10 Ways In Which Working Environments Are Causing Burnout
More and more workplaces are offering a week off to prevent Burnout and many individuals assume that one week off will fix how they are feeling.
If it truly is Burnout that is being experienced, a week off will not solve this.
In 2019 when the World Health Organisation defined Burnout as an occupational phenomenon and it stated that:
“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
reduced professional efficacy.
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
If you Google Burnout in the workplace you’ll find 29,100,000 results, search for Burnout as a standalone word and you’ll find over 160,000,000 results. Burnout is on the increase, admittedly the events of 2020 didn’t help at all, but we cannot ignore the impact that Burnout is having on our people, dismiss it, or see our people as ‘not up for the job’ when Burnout occurs.
A Gallup study found that 23% of people in the workforce experience burnout very often or always, and an additional 44% feel burnt out sometimes. All this means that nearly two-thirds of employees are burnt out on the job.
With burnout on the rise, studies are beginning to pour in around the detrimental impact it has on a person in the long term. Burnout triggers a full physical response such as triggers high blood pressure, vulnerability to illness and insomnia as common symptoms. Nonetheless, the impact can remain even after someone recovers.
I’ve spoken and written many times about the severity of my Burnout, not just on my mental health but on my physical health and years later I am still living with some of the impact of this.
When Stanford researchers looked into how workplace stress affects health costs and mortality in the United States (pdf), they found that it led to spending of nearly $190 billion — roughly 8% of national healthcare outlays — and nearly 120,000 deaths each year.
Worldwide, 615 million suffer from depression and anxiety and, according to a recent WHO study, which costs the global workforce an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. Passion-driven and caregiving roles such as doctors and nurses are some of the most susceptible to burnout, and the consequences can mean life or death; suicide rates among caregivers are dramatically higher than that of the general public — 40% higher for men and 130% higher for women.
When I was asked to write the book on Overcoming Stress, it was important to the publisher and I that it included practical ways in which people could overcome the stress in their lives and at the same time understand what was causing the stress in the first place.
We know that we all need a healthy amount of stress in our lives. ‘Good stress’ is what gets us out of bed in the morning, motivates us to achieve goals, reach deadlines and cross the finish line of a race. But too much stress at unmanageable levels for a prolonged period of time, and it becomes overwhelming, debilitating and can put us in the zone of Burnout.
We also know that we each react to high stress environments in different ways, and this can be impacted by our lifestyle, our quality of sleep, our personality and many other factors. Not every University student suffers with stress and nor does everyone who experiences traumatic events or has a career where trauma may be part of their everyday role.
Burnout isn’t a one-size-fits-all and the things that can lead to burnout may be different from one person to the next, and yet there are commonalities when we look at the workplace, and these can be prevented.
Here are 10 of the most common ways that the workplace could be causing burnout:
1. A Culture of Blame
You know the cultures I’m talking about. Every single person feels that they have to cover their arse by CCing or BCCing everyone into every single email. There is no trust, there has to be a paper trail of everything.
It’s ‘do as I say not as I do’ and people live in fear constantly, and as a result of this, the fight or flight response is always turned on, it’s always on red alert, meaning stress levels and anxiety are always on the lookout for the next threat to life. Of course, in the modern way world, these threats aren’t actually life threatening, but our primitive brain doesn’t know this.
Colleagues say one thing to you and another behind your back. Peers tell you they’ll agree to your Board reports or recommendations and then stitch you up at the Board table making out they have no idea what you’re talking about.
Nobody takes responsibility and nobody takes accountability.
How do you avoid a culture of blame?
This has to start at the top. It’s about honest, open and transparent communication. It’s about trust. It’s about Psychological safety. It’s about showing that this type of behaviour is not appropriate or acceptable.
And these aren’t things that you just run a training course on and forget about them, they have to form part of your everyday working, they have to become part of your organisations DNA.
2. Always wanting more for less
Even before the pandemic hit, many years before the pandemic hit, companies have been cutting costs, reducing headcounts and increasing the workloads of their people. Customers want more, leaders want more and in some cases every inch of spare cash is squeezed out of every area of the business.
Some sectors have been hit with this far more than others, but its impacting everyone. And as leaders, particularly those of you making a lot of profit, have to realise that you can only squeeze so far before everyone around you starts to break.
You can’t pay low wages and expect a gold star service. You also can’t pay low wages and expect years of experience and qualifications from the best colleges and universities.
3. Breaks are seen as inconvenient
You’ve probably seen this too right?
“I know you’re on holiday, but …”
“I know you’re eating your lunch, but …”
“I know you’re on your day off today, but …”
Your people need breaks and always disrespecting and interrupting their downtime is not right. Unless you really do work in a role where someone on being on a break is actually a matter of life and death ( and even then you need to think twice about pushing people too hard), there is unlikely to be anything so important that it cannot wait.
We cannot perform when we are exhausted. We need our breaks to reset and recharge our brains and our energy levels.
For any of you that have trained for a big sporting event, a mammoth swim, a cycle or a marathon, you will all know the importance of rest days to help you cross the finish line. Work is no different. Take the breaks, you need them.
4. Mistakes are punished not learnt from
This is linked to the blame culture, and it’s also more than that.