Understanding burnout and how to prevent it

Understanding burnout and how to prevent it

How to recognise burnout symptoms in your workplace and ways to avoid it.
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Burnout is a type of work-related stress that refers directly to physical and mental or emotional exhaustion. It was a topic that came to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many workers doubling their meeting schedules to replicate the normal working environment, only to find this workload and screentime unsustainable.

It remains widespread, with more than two thirds of employees reporting having experienced burnout in their current job, and nearly all of those say it has had a negative impact on the quality of their work, and even their personal relationships.

Like most stress-related issues, there are multiple symptoms for work burnout. Learning what they are can help you spot signs of burnout in your peers, suggest action to avoid burnout, and help to improve the collective mental health of your organisation.

Symptoms of burnout

Burnout is mainly characterised by a lack of motivation or energy in the workplace and can lead to a reduction in performance and even manifest as negative behaviour in an individual’s personal life.

Burnout symptoms that you might spot in the people you work with, or even yourself, include:

  • Being cynical and critical in the workplace
  • A lack of motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • No sense of achievement
  • A change in sleeping habits
  • Physical complaints such as headaches

If these burnout symptoms are not addressed, they can lead to more serious consequences such as excess stress, insomnia, and poor mental health, or even lead to physical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart problems.

Woman sitting at her desk in front of laptop computer looking fed up

Preventing workplace burnout

With an alarming 84% of employees reporting at least one workplace factor that has affected their mental health, it appears that burnout is largely a product of working environments. Perhaps even more shocking is that less than a quarter of people think their employer cares about their well-being, a number that can be improved on by spotting symptoms of burnout early on, and preventing them from developing.

An easy way to prevent burnout symptoms is to understand what causes them. Listed among the most common causes are overload, pressure, and a lack of support.

Knowing what might cause burnout can help your organisation to prevent the symptoms occurring in the first place.

Overload can be avoided by spreading tasks between teams and ensuring everyone has adequate down time throughout their working day. You can also provide employees with opportunities to focus on something other than work throughout the week, with social events and activities.

Pressure starts with interactions between employees and those responsible for getting the most out of their teams. It is important that those in leadership positions such as CEOs and managers are mindful of the tone of communication within their business. Positive communication and open dialogues that highlight the importance of mental health in the workplace can encourage workers to speak up if they are feeling the pressure of their workload and allow leaders to act in a way that alleviates this pressure.

Lack of support is a simple issue to resolve but comes from the top of the business and works down. If your management teams are proactive in providing support networks, and everyone within the business knows where to go, or who to speak to when they need help, then ‘lack of support’ as a cause of burnout can be easily eradicated.

There are also other direct, practical approaches to avoid burnout occurring within your business. It might be by providing improved health insurance for employees that includes mental health cover, or it could be encouraging workers to take their full holiday allowance.

Simple changes to your employees’ lifestyle such as taking part in relaxing activities like yoga or meditation can help manage burnout symptoms. Additionally, more exercise and better sleep patterns, as well as a mindful approach to life may also help to avoid burnout.

Burnout is an issue that we now recognise as affecting many employees across the world. However, it is also a problem that can be managed and even avoided with the right interventions from peers, employers, and individuals.

Spotting burnout can be made easy when you are aware of the symptoms and their root causes. By providing information surrounding burnout and opening a conversation that encourages peers and managerial teams to stay aware of what burnout looks like, you can develop support networks within your organisation, or even your social circle, that identify and tackle burnout before it manifests as more serious issues.