Psychology: Prevention, Identification and Dealing with Burnout
Traditionally, service workers were seen as most at risk of clinical burnout. Alarmingly, this “occupational phenomenon” reaches office and corporate jobs with blazing speed, while leaving employees feeling overworked, undervalued and pressured to place their careers at the centre of their lives and identities.
Therefore, it is very important for first-time team leaders and managers to invest time in developing their leadership skills not only to prevent and deal with burnout of their colleagues, but also of themselves…
Following the WHO definition, burnout is characterised 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.
Burnout steals hope, destroys motivation and literally saps the life out over time. Irritation, frustration and increased self-criticism detach people from things they used to love. Feeling complete lack of energy or under-challenged, people cannot seem to find the motivation to move forward in their careers. Having trouble sleeping, despite being physically tired from doing sports, chronic insomnia can develop and affect the ability to concentrate.
Dealing with Burnout
Managers and team leaders are people, too. They have the same fundamental human needs and naturally; if they are engaged accordingly, their colleagues are more likely to be engaged as well. Regardless of position, the following root causes (factors) have been identified as most highly correlated with burnout:
- unfair treatment at work (from bias, favouritism and mistreatment to unfair compensation);
- drowning in an unmanageable workload very quickly (“mental quicksand”);
- lack of role clarity (when accountability, expectations and priorities are moving targets);
- lack of communication and support (from the manager especially);
- unreasonable time pressure (challenges yes, but not as a daily standard).
Depending on the type of burnout, the following strategies can be applied:
- under-challenged personnel, having unrewarding jobs, can ask to pursue opportunities for growth within their role;
- overloaded personnel, having the tendency working towards success until exhaustion to resolve stressful situations, can reduce their exposure to tasks, people and situations, which are not essential;
- neglected personnel, who are “worn-out” having too little reward for too much stress, can regain their a sense of control by changing direction, starting small and saying “no” more often.
Following the Gallup study, burnout can be prevented (and reversed!) by changing management and leadership styles.
It is important to realise that it is a lot easier to prevent burnout than recover from it. As a team leader or manager, it is vital to help keep workers motivated and healthy, since it will naturally yield to the best return on investment (ROI).
People generally need to feel they are being cared about and part of a team (family), where:
- their joys and sorrows can be shared, heard and addressed;
- they can be helpful to and helped by their peers;
- they can make a difference;
- they can find meaning in what they do and feel important;
- they can excel at what they do best.
Awareness, enthusiasm and optimism are the key elements to allow stress reduction and help employees focus on success.
Poorly managed and understaffed workplaces, unrealistic expectations or not sufficiently supporting people and their aspirations undermine the cornerstones of a healthy work-life balance. Broken promises and agreements, lack of listening, gossip, politics, incompetence and conflict of interest result in lack of transparency and are the breeding ground for a toxic or even hostile environment. Keeping the spirit and work ethic at high level of standards within these environments has always been a challenge.
On the other hand, identification and admission of the problem is a good beginning. For some people, it may simply help to start talking about it with either the manager or the affected team member. Others may need to take some time off – an (paid/unpaid) leave, sabbatical or ultimately quit. Some people may be stuck for various (personal) reasons, but continuous coping is stressful, unhealthy and wasted time if it goes on for too long; especially, when intensified by lack of possibilities to increase skills and experience relevant to the industry.
Finally, it is important to realise two things. First, money has never bought happiness, it only provides temporary boosts of joy. And second, even a bad situation can be turned into a good learning experience, as our strongest personal growth comes from living through our most difficult situations. Our personal integrity should be never sacrificed in an attempt to get revenge; as at the end of the day, it is just a job and we work to live, not live to work.