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BURNOUT

Burnout which usually has its roots in stress can occur when we have been under constant stress over a long period. The earlier we recognize the symptoms of stress, the better chance we have for avoiding burnout

Burnout is not happening to us overnight, and it is not the same as being overworked, depressed, or mentally broken down.

Burnout occurs when our energy, involvement and effectiveness erode into fatigue and inability to function productively.

Problems around us seem to be insurmountable, and we have completely lost interest and motivation. We feel physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, increasingly hopeless, powerless and resentful. As burnout is a gradual process, it is also an illness. It might take as long time to recover from it as the downward spiral of constant stress causing it.

ARE YOU AT RISK OF JOB BURNOUT?

You may be at risk if

  • You work in helping professions
  • Your job is monotonous
  • You feel you have very little control over your work
  • You do several jobs at the same time
  • You try to be everywhere for everyone
  • You feel a tremendous pressure to »do it all«
  • You do work that frequently causes you to violate your personal values
  • You have devoted yourself for the care of chronically ill or disabled family members
  • You identify yourself so much with work that you lack the reasonable balance between work and private life
  • You have set unrealistic goals for yourself
  • You have unrealistic goals imposed upon you

WARNING SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BURNOUT

The signs tend to be more mental than physical

  • Have your behaviour changed into being more cynical, sarcastic and negative?
  • Do you often feel irritated?
  • Do you often »snap« at other people or make snide remarks about them?
  • Have you lost your sense of humour?
  • Have you lost the ability to experience joy?
  • Do you often feel frustrated?
  • Do you feel trapped by your negative feelings?
  • Do you often feel emotionally exhausted?
  • Have you increased your smoking and alcohol consumption?
  • Have you started to use drugs for being able to relax?
  • Have your sleeping and eating habits changed?
  • Do people expect too much from you?
  • Have you lost trust in other people?
  • Are you bored from doing work that never changes or does no longer challenge you?
  • Is every day at work at bad day?

You might be a candidate for burnout if you have answered yes to some of the questions above, but not necessarily – because it can also indicate certain health conditions. Therefore, it is best that you consult your doctor or a mental health provider about the symptoms.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BURNOUT AND STRESS

Different as burnout is from stress it can be characterised by disengagement, while stress is characterized by over-engagement. You simply care too much when you are stressed, but when you are burned out; you cannot see any hope of improvement at all. Burnout produces helplessness and hopelessness, while stress produces urgency and hyperactivity. Burnout leads to detachment and depression, while stress leads to anxiety disorders. The primary damage of burnout is emotional, while the stress' primary damage is physical.

HIGH STRESS JOBS

High stress jobs can lead to more burnout than normal ones. People who are very involved in their job are at greater risk of »meeting the wall« by a burnout. They are often also the people that add most value to a business, the ones with a strong sense of responsibility, and they seem to “always” be there for others to lean on for support. People working in customer service, social services, education, law enforcement, and emergency service seem to have the highest proportion of burnout. As burnout is work-related, it is in every company's interest to ensure that burnout does not occur. Occupational health and safety practise vary around the world. but in many European countries are stress and burnout included in occupational health and safety standards, which hold the company (at least partly) responsible for preventing burnout.

HOW EMPLOYEES CAN TRY TO AVOID BURNOUT

Ask for transfer to another department

  • The most effective way to prevent a job burnout is to ask the supervisor for a transfer to another department if the workplace is large enough. It will mean changing job and perhaps also career, if there is no other alternative.

Ask for other duties

  • If the workplace is small, ask for other duties for working with something new and hopefully more varied tasks if the current working tasks are too monotonous.

Clarify their job description

  • Ask the supervisor for an updated work descripton.
  • Perhaps can some of the current working tasks be pointed out as not part of the job.

HOW EMPLOYERS CAN PREVENT JOB BURNOUT AT THE WORKPLACE

There is a variety of ways employers and employees can prevent job burnout at the workplace. A demanding job should not affect the employees’ health negatively.

Consult a mentor for assistance to deal with a stressed working environment by starting a EAP - Employee Assistance Program, which can help you assess both your own and your employees interests, skills and passions. It can help you all to reduce the stress you experience, prevent burnout and perhaps consider alternative jobs, less demanding or better ones that matches their skills and interests. 

STRESS MANAGEMENT POLICY

All companies and organisations should have a stress policy as part of their overall Health and Safety Policy. To achieve the benefits for both the organisation and its employees a policy needs to involve and be supported by everyone for securing committment from all parties involved:

  • Employer
  • Board
  • Managers
  • Employees
  • Employee's health and safety representatives
  • Departments as HR, Training, Health and Safety, Occupational Health

Stress Management Policy shall:

  • Demonstrate that management takes stress seriously
  • Reflect management concern about the health and safety of its employees

Stress Risk Assessment shall:

  • Identify and assess stressors and hazards to work-related stress in the organisation
  • Ascertain the degree and extent of work-related stress

Stress Management Training, shall

  • Make management and employees aware of stress and the perceived pressure they experience on regular basis
  • Make management and employees to focus on stress, and to understand how its cause and effect can create a positive environment for dealing with stress, and actions to reduce the stress factors

It is essencially important that the stress management policy is carefully drafted, clearly understood, fully implemented and reviewed by all parties. This require skilful management and good communication lines.

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