnout:

Physical issues

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Increased likelihood for heart disease
  • Increased likelihood for high blood pressure
  • Increased likelihood for Type 2 diabetes
  • Increased likelihood for respiratory issues
  • Increased likelihood for death before age 45

Mental health issues

  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Increased likelihood for mental health needs like medication or hospitalization

Behavioural impact

  • Alcohol or substance abuse (which can lead to an increase in above – paranoia/anxiety/depression etc.)
  • Disordered eating
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Irresponsibility with finances
  • Anger towards family members
  • Inability to meet responsibilities
  • Acting out with porn, gambling, inappropriate relationships

Workplace consequences

  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Withdrawing from colleagues and friends
  • Inability to meet targets
  • Impact to perform adequately at work
  • Outbursts of anger or rage at colleagues
  • “Quiet quitting” – when you turn up in person, but the spirit is dampened and enthusiasm, gone. 

Workplace burnout solutions and wellbeing washing

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help. The best way to deal with burnout, is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Evolved employers have wellbeing programmes in place which should offer support to individuals and who are likely skilled at identifying employees who may be suffering from burnout, as well as train employees and managers alike on how to recognize burnout. Please be aware of “well-being washing” where a company or organization makes great noise about looking after staff and supporting them but have flimsy follow through. Real work care programmes identify and address the issues at work.  For example, workload, deadlines, targets, challenging personalities, lack of facilities, pay – you get the drift.  If you are asked about whether you are stressed over your children’s GCSEs or your aging mother when you have gone into talk about an unreasonable deadline, call this out!  Wellbeing posturing may impress but if it is a paper exercise ask yourself if you really want to work for these people. 

Ensure you get the support as promised and that services are confidential.  If you are not being heard or feel being vulnerable in your place of work will be weaponised, please, find outside services. 

Take ownership

By far the most important way in which to prevent burnout is to take ownership of your own wellbeing. Identify what is good and what is unhelpful in your place at work and prepare for stressors, where you can. Have an active life outside of work. Be creative, sporty, social, and stimulated by non-work-related activities. The simple stuff is often the most effective: music, exercise and healthy socialising are all mood altering.

Refer back to your contract of employment and job description and check if you are being asked to do more than you are contractually obliged to do.  If you think what you are doing and what you expected to do are not aligned, and where possible, have an honest discussion with your employer.  Don’t be afraid to assert your position and explain the effects this incongruity is having on you.  The type of employers we generally want to work for and with will listen.  If not, you may want to move. 

Identify what exactly you want from your work. Make a career plan and see if the job you are doing is doing you harm and falling short of the hopes you had or have for yourself. If not, seek alternatives – change direction – get off the hamster wheel. Remember, you are not powerless. There may be times when financial or family responsibilities take precedence, and you can’t make an immediate move but factor these in and cut yourself a bit of slack. Self-determination is considered an effective counterbalance to feelings of powerlessness.

Learning about burnout and the mind-body connection is helpful. Is that sick feeling, stress? Is your need to micro-manage the family a way of bringing down your anxiety levels? Are you acting out with substances, processes, or reckless spending?  You will likely be able to join the dots and take control to a greater or lesser degree.

Final thoughts

If you feel you are experiencing stress at work, admit there is a problem, identify what you need to do and speak to others about their part. Take breaks, either during the day (a walk or visit to gym) or proper, meaningful periods away from your workplace allowing you quality time to clear your mind. Seek support either from a partner or family member, medical professional, trusted colleague, therapist, or friend. Share your burden. It’s important that you do not suffer alone.”



Margaret Ward-Martin is a registered counsellor.

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