Most of us can probably agree that mental health is not the easiest topic to discuss, especially when it comes to the workplace.  Society has long taught us to approach work with a certain level of professionalism, which often means putting on a smile for others and leaving one’s emotions, personal matters, and struggles at home.    

However, over the last 10 years, discussions around mental health have become increasingly more common.  From organizations like Bell Let’s Talk, to high profile celebrities speaking openly about their own mental health struggles, it’s no doubt that there has been an increased demand for mental health awareness education and training.  This has gone on to creating a more open dialogue in the workplace. When it comes to the workplace, one of the most common contributors to a decline in mental health is burnout.  

What is burnout?  

Burnout is a psychological syndrome that can result from ongoing stress.  There are various factors that can contribute to burnout at work, but one of the most common ones would be not receiving adequate support from a supervisor or others on the team.  This can be due to covering for another employee who is sick or on leave, or perhaps the company is short-staffed.  Sometimes it simply occurs from biting off more than one can chew as an employee strives to impress the boss.  

Believe it or not, burnout can start with overcommitment and even passion towards a certain task or project, which can include working extra hours to produce more.  But as time goes on, stress will set in, and a person will begin to feel overwhelmed and even defeated. There can be both emotional and physical signs.  A person can start to lose motivation, feel overwhelmed and even feel resentful, especially when there are unrealistic expectations to work up to. Burnout can generally be broken down into 5 phases, which are listed below.  

Honeymoon phase  

Much like marriage, burnout begins with the honeymoon phase. During this phase, there is a high level of excitement and maybe even passion towards the job or task. The individual can see all the possibilities and is full of ideas, creativity, and optimism, which in turn leads to high productivity.   

Stress phase  

In time, the optimism fades and the feeling of stress begins to set in. It is not chronic stress like we will see in the next phase, however this is where the worker may notice the first mental and physical signs of burnout.  These may include a loss of focus and productivity, tiredness, and withdrawal from activities outside of work. It is during this part of the phase that the individual begins to realize that they may have bitten off more than they can chew.  

Chronic phase  

This is when the stress and burnout symptoms become chronic, as the ongoing pressure builds and becomes more than the affected person can handle.  At this point, feelings of apathy set in, causing a person to procrastinate leading to work not being finished by deadlines or general tardiness. A person may stop participating in work-related activities and withdraw from social discussions with colleagues.  Alternatively, this can also show up as becoming hostile or aggressive with friends, family, and coworkers  

Critical phase  

Eventually, an individual will get to the point where they can no longer continue to function as before and may begin to seek out ways to relieve themselves of the stress they are feeling.  This can include having trouble prioritizing tasks. During the critical phase of burnout, a person may no longer want to get out of bed.  Other signs include body aches, stomach issues, low energy, trouble concentrating or feeling drained.  A negative or cynical attitude may develop along with irritability, and they may therefore try and avoid colleagues.  This can be followed by a loss of enjoyment at work or a feeling that one can never get ahead therefore, contributing to lower productivity, poor performance and even increased conflict with coworkers.   

Habitual burnout 

Habitual burnout is when burnout becomes an everyday occurrence.  It is here that we see it develop into a part of one’s lifestyle, including the emotional and physical signs of stress that come with it.   

Common workplace stressors   

Some of the most common workplace stressors that contribute to burnout and poor mental health are:  

  • Long hours without enough breaks 
  • An unrealistic workload 
  • Restructuring 
  • Poor workplace relationships 
  • Bullying or harassment 
  • A lack of recognition   
  • No clearly defined career or job path 
  • Environmental factors, such as unsuitable lighting, disorganization, unideal workstations and distractions like loud sounds and disruptive talking.  

Tips for dealing with and preventing burnout  

  • Habits - Make changes to work habits.  Ensure that workers take breaks and do not work long hours or overtime on a regular basis.  Establish adequate communication between workers, supervisors, and management, so that expectations are realistic and can be met.  This could include monthly or weekly meetings. 
  • Relationships - Make time for personal life and relationships outside of work.  Socializing with the important people in our lives is essential, whether that be friends and family or coworkers.   
  • Self-care - Self-care can mean different things for different people.  What do you like to do that makes you feel your best?  This could be anything, such as getting a massage, taking a bubble bath, or cooking a delicious meal.  For some, it may mean watching their favorite tv series, calling up a friend, spending time in nature, or making time for meditation or deep breathing exercises.   
  • Hobbies - Creating time for leisure activities and the things we are passionate about are essential for our wellbeing.  This could include artistic projects, like painting and drawing, or participating in sports.  Getting involved in the community is also a great choice.   
  • Exercise - Encourage employees to get physical exercise.  Not only is physical activity a great way to improve physical health and wellbeing, but it is also great for mental health and combatting stress.  Running, weight training, yoga classes, hiking, biking, and walking are all examples of this.   
  • Adequate sleep - Getting enough rest is one of the key remedies when it comes to dealing with or preventing burnout.  Sleep is essential and without it our bodies easily become stressed or overwhelmed.  Most of us need 7-9 hours of shuteye for optimal performance and wellbeing.  

Burnout is real and can have a massive impact on every aspect of a company. Hopefully you are now better equipped to recognize the signs and make the changes at work, as well as in your life, to avoid it altogether. 

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