How to Avoid Burnout: Strategies for Employees, Managers, and HR
According to a survey published by Deloitte, up to 77% of employees experience burnout at work. This shockingly high figure shouldn’t be disregarded, as burnout can cause significant consequences on a person’s overall health and performance. It’s for this reason that knowing how to avoid burnout is more critical than ever before.
In an effort to help those who are experiencing and or on the verge of burnout, we’ve gathered everything you need to know about burnout, plus actionable tips on how to prevent or overcome it. Keep reading for more about these strategies, as well as how to improve your employees’ engagement and psychological safety in the workplace.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional or physical exhaustion that’s often characterized by loss of personal identity, a sense of reduced accomplishment, and a general lack of productivity.
In many cases, burnout is related to and/or caused by one’s workplace or job. Though it isn’t a medical diagnosis, it can affect a person’s well-being and ability to perform their work properly.
If ignored, workplace burnout can lead to significant mental and physical health consequences that can affect a person’s day-to-day life outside the workplace. These consequences include insomnia, long-term stress, emotional instability, alcohol/substance misuse, heart disease, and more.
And with the rapid adoption of technology, the demands of the modern workplace continue to increase, with focus shifting away from long-term high performance to constant productivity in the short-term.
To solidify a healthier mindset at one’s place of work, employers and leaders should monitor their employees’ workloads and scheduling, offer assistance programs, create goals and career paths, and encourage the use of vacation time.
15 warning signs you are headed towards burnout
Currently, workplace burnout isn’t categorized as a medical condition or mental disorder in the DSM-5. Even so, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes it as an occupational phenomenon that greatly influences the health status of employees.
As mentioned earlier, burnout can lead to significant health problems if ignored or left untreated. Thus, it’s important to recognize the warning signs of burnout and take proper steps to avoiding burnout. And the best way to see the signs in others is to understand it yourself.
- You dread going to work.
- You want to leave work as soon as possible, even when you’ve just started the day.
- You have trouble sleeping.
- You have low energy, despite going to bed early.
- You’re in a constant state of physical pain (i.e., headaches, backache, illness).
- You’re easily irritated by clients or team members.
- You find your work uninteresting.
- You have a negative or critical attitude at work.
- You’re deliberately or unconsciously blaming others for your mistakes.
- You’re thinking of quitting work or switching roles.
- You’re emotionally pulling away from your colleagues or clients.
- You feel empty and unaccomplished.
- You’re taking more and more unplanned leaves from work.
- You’re having thoughts that your work doesn’t make a difference or doesn’t have meaning and that you’re better off at home or doing nothing at all.
- You’re making a lot of unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as eating too much or too little, not exercising, or drinking/using substances as a way to escape work-related stress.
Stress vs burnout — what’s the difference?
In the workplace, the words stress and burnout are often used interchangeably. However, they’re two completely different states of mind that shouldn’t be confused with one another.
Burnout is a cycle of negative emotions that’s often a result of investing too much into something physically, emotionally, and intellectually for extended periods of time. It’s like fatigue, only much worse. It’s basically the meaner, larger, older cousin of stress.
Stress, on the other hand, occurs when you’re struggling to cope with pressures. It’s the body’s reaction to a challenge or demand that requires too much of you physically and mentally. However, stress isn’t a constant state of mind like burnout; stressed individuals can still see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, even though getting there might be difficult.
And that’s the main difference between stress and burnout: with stress, there is an end in sight. Relief comes when a challenge or obstacle is overcome.
Burnout is perpetual and seemingly unending. Once burnout occurs, you’re essentially out of gas and you’ve given up hope of overcoming obstacles.
Burnout can’t exist without stress. Most of the time, they come hand-in-hand. Stress, however, can exist without burnout.
Strategies to Avoid Burnout as an Employee
Workplaces naturally have a focus on productivity. Productivity is the bread-and-butter of a company; without it, little is accomplished.
However, there’s a difference between healthy and unhealthy workplace productivity. Productivity can be as useful as it is damaging. Achieving a healthy balance of work productivity is crucial to preventing burnout.
Here are some top strategies to avoid burnout as an employee:
1. Separate life and work
- Saying no to unreasonable work requests.
- Minimizing distractions at work and recognizing the limits of your concentration.
- Making time for your friends and family members.
- Setting time for non-work-related activities.
- Create relationships outside your work environment.
2. Set work priorities
At the start of every day, set 3 to 5 Most Important Things (MITs) to prioritize.
