Post the coronavirus pandemic, burnout will remain a key workplace issue for any person who values their mental health and well-being. Potentially, burnout will seriously affect your ability to maintain both a successful career and a happy home life. Employee burnout is not just the employer’s responsibility. As a person who values your career and future, burnout is a potential obstacle you can avoid by the actions you take and the decisions you make.
Unfortunately, employee burnout was increasing before the coronavirus pandemic, but the need for safety to secure a level of comfort and the search for emotional positivity is exacerbated by the current environment. Your inability to control the circumstances in which you find yourself has added to the pressure you experience.
How Big of a Problem and Cost Is Employee Burnout?
Employee burnout is most simply described as the outcome for people who experience chronic workplace stress, as stated in “Frontiers in Psychology,” a journal of the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The stress is caused by factors both internal and external to the employee.
In December 2020, the mental health care organization Spring Health described burnout as, “a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, often reached after an extended period of high stress.” They found that the three primary symptoms of work burnout include the employee experiencing exhaustion; feeling negative, cynical, or detached from work; and undergoing reduced work performance.
In a study presented in the Harvard Business School: Working Knowledge, “National Health Costs Could Decrease if Managers Reduce Work Stress,” researchers found that workplace stress contributes to 120,000 deaths a year of which approximately 30,000 are attributable to job insecurity and 30,000 to high work demands.
Finally, employee burnout can cause havoc with your personal career success. GALLUP Workplace found that the organizational costs of burnout are significant in that, “Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job. And even if they stay, they typically have 13% lower confidence in their performance and are half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager.”
Why Is Employee Burnout Increasing?
Societally, the instances of employee burnout will continue to rise due to factors such as the following.
- The pace of constant change in work demands and options,
- The coronavirus pandemic and its seemingly never-ending aftermath,
- Increased job responsibilities and training because of technology advances, AI, and other developments,
- Technological advances that allow employees to work anywhere and at any time,
- Political and values-based differences and concerns that are polarizing people, and
- The lack of work-life boundaries with many employees working from home.
In the December 2020 study cited earlier by Spring Health, 76% of employees are experiencing symptoms of burnout and 9% feel burned out. Thus, not only is employee burnout a substantial cost and problem for employers, it is an increasing challenge for employees.
What Can an Employee Do to Address the Problem of Burnout?
Everyone who works must face the potential of feeling burned out. The burnout you experience may be as simple as disliking your job or as substantial as feeling overwhelmed by your efforts to achieve work-life balance. While an employee might not be able to leave their job, they have ways to deal with burnout. Why not check out the following seven tips about dealing with burnout at work.
Focus on the Areas of Your Job That Are Under Your Control
Sure, not all aspects of your job are controllable, but many components are your choice to do. Instead of focusing on your feelings of overwhelmed, ask yourself questions throughout the day such as, are you checking email 24/7? Yes? Then, stop. You need to enforce work-life boundaries.
Do you really need to attend the next Zoom meeting? What will happen if you skip it? Yes, your phone is ringing but do you really want to interrupt your focus on a project to answer it? Take charge of the factors in your work life that you can control, which are essentially a choice, to overcome your feelings of burnout.
Ask to Take a Break from Work
Talk to your manager as soon as possible when you experience the symptoms of burnout and ask to take a break. Not a five-minute break, and not a couple of days off at home. You need a complete and total cut-off from work. Basically, you need a vacation. This is how you can ask to increase your chances of achieving a positive outcome.
- Explain to your manager why you need time off from work without whining or becoming emotional. Use a rational approach when you lay out all of the reasons why you need to take a break. Emphasize how you will be an even better employee when you return refreshed.
- Ideally, you should ask for at least two weeks with zero office contact. Don’t make yourself available for calls. Don’t check your emails. If possible, go somewhere that is the complete opposite of work and do whatever makes you genuinely happy. If that’s laying on a beach drinking cocktails, climbing mountains, or white water rafting, do it.
- If you don’t have any vacation days left, ask for an unpaid break. Find a way to make it work financially even if that means taking a staycation at home. Don’t underestimate the harmful effects of burnout.
Ask for a Change in Responsibilities
Employees can experience burnout from overwork, doing repetitive tasks, or working with the same few clients for months at a time. As the old saying goes, “a change is as good as a rest,” so talk to your manager about taking on different responsibilities. Will your manager assign you to a different job? Can you work with clients who require you to leave the office more often for meetings and events? Perhaps you can swap accounts with someone else who is also feeling worn out.
Find Ways to Release Your Energy
Burnout can build, leading to a pressure cooker of stress. If you don’t open that release valve from time to time, you are going to explode. Perhaps not literally, but you’ll crack emotionally, have outbursts, or maybe do something that could hurt your career.
Generally, physical activity is ideal for stress release. For some people, it’s doing CrossFit or martial arts. For others, it’s paintball battles, soccer, racquetball, or bowling. Many people enjoy video games, while others prefer a shooting range or a dozen laps in the pool. The way you release your aggression and frustration is not important, as long as the act is not harmful to yourself or others. What matters is that you find a way to let off steam. Physical involvement is crucial in battling employee burnout
Get Plenty of Sleep, Exercise, Eat Well, and Take a Break from Alcohol and Caffeine
When people are stressed, they look for ways to soothe and comfort themselves. For many, that involves eating comfort foods, drinking alcohol, and collapsing on the sofa to binge-watch TV. However, those activities rarely cure burnout and, in fact, can make you feel worse. Don’t reach for the chips and the remote. Instead, create a plan to exercise more and eat healthier foods. Get a good eight hours of sleep every night. After a few weeks, or months, of making changes in each of these areas and you will feel ready to take on the world.
Work Away from Your Desk
A change of scenery can do you a world of good, even if you’re still working 12-hour shifts seven days a week. Most employers will let you work remotely from time to time, especially if you’re looking for inspiration. Find a local coffee shop, museum, or park with WiFi. You can also consider working from home, especially if you are willing to set strong boundaries between work time and family interactions.
Take Advantage of the FMLA and Other Laws
Known as the Family and Medical Leave Act, FMLA is a federal law that guarantees certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year without the threat of job loss. It’s often used for a major life event, such as the birth of a child or significant illness. But severe burnout and mental stress can qualify as a reason to use FMLA protection. Talk with your HR department to identify whether you may be eligible for FMLA time off. See if you might qualify for disability time off or to use any other employment law-governed time.
Employee burnout is serious—and must be taken seriously—as its effects on your mental, emotional, and physical health shouldn’t be underestimated. You need to understand how grave and widespread the problem of the factors that contribute to employee burnout is. As an employee, do whatever you can to relax and recharge, and find a way to maintain a good work/life balance.