Employee burnout is when an employee feels physically and mentally exhausted as a result of prolonged stress at work. As there is currently no widely accepted tool to measure burnout, it can be difficult to categorise, but is generally recognised as ‘a state of vital exhaustion’. Those affected can experience poorer health in relation to musculoskeletal disorders, depression and cardiovascular disease.
Burnout can be associated with increased workplace pressures such as increased workload, increased pressure to work longer and harder, role uncertainty, lack of feedback, lack of social support and low levels of control or involvement in decision-making. It may also be related to job security and financial issues.
Many organisations are trying out initiatives in an attempt to prevent employee burnout with the aim of taking the pressure off of staff who may already be feeling stressed.
The signs of burnout include:
- a decrease in productivity;
- a lack of motivation or enthusiasm;
- unexplained absences;
- consistently leaving work early or arriving late;
- feelings of cynicism and detachment towards work;
- feeling of ineffectiveness;
- a lack of accomplishment;
- health problems, such as headaches or musculoskeletal disorders;
- the desire to be alone.
Organisational-level interventions include:
- promoting a team-based environment;
- promoting open communication;
- providing flexible working options;
- restructuring job functions and tasks;
- employee involvement in planning and implementation of interventions.
Communication is certainly key. Developing an organisational culture in which staff feel comfortable talking to their line managers about any work/health issues they may be facing will help prevent the build-up of stress and pressure that might eventually lead to employee burnout.
The promotion of stress-management techniques and general workplace wellbeing may also be of use in preventing stress and in turn, employee burnout. Employers could consider promoting relaxation techniques, increased physical activity, yoga, mindfulness and healthy eating.
At an individual level, interventions include:
- cognitive-behavioural therapy;
- staff training;
A recent report commissioned by Public Health England reviewed many studies on burnout, work-related stress and interventions and concluded that organisational interventions may be more effective long-term than interventions focused on individuals. However, a combination of these two approaches is likely to be most successful.
If you are an employee and feel you might be at risk of suffering from employee burnout, talk to your line manager about the stress you are experiencing.
Anyone in England and Wales can contact the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Cymraeg) for impartial advice on dealing with employee burnout, and a range of other work-related health issues. Employees who have been off work for four weeks or more can also be referred by their employer for a free occupational health assessment. To find out more about referrals, see this post.
Those in Scotland can visit fitforworkscotland.scot or phone 0800 019 2211.