Set aside low-priority tasks and focus on deadline-driven projects first. For every task, give yourself a reasonable time limit and try not to exceed it.
During the time limit, work deliberately and without distractions to finish your tasks in the given timeframe.
3. Find a hobby that recharges you
Discovering a . It can be anything you want, from playing a musical instrument to reading a book. Use it to re-energize your body and mind after work.
4. Enjoy the process rather than the end result
If you focus your attention and energy on the final results rather than the process, you’ll never walk away fulfilled. After all is said and done, your happiness will be fleeting and unsatisfactory.
Focusing on the process helps you get the results you’re looking for and concentrate on the task at hand. It also makes it easier to spot opportunities for improvement. Enjoying the process makes it feel like less of a task and more of a goal to complete at the end of the day.
Ways Managers Can Help Prevent Burnout at Work
Individual employees experiencing burnout can have a detrimental impact on the productivity of a workplace, so managers should manage the well-being of their team by creating a healthy environment that caters to the needs of their employees. This will help to prevent instances of both mental and physical fatigue, which can lead to burnout.
Set limits on workloads
Managers should always limit/monitor the workload given to their employees.
While it’s true that workloads may spike occasionally, employees can’t sustain heavy and demanding tasks for extended periods of time. Work overload can lead to low productivity, resentment, and increased turnover.
Excessive work at the organizational level can lead to high turnover, and the cost of employee turnover can greatly impact company funds. It can also cause reduced productivity, hampered communication, and burnout.
Watch for warning signs of emotional exhaustion
Managers should pay close attention to the well-being of their employees. After all, they’re responsible for setting the mood and tone of the work environment.
Here are some of the biggest warning signs of emotional exhaustion in employees:
- Increased absenteeism
- Higher sensitivity to criticism and feedback
- Decreased productivity/performance
- Disengagement in team activities
- Complains of insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Inability to concentrate
- Sudden changes in behavior (i.e., easily angered or upset)
- Cynicism towards their job and the people around them
- Thoughts of quitting
Oftentimes, employees experience burnout because they believe their workplace doesn’t add value to their lives. They feel that they’ve learned everything there is to learn, and are simply “going through the motions” at work.
Leaders can change this by giving employees the opportunity to enhance their performance and development. This can be through workshops, job swaps, entrepreneurial competitions, and even culture trips.
Throughout this process, leaders should actively demonstrate an interest in their employees’ contributions and growth so they feel appreciated and understand the company values them.
Give meaningful recognition
Recognition helps employees feel valued, which in turn leads to higher levels of job satisfaction.
Leaders should work to reward employees for their contributions as often as they can through meaningful recognition, so they’ll take pride in their work and continue their effort on the next project.
An official employee recognition system is the most impactful way to build a culture of connection and appreciation, but there are other ways too. Here Here are some small but powerful ways to give meaningful recognition:
- Use your recognition program to call out good work done by someone on your team
- Celebrate events that happen outside of work like weddings, new degrees, or a new pet
- Acknowledge and celebrate employees for promotions, role changes, and years of service at the company
Lead by example
One of the best things managers can do to avoid employee burnout and establish trust is to lead by example. This includes taking responsibility for mistakes, building strong relationships, listening to their team, and communicating the vision, mission, goals, and values of the company.
When employees recognize the effort their leaders are putting into their work, it boosts employee morale and fosters a positive work culture.
HR Programs and Initiatives
Here are some HR programs and initiatives management can offer to its employees to prevent burnout and promote workplace engagement.
Increase psychological safety
In a workplace, psychological safety is the ability to ask for help, raise concerns, admit mistakes, and suggest ideas without the fear of being punished, humiliated, or disregarded.
HR leaders and managers can increase the psychological safety of employees by:
- Demonstrating engagement during meetings
- Encouraging thoughts and opinions
- Focusing on solutions when something goes awry. Instead of asking, “what happened and why?” ask, “how can we make sure this situation doesn’t happen again in the future?”
- Establishing norms on how mistakes are handled.
- Creating a workspace that supports and values new and innovative ideas.
Hire and train better bosses
According to a survey issued by SHRM, a whopping 84% of employees blamed bad management for unnecessary work stress that leads to burnout.
So if burnout becomes a bit of a “trend” in the workplace, it might be time to look at how managers are being trained and development.. Look for leaders that know how to prevent burnout and keep the workplace healthy and engaging.
Increase employee engagement
Without proper employee engagement, a business can’t thrive in today’s environment.
