A guest post by: Ivanna Julia
It’s generally accepted these days that people are overworked. From career professionals staying late to maintain a competitive edge, to college students and graduates working multiple jobs to get on their feet, long hours and constant engagement have become normal. Despite the fact that most recognise these circumstances in a general sense, however, we’ve only recently begun to see serious discussion about the problem of employee burnout.
Broadly speaking, the term “burnout” tends to refer to a sense of being overwhelmed to the point of inactivity or fatigue. The idea is that doing one thing for too long, or too many times in succession, simply wears a person down and results in that thing becoming harder to do – or at least harder to do well, or with any sense of joy or productivity. As of 2019 though, some have begun to think of burnout in more specific terms, at least as it relates to work. This is thanks to the World Health Organisation.
CNBC reported that the WHO officially recognised burnout last year, specifically highlighting it as an “occupational phenomenon.” While the WHO did not classify burnout as a medical condition (as some believe it ought to), the organisation did refer to it as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” What’s significant about this description is that it builds on the previous characterisation of burnout as “a state of vital exhaustion” and relates it specifically to workplace management.
This makes burnout an occupational hazard in the truest sense, and puts the onus on employers and managers to address the issue. In the past, it was perhaps more common to see recommendations as to how employees could better manage their stress at work, and avoid burnout symptoms – and it’s still a good idea for anyone in a working environment to work to lower stress and maintain a positive and productive mindset. With burnout now recognised as a work-related syndrome though, it will become vital moving forward for people in charge of workplaces to take steps to eliminate it.
Here are just a few ideas as to how that can be done:
Our look at workplace health and safety, and who is responsible for them, included the idea that everyone in a working environment, from the CEO to the janitors, is responsible for health and safety. This idea is based on the International Responsibility System, and it would seem appropriate to apply to workplace burnout as well. Moving forward, workplaces may need to implement established systems whereby signs of burnout can be reported openly and without consequence, so that they can be adequately addressed in the interest of employee wellness.
“Automation” has become a dirty word in some respects, but the truth of the matter is that some practices that are necessary in industries of all kinds can be streamlined through automated processes, to the benefit of employees. Take digital marketing for example. Once, it would have involved painstaking, tedious efforts by teams of employees to identify and act on trends in an attempt to gain traction. Now, some of the process can be automated so as to allow the employees to work with more precision and greater purpose. Ayima explains that data analytics can be integrated into modern marketing strategies, such that teams are armed with the information they need to conduct efforts on behalf of their companies. It’s just one example, but this demonstrates how embracing some tech-based processes – in this case, data analytics for content marketing – can remove the tedious aspects of work and give employees a better path toward meaningful contributions.
In addition to making jobs themselves more purposeful in an effort to decrease burnout potential, employers and managers may also begin to give more thought to fostering wellness within the workplace through side activities. This is actually not an entirely new idea. The last decade or so has brought about a fairly clear rise in the number of workplaces that provide employees with ways to take breaks and “recharge,” from in-office coffee bars, to ping-pong rooms, to on-site yoga classes or even occasional massage therapy. Clearly efforts like these can be taken too far, and the point is not to distract employees from work. However, it may be beneficial for companies to go beyond allowing breaks, and actually start to incentivise healthy relaxation.
We should also acknowledge that employees do still have a part to play in addressing the burnout problem. While it’s not their responsibility to handle the larger problems, they can still be trained to recognise symptoms and do what they can on their own to escape burnout. HR Executive points out that training programs can be implemented for this exact purpose. Essentially, management will need to begin an educational process moving forward, first identifying problems and devising effective training strategies, and then passing those strategies down to employees in effective fashion.
It’s beyond doubt at this point that employee burnout is a significant problem. And left alone, it may only get worse given the competitive nature of modern workplaces. By recognising the problem, however, and taking some of the steps described above, employers and managers can create a better environment for their employees and decrease instances of burnout significantly.