Addressing mental wellbeing in a work environment is a very real and pressing challenge for everyone in an organization: whether in digital marketing or indeed any area of business. Managers need to have a good understanding of people’s personal and individual perspectives and challenges, and how this affects the organization.
Unfortunately, one of the main mental health challenges in the workplace is burnout. How can both managers and employees be more tuned in to the signs of burnout? And what steps can they take to address the early signs of chronic stress?
In this article we take a look at general ways in which an organization can address workplace burnout, and how an individual can deal with it.
Note: This piece is based on a DMI webinar on mental wellbeing. If you have concerns about your own mental wellbeing, you should consider getting professional advice (such as a doctor or therapist) on how to best address your own particular situation.
Issues around mental wellbeing can arise in any workplace. However, we tend to treat them very differently to any other workplace issue. For example, employees may have no problem telling their boss that they have a stomach upset or are otherwise physically unwell. But they may be reluctant to admit when they are feeling stressed or experiencing symptoms related to stress.
Encouraging employees to be open about their mental health concerns is an essential ingredient of a healthy, positive corporate culture.
It is often expected that younger people can better handle stress and ‘get on with things’: perhaps as people assume they have more energy and fewer responsibilities than older colleagues. However, research by the US National Library for Medicine (2020) found that burnout could start as early as 32 years of age. As the stigma around workplace stress begins to fade in current times, employees of any age should feel comfortable about raising their mental wellbeing issues with their managers.
According to the World Health Organization (2020), burnout is:
A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
Let’s unpack that definition:
According to a YouGov survey in 2021, one in five UK workers felt unable to manage pressure and stress levels at work. This sense of being overwhelmed by persistent stress leads to several symptoms, listed below.
1. Loss of energy
Burnout can result in people feeling tired, drained, or even exhausted most of the time: not just occasionally tired but an ongoing lack of energy. Sometimes, the reduction in energy levels is subtle, and you may not even be aware of it.
Negative and/or cynical feeling towards your job is another common symptom of burnout. This can lead to an obsession with workplace problems and a tendency to constantly complain. Instead of actively looking for solutions, people experiencing burnout may not be able to see beyond the problem.
3. Lack of control
People suffering from burnout can feel overwhelmed. They feel trapped in a negative situation, which leads to feelings of helplessness and lack of control.
Burnout may also lead to a loss of self-confidence. Because people no longer have the energy they need to cope with problems, their performance suffers, and they can start to think they can no longer do their job.
5. Desire to escape
Rather than facing up to their problems, people suffering from burnout may try to escape from them. This could result in procrastination, as tasks are endlessly put off. People may also try to escape by bingeing on things they believe will give them pleasure (alcohol, food, box sets, and so on).
6. Reduced performance
Burnout impacts people’s ability to do their jobs. Lacking the energy and commitment they once had, they are no longer able to meet the standards they previously achieved.
Note: Not all people who suffer from burnout exhibit all these symptoms. The combination of symptoms varies from individual to individual.
According to the same YouGov report, 46 % of UK workers felt more prone to extreme levels of stress compared with a year before. Burnout is on the rise.
Burnout doesn’t happen suddenly. It can be a gradual process over a number of weeks or months. In fact, most people start jobs in a positive frame of mind, even though some end up in a very negative place.
The journey to burnout often has four stages.
“Burnout is essentially a failure to manage stress successfully. Because of this, it is vital to recognise the symptoms and treat them early to avoid burnout. ”
There is no one single cause of burnout. It is usually a combination of many things. Research by the US National Library for Medicine (2020) surveyed people to find common causes of burnout:
Building on this research, we can identity several possible causes of workplace burnout.
According to a YouGov poll, 46% of employees believe that working from home has contributed to burnout. Whereas working from home had been seen as a perk of a job before the Covid-19 pandemic, the enforced working from home changed people’s attitude to this, especially as they tried to juggle work commitments with personal commitments, such as home schooling.
Many people felt almost ‘trapped’ at home. There was no clear boundary between workspace and home space. It might have been difficult to find a dedicated office or garden space to escape to or were stuck working (and living) with housemates around kitchen tables or from their bedrooms.
If you’ve identified yourself as being at risk from burnout, what strategies can you use?
When we keep our thoughts to ourselves, they can get jumbled up and confused. Talking to someone, like a professional coach or therapist, can help to unclutter the mind and see things more clearly. The process can enable you to come up with actions to tackle issues and create plans and act in a calm manner.
Note: Coaches are not therapists. If you suffer burnout, you need a therapist. Coaches can help you prevent burnout.
Talk before you decide
Talk to your manager
Your organization should aim to create a culture where employees feel that they can approach their manager with mental wellbeing concerns. In addition, train managers so that they are more aware of the signs of burnout.
Remember, just because you’re having regular meetings with employees doesn’t mean that you know how they’re feeling or whether they’re struggling. They may not feel comfortable expressing their feelings to managers. Ensure that it is not seen as a weakness.
Whether you’re an employee or manager, mental burnout can be a serious risk for your organization. Knowing the warning signs, and having strategies in place to deal with them, can help ensure that employees are able to be productive and feel motivated without succumbing to excessive stress.