A big lesson from the recent pandemic for many of us was that workplace burnout is a devastating reality. While it was by no means the first time healthcare professionals reported burnout at work, that extreme experience shed global light on the symptoms of work burnout and showed that it was not limited to high-pressure occupations. In fact, nearly everyone was dealing with workplace burnout to some degree.
There’s still some confusion about what constitutes workplace burnout symptoms, as well as the most effective ways to avoid burnout at work.
At Discovery Health Systems, we’re committed to helping you promote workplace wellness in practical ways that nurture both professional growth and personal well-being among your staff.
With 20+ years of industry experience, we are ready to help you shift the culture at your organization and prevent burnout!
What is Workplace Burnout?
Workplace burnout is overwhelming and unmanageable stress that affects an employee’s overall well-being. But what’s the difference between workplace burnout and garden-variety workplace stress? In essence, it’s a matter of degree. While each of us has stressful days, we typically have time off or relief of some sort that allows us to process the stress and return to a feeling of enthusiasm.
Burnout happens when the ongoing effects of workplace stress are unrelenting. Prolonged periods of stress — such as a global health crisis or a constantly negative work environment — without recovery time lead to workplace burnout symptoms that can undermine productivity and morale.
What Causes Burnout at Work?
There could be warning signs of burnout potential lurking in your company’s systemic practices. Start by examining your corporate culture for these attitudes and procedures, as they can create the overwhelmingly stressful environment that often leads to workplace burnout:
Unfair Treatment Among Colleagues
Favoritism, nepotism and other forms of inconsistent and unfair treatment make workers feel undervalued and distrustful.
A never-ending workload is a sure way to make an employee feel overwhelmed. This is particularly noteworthy of very high-performing workers who are accustomed to handling more than others.
Unclear or Conflicting Communication
If workers don’t know what their job is, they’re going to have a tough time getting it done. Unclear role expectations, vague process descriptions and inconsistent accountability force employees to guess what managers want from them, leading to frustration and eventual exhaustion.
Unreasonable Time Pressures
Deadlines are a fact of life in many professions. But when there’s never enough time to finish a task before another is due, the pileup can quickly snowball into an unmanageable avalanche of pressure with no relief in sight.
Unhealthy Workplace Culture
Bullying, intimidation and a regular disregard for boundaries create a negative work environment that almost inevitably leads to symptoms of work burnout. Physical conditions that can lead to burnout include substandard lighting, poor air quality and lack of personal protective gear.
Mental & Physical Symptoms of Work Burnout
The effects of workplace stress show up in many ways. Some burned out workers may default to doing the bare minimum, aka “quiet quitting.” And while physical and mental workplace burnout symptoms will differ in various industries, common complaints include:
Fatigue & Illness
Exhausted employees are more susceptible to viruses, so an uptick in sick days can be one of the early warning signs of burnout.
Depression & Irritability
When employees are dealing with workplace burnout, they have little energy left for regulating emotional responses. That means they may tend to lash out or be irritable with each other and customers, especially at peak moments of intense pressure.
Withdrawing From Workplace Culture
Another way workers react to unending stress is by disengaging from their colleagues. As they retreat from the pressures of the job and preserve their energy for surviving the crisis of overload, they also withdraw from the overall company culture.
Lower Professional Enthusiasm
A more pointed term for this is apathy, which is one of the most common symptoms of workplace burnout — and perhaps the most dangerous. Workers who have lost the spark of enthusiasm for their jobs aren’t doing their best, which means your company’s reputation may be at risk.
Apathy loves company. And workplace burnout can spread through a workforce faster than the common cold. Because of the systemic nature of workplace burnout — and the domino effect of overstretched coworkers trying to pick up slack for each other but ending up overwhelmed themselves — it’s easy to see how the effects of workplace stress can quickly balloon from one frustrated person into a full-blown workforce crisis.
Ways to Avoid Burnout at Work
The most effective way of dealing with workplace burnout is to prevent the conditions that create it. When you recognize that your employees are your most valuable asset, you begin to realize that there’s a built-in ROI in wellness programs that promote a healthy work environment.
Here are 5 proven strategies for how to prevent workplace burnout and create a culture of physical and mental well-being in your company:
Help Managers Manage Better
Managers are your first line of defense against workplace burnout. Whether it’s the freedom to give employees extra breaks or the flexibility to address symptoms of work burnout creatively, making sure your managers are supported with resources and tools builds a solid foundation for preventing workplace burnout.
Develop Clear Role Expectations
When employees aren’t sure about their job duties or the hierarchy of a company, they can easily become frustrated and demoralized — two of the most dangerous workplace burnout symptoms. But when managers and workers collaborate to develop clear and specific role expectations, both end up feeling valued and empowered to bring their A-game every day.
Provide Wellness Support
A proven way to avoid burnout at work is to make physical and mental health resources available at the workplace. The recent rise in corporate clinics bears out the idea that making vaccinations, health screenings and other wellness support options more accessible can lead to a greater sense of being valued as an employee. Plus, when workers have access to third-wave wellness options, like mindfulness exercises and other holistic interventions, a sense of equity and inclusion can flourish regardless of the age range and ability levels of your workforce.
Make Time for Rest & Recovery
The common denominator among workplace burnout symptoms is the term “unrelenting.” While occasional stress is a normal part of working life, everyone needs periods of mental and physical rest to recuperate from it. One way to ensure a healthy work-life balance is to include families in your corporate wellness program. Not only will this type of inclusion encourage more employees to participate in healthy activities, but it will also show your workers that you truly care about them as full human beings.
Design Healthy Workspaces
A warehouse with excellent lighting, an office with ergonomic desks and chairs, a break room with ample fresh fruit and other healthy food available — these are spaces designed to mitigate the effects of workplace stress. As you look for ways to prioritize mental and physical wellness at work, consider how the furniture, floor plan and functional aspects of your workplace support or impede workers’ success on the job.
Prevent Burnout With a Wellness Program From DHS
Ready to design a wellness plan that’s tailored to dealing with workplace burnout in your business? The benefits of working with Discovery Health Services include cutting-edge technology and a wealth of experience creating thoughtful, deeply personalized solutions that deliver measurable results. Contact us today to get started!