14 May 2024

How to fix burnout at work

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Stress has always been an issue, but the world of work is facing down an all-out burnout crisis.

Unless you truly adore your job, the odds are good that you’ve felt worn out, or even experienced true burnout at work. It’s a fact of life. However, the problems come in when you or your employees hit a crisis point. What is the crisis stage of burnout, what causes it, and how can you protect your employees from it?  

Understand burnout

What do we mean when we say burnout? Simply put, burnout is a feeling that comes from workplace stress. It’s not a medical condition, and occasionally feeling stressed won’t cause true burnout, but if those sources of stress aren’t dealt with, burnout can develop.  

It can take the form of a combination of physical and emotional symptoms: 

  • Tiredness or fatigue 
  • A feeling of detachment or loneliness 
  • Frequent headaches  
  • Changes in appetite 
  • A sense of failure 
  • A loss of motivation 

There may also be some symptoms that you are easier to recognise in other people, including procrastination, social isolation, reduced performance and emotional outbursts. 

The impact of burnout

All the symptoms mentioned above can have a huge impact on your mental and physical health. For example, if burnout is preventing you from sleeping, then this can weaken your immune system, making you more likely to get sick. Around 64% of people felt that poor sleep could contribute to burnout. 

In extreme cases, burnout can lead to some more dangerous behaviours, including substance abuse and harm to intrapersonal relationships. 

Even beyond the personal impact, burnout can have a huge impact on the workplace itself. 1 in 5 employees need to take time off work due to burnout. Even if they make it into work, burnout makes people less creative, less productive and more prone to making errors. Burnout also tends to spread among employees, if one is worn out, others can become so too.  

According to research from Microsoft, 50% of employees said they were feeling burned out at work.   

Causes and contributors to burnout

Work stress on its own won’t cause burnout. Burnout is typically caused by a prolonged period of pressures at work and at home. Workplace stressors can include things like: 

  • Working long hours 
  • Long commutes 
  • Customer facing roles, requiring high degrees of empathy 
  • Feeling like they have no control over work 

There are also several personal factors that can lead to burnout, including caretaking responsibilities, money worries issues in romantic relationships and poor self-esteem. Typically, this will compound with professional stressors, making one more vulnerable to burnout. 

Burnout also doesn’t discriminate- although women and young people are more prone to experiencing it. Anyone experiencing chronic stress can be burned out.  

Solutions and coping strategies

Understanding what causes burnout can help you put strategies in place to make sure that your employees aren’t impacted by it too strongly. 

Obviously, you can’t remove everything that might cause an employee stress, but giving them tools and resources to cope more effectively, as well as not putting too much on each employee will help support this. 

There are numerous wellbeing initiatives you can put in place to smooth over some of the stresses of life. This can include: 

  • Financial coaching 
  • Flexible working arrangements 
  • Strong policies to prevent chronic stress, with regular assessments to support 
  • Hold check-ins with employees to discuss workload 
  • Avoiding unreasonable deadlines 
  • Encourage regular breaks, including full use of annual leave entitlement 
  • Regular training to discourage stigmatising mental health 

Talent management strategies will also apply here. Anything that ensures your employees have a good, consistent experience will help reduce burnout significantly. This will also ensure you keep your talent keen to keep working with you. 

To learn more about talent management and how you can support your employees in avoiding burnout, check out our guide. 

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Emma Reid

Content writer at MHR

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