Why employers should never underestimate the dangers of burnout
Burnout is now officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a clinical syndrome, legitimising the physical and mental impact that overwork can have on employees. Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HR Business Unit at CRS Technologies, believes that companies should familiarise themselves with the symptoms of burnout to minimise the potential impact on employees and the business.
“In the fast-paced corporate environment, employees feel they must keep up or risk being overlooked for promotion or a salary increase. Even artisans are under immense pressure due to long hours, demanding customers, and the constant battle to make ends meet,” he says.
Adding further impetus to concerns around burnout is the fact that digital transformation is resulting in jobs becoming more specialised. This is putting even more pressure on people to get their work done as effectively as possible. And in South Africa, with retrenchments a constant fear in the current uncertain economic climate, employees are expected to take on more responsibilities with fewer human resources on hand.
According to WHO, burnout is characterised by three dimensions:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job;
- Reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout is the result of chronic workplace stress that is not successfully managed. Despite the recent classification, it is by no means a new phenomenon and people have been struggling to deal with it for as long as they have had jobs. However, thanks to the connected generation, the issues surrounding this clinical syndrome are now out in the open and decision makers can no longer ignore it.
“Despite this, few industries take burnout seriously,” says Myburgh. “Often, it is only if a job relates directly to a person’s safety that managers treat burnout with the respect it deserves. In the corporate environment, employees are typically squeezed until every ounce of their energy is depleted.”
Consequently, education is critical.
“This can involve researching the impact burnout has on the business, running workshops and acknowledging the fact that it is a legitimate problem. People who suffer from burnout should never be told to ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’. Instead, it needs to be managed properly and with consideration for the sufferer.”
Burnout can be viewed as a precursor to depression and if not taken seriously, can lead to other mental health issues that can also negatively impact performance at work.
There are several steps employers can take to minimise the risk of their staff suffering from burnout. This includes the obvious step to stop overworking them. Additionally, identify the signs before it is too late, be observant when managers engage with people, and offer counselling if required.
Employees can also do their bit to prevent themselves from burning out.
“People must feel that they are in an environment where it is safe to talk about the feelings they are experiencing,” says Myburgh. “They must be able to have a discussion with their line managers if they are feeling overworked or unable to cope with the demands of their jobs.
“People must also learn to maintain a better work life balance. Yes, the temptation to work from anywhere is there, but this can turn a nine-to-five job into a 24×7 position, which can lead to burnout. Participating in relaxing activities away from the workplace is vital and in extreme cases, burnout sufferers should consider removing themselves from the situation causing the burnout, if this is possible.
“These are difficult times for employees and employers alike. Competitiveness is at an all-time high, resulting in an ongoing pressure to constantly perform at optimum levels. But if the signs of burnout are not heeded, burnout could become seriously detrimental to employees’ general health and wellbeing,” Myburgh concludes.