Life is funny, it throws us a curveball when we least expect it. A job we currently enjoy can turn into a source of extreme stress after two years on the job. Stress pervades almost every aspect of our lives. At work, it can help us be more productive and focused. However, when it goes beyond a certain level, stress can lead to a state of being overwhelmed, constant fatigue and disillusionment. These can lead to workplace burnout.
Burnout: A Case Study
I interviewed a friend called Christina for this blog. She had recently started working as a Sales and Marketing Manager. The job was demanding, and Christina wondered if she’d fit in with the culture in the long run.
Christina had it all under control – demanding work hours, revenue targets, challenging stakeholders – day in and day out. But when the additional responsibility to spearhead a global customer event for the company was given to her, Christina felt overwhelmed. Week after week she was drowning in meetings and conference calls with stakeholders and customers. On top of her Business As Usual activities, this new project was consuming her time. She felt isolated from her peers because she was too busy to interact with them.
One day, after a stressful call, Christina felt sick, depleted of energy, and nauseated. Thinking she had probably eaten a bad sandwich at lunch, she ignored the feeling and started on some reports and presentations for the event. But soon she realized that she felt sick every time a new report or client requirement came up. Staring at her calendar, filled with meetings, she experienced a burning sensation in her chest and abdomen.
Her doctor revealed that she was suffering from acid reflux – a direct result of poor eating habits, fueled by huge amounts of stress. He advised her to stay home for a day or two, away from the perceived stressor (work), and monitor how she felt. On hearing that, Christina felt anxious about everything – her health, her work, and even her future in the company.
Food for Thought
What is it about work that makes us feel obliged to worry and stress out? Or is our own psyche at fault – making some of us more susceptible to work-related stress?
Research supports both viewpoints. A few of us are more susceptible and vulnerable to work and life-related stressors, while a few of us have a higher threshold of stress. Those who take their work more seriously report a higher level of stress over time than those who have a more casual attitude towards their work.
Prolonged stress can weaken one’s immunity in the long run and cause various illnesses.
One of the most common outcomes of extreme stress is burnout. A five-year study in the UK found that 20% of the top-performing leaders is affected by corporate burnout in the UK. This figure is expected to go up as organizations grow, and stress levels rise.
So What Is Burnout?
According to Psychology Today, burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
Our minds and bodies give us some physiological clues before a full-fledged burnout. These are thought of to be known, traditional signs which are widely reported, such as:
- Chronic fatigue
- Change in eating and digestive patterns
- Chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, burning and discomfort
- Impaired concentration
The 8 Warning Signs of Workplace Burnout You Hadn’t Thought of Before
Here are a few warning signs of workplace burnout:
1. Dreading Mondays – All of us face the Monday blues every now and then. But waking up on a Monday, feeling like the last place you’d like to go to is your office, is a warning sign that you’re wearing yourself too thin or that you feel disengaged from your work.
2. Feeling ‘Unrecognized’ – Don’t remember the last time you got a pat on your back for a job well done? Feeling unappreciated or unrecognized is a warning sign that a potential burnout may be around the corner.
3. Cynicism and negativity – Once you lose interest in work and your organization, you tend to become cynical about your future at work, and negative in general. This can make you a liability, not only by spoiling your health and well-being, but also by causing a negative influence on the morale of your coworkers. Your coworkers may walk on eggshells around you or avoid you due to your attitude.
4. Inconsistent sleep patterns – Often, when you’re extremely stressed at work, you may start losing sleep over what you did (or didn’t) do. Some people might go the other way, as a subconscious way of avoiding things, they may start sleeping more to avoid thinking about work.
5. Fantasizing about quitting your job – Thinking about a step-up and a higher salary is one thing, and constantly thinking about quitting your current job to make better use of your life is on the other end of the spectrum. It is a warning sign that you might be close to a burnout.
6. Lack of energy – Feeling depleted at the end of a work day where you lack the energy to do simple everyday things such as going to the gym, cooking, or spending time with family and friends is another warning sign.
7. Constantly feeling overwhelmed – Stress at work is natural, but if you are frequently overwhelmed and your stress levels are beyond your ability to manage them, it’s a warning sign that you’re close to a burnout.
8. Lack of productivity and poor performance – Chronic stress prevents you from being as productive as you once were, which leads to an ever-growing list of to-dos. Picture yourself stuck under a huge pile of files, folders, documents, reports, and you’ll know what I mean.
What Organizations Can Do About It
Organizations can implement a few simple strategies to help employees combat the feeling of being overwhelmed and close to burning out.
Here are a few such strategies:
1. Appreciation – Appreciating and applauding employees for what they do helps communicate that the organization appreciates the hard work they are putting in. Employees feel that their organization cares for them and values them.
For more on employee recognition, click here.
2. Development – Investing in the future of the employee shows that the organization thinks they are invaluable. A customized development plan can help an employee feel engaged to their organization in the long run.
For more on employee development and engagement, click here.
3. Mood – Moods are a direct indicator of employee engagement at work. A motivated, happy employee will put in more work and effort than an employee who is negative and cynical.
For more on how mood can affect job performance, click here.
4. Customization – Forward-looking organizations must customize the job to suit the unique talents, capabilities and competencies of the employees. Thinking of each employee as a powerhouse of talent will help organizations keep employees motivated and engaged.
For more on how competencies affect job performance, click here.
The Last Word
Stress is a necessary evil for those who work in high-pressure jobs, but burnout doesn’t have to be the only outcome. When organizations give employees the right tools and resources to express their creativity and maximize their potential, an uplifted workforce is the natural result. And, as we at Sproutlogix always say, that’s the key to a successful organization! 🙂