Stress is a fact of professional life, but extreme and unrelenting pressures can lead to the debilitating state known as burnout.
Three symptoms characterize burnout: exhaustion; cynicism, or distancing oneself from work; and inefficacy, or feelings of incompetence and lack of achievement. Research has linked workplace burnout to many health problems, including hypertension, sleep disturbances, depression, and substance abuse. Moreover, it can ruin relationships and jeopardize career prospects. With that in mind, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of burnout in order to avoid the most damaging potential impacts of this growing workplace issue.
Defining Burnout and its Impact
Burnout and its effects can no longer be ignored. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) now formally recognizes burnout as an occupational phenomenon. In the United States, research has shown that workplace stress has led to nearly $190 billion in spending – roughly 8% of national healthcare outlays – and nearly 120,000 deaths each year. Globally, the numbers are even more staggering, with 615 million people suffering from depression and anxiety. This translates into an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity each year.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Burnout
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you find it hard to concentrate?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?
According to Mayo Clinic, if you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be experiencing job burnout. Consider talking to a doctor or a mental health provider in order to determine if these symptoms are related to related health conditions, such as depression.
Resolving burnout often requires changes at the job, team, or organizational level. You can also take steps toward recovery and prevention on your own with guidance from healthcare professionals. Experts recommend finding ways to prioritize your health, shifting your perspective to determine which aspects of your situation can be changed, reducing exposure to the most stressful activities and relationships, and seeking out helpful interpersonal connections.
Preventing Team Burnout
After resolving individual stressors, it is critical to ward off burnout at a team level, as well. Managers must provide ample time for rest and renewal, while setting realistic work limits. When discovering ways to improve the work experience at a team level, it’s important to recognize that the approach from leadership cannot be one-size-fits-all. While providing meaningful recognition for accomplishments and scheduling regular check-ins with teammates to learn about areas of need have shown to be effective, research into soft skills shows that people approach their workplace motivations differently based on their individual personality traits. Consider utilizing a soft skills assessment to better understand employees at an individual level and create solutions tailored to their unique wants and needs.
Burnout can happen when highly engaged employees experience low well-being due to unmanaged personal and/or workplace stressors. It’s also contagious; it can spread toxicity across a team or even spill into home life. The good news is that burnout is preventable! With strong managerial support and an understanding of what causes job burnout, employers can take steps to prevent burnout today, leading to a more engaged workforce tomorrow.
Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 edition of SCRS InSite: The Global Journal for Clinical Research Sites.
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