According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, a workplace consists of three types of employees: engaged employees, passively unengaged employees, and actively unengaged employees. Only 21% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs, which is a staggeringly low number. The latter two belong to 61% and 18% of the workforce respectively.
Increasing employee engagement is one of the top ways to not only add value to a team, but also avoid employee burnout.
Here are some tips to increase the number of engaged employees in the workplace:
- Task employees with meaningful work.
- Provide regular feedback through both formal and informal check-ins.
- Provide personalized coaching and training.
- Listen to employee complaints and suggestions.
- Prioritize physical and mental health.
Mental health resources and support systems
Employers should provide easy access to mental health resources and support systems at work. Leaders should emphasize the importance of mental health and create a culture that allows employees to take advantage of the workplace’s mental health resources.
How to Avoid Burnout When Working From Home
Burnout doesn’t only occur in a workplace environment; it can very well happen when working from home. Here are some strategies to prevent burnout when working remotely.
Set work boundaries
When working at home, it’s often difficult to separate home and work life because you’re living in the same space. This is why you should establish work boundaries when you’re at home and stick to them. Some things include setting upa dedicated workspace, following a regular schedule, banning distractions, and get “dressed” for work to put you in a working mindset.
Build a community
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should separate yourself from the world entirely.
Participate, contribute, and have meaningful conversations with your communities every day. These communities can be related to your work or completely separate. Consider becoming a member of an online community , so you’re not locked in a work-only mindset every day.
Change-up your environment
Working at home can quickly become boring, so why not change up your environment a little?
Instead of working at home, take your laptop to a library, a café, or a restaurant with a nice view. You can also meet up with your other work-from-home buddies and create a safe working environment where you all can work together without distractions.
If you’re not big on leaving home while you work, explore other possible workspaces in your living space. For example, if you’re working in your bedroom, take your work items and work in your living room or office.
How to Help Someone Experiencing Burnout
If someone you know is showing signs of burnout and you want to support them, here are some tips:
- Don’t assume what they need; approach them and ask how you can help
- Encourage them to seek a healthcare professional
- Regularly check in and catch up with them
- Validate their feelings; don’t let them dismiss their burnout as inconsequential or insignificant
- Perform little acts of kindness, such as leaving them lunch or treating them out to a movie
- Listen without judgment
Burnout is most prevalent in healthcare/nursing jobs due to sustained work-related stressors like long hours, caring for patients with poor outcomes, and making life-or-death decisions.
Jen Miller, a critical care nurse practitioner, put the stresses of healthcare perfectly:
Find out more on how to alleviate and prevent nursing burnout by downloading our guide on Easing Burnout for Healthcare Workers.
How can I manage my time without burnout?
The best way to manage your time without burnout is to prioritize your tasks. Work on your most challenging or important tasks first before moving on to less critical objectives. Do these low-priority tasks during dull energy lulls, so you’re not expending more energy than required.
How do you get rid of burnout fast?
There’s no easy way to get rid of burnout fast, but there are some small day-to-day changes that can place you on the path of recovery. This includes:
- Identify your stressors and avoid or reduce interactions with them.
- Seek professional help from a therapist or a life coach
- Build a support network in a safe environment, preferably away from work
- Talk to a manager about reducing workload.
How do you push through burnout?
When you’re burned out, it often feels like you’re stuck in a deep hole or locked in a box with no key. You can push through this state of mind by breaking up tasks into smaller steps, taking long breaks to recharge, and doing something interesting after work.
Also, try not to live for the weekend! Go out midweek with your friends or loved ones, use your good stuff every day, and make the most of your breaks!
Why do I get burned out so easily?
If you’re in a constant state of burnout, you’re likely working too much without giving yourself enough time to socialize,relax, and recover. You should also work to better balance the time spent on work and life.
If you’re feeling burnout at work, it’s time to make some changes. Don’t be afraid to seek support from your co-workers, friends, loved ones, or even managers to help you escape the perpetual feeling of exhaustion.
Explore programs that can help improve your work-life balance, or take up a hobby that you enjoy after work. And keep in mind: your career doesn’t have to define you, and to do your best work you must feel your best – so it’s essential to take the necessary time and support to prevent instances of burnout in the future.
it’s time to make some changes. Don’t be afraid to seek support from your co-workers, friends, loved ones, or even managers to help you escape the perpetual feeling of exhaustion.
Explore programs that can help improve your work-life balance, or take up a hobby that you enjoy after work.
Remember: your career shouldn’t define your identity. Life and work should be kept separated as much as possible to prevent instances of burnout.
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