Burnout’s tell-tale symptoms are:
1) Low energy or exhaustion
2) Disengagement or negative/cynical feelings about the job
3) Reduced workplace efficacy
Burnout is an occupational phenomenon, not a medical condition. We can’t cure burnout with doctors. It’s up to leaders to treat burnout when it appears and more importantly, prevent it in the first place.
Research suggests that resilience skills reduce burnout, especially in work conditions characterized by high demand and low control. Familiar examples of high-demand, low control jobs include working on tight deadlines with a micromanaging boss or needing deep concentration in a loud, distracting workplace.
If you’re thinking, “I can’t get rid of workplace stress,” you’re right. The pace of change is brutal and isn’t slowing down. But that’s just one piece of the picture because burnout is amplified by the inability to manage stress. The solution isn’t in preventing stress; the solution is to build mental and emotional resilience skills into our work habits to deal with inevitable stressors.
“Habits” is a key concept. Stressful moments trigger reactions like anxiety, fear and anger which over time wear us down. That’s where burnout begins. Most of the time we can’t step away from a stressful work situation—but most of the time we can apply resilience skills in the moment, or shortly thereafter, and reprogram our reactive behaviour. For example, the easy-to-learn skill of emotion regulation, in which one recognizes and reframes emotional reactions in moment of stress, interrupts the cycle of anxiety and reactive fear or anger.
Leaders can also make some changes in their workplace cultures:
1) Stamp out micromanagement, which research links to that dangerous high demand-low control situation.
2) Articulate the value and meaning of each job. The Mayo Clinic found that physicians who spend about 20 percent of their time doing work they find most meaningful are at dramatically lower risk for burnout.
3) Build more autonomy and fluidity into every role. Restructure jobs so employees have more control over their workflow. Train people in resilience skills to interrupt the cycle of stress-anxiety-negativity.
4) Encourage social support. Our research shows that a socially supportive environment amplifies the positive outcomes of resilience at work, and the health benefits of friendship are amply documented.
As leaders looking to make real change, it’s important to first recognize the urgent need for emotional wellbeing as a proactive preventive strategy for health and business. More than ever, the people we serve face very human challenges brought about by change. This is a real opportunity to make our workplaces a “safe haven” from the outside world, where anger, aggression and overload set the tone.
We can’t eliminate stress from business—but we can manage our reactions to it. For resilience training programs see https://eapassist.com.au/digital/