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Managing Burnout in the Workplace

woman stressed at desk

As our jobs and lifestyles grow ever busier, it sadly doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that burnout is an increasingly common occurrence. So common in fact, that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has chosen to expand its definition of the condition is in its 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Burnout is now officially an ‘occupational phenomenon’, and as a result, WHO is developing a set of evidence-based guidelines around mental wellbeing in the workplace.

What is Burnout?

Though lots of employees equate burnout with workplace stress, they’re not the same thing. The ICD now defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Stress then, can be seen as a precursor to burnout – while the former is often characterised by over-engagement, hyperactivity and anxiety, the latter is more of a disengagement or detachment from work.

Causes & Symptoms

Do you think you or a friend / colleague might be suffering from burnout? We’re all prone to occasional stress at work, especially if we’re working on a busy project or have a tight deadline to hit. Burnout though usually results from more long-term issues, like having overly demanding or unclear job expectations, working in a highly pressurised environment, or experiencing dysfunctional team dynamics. A person beginning to experience burnout might feel they’ve no control over their work situation, will probably find themselves working long hours, and may not have any sense of work-life balance. They’ll feel exhausted and hopeless, lose motivation and gradually become emotionally numb. In extreme or untreated cases, burnout can even lead to depression.

man working late in office

Managing Burnout

Once the problem has been identified, it’s much easier to treat. Here’s five actions to put in place to help you manage burnout:

1. Speak Up

First and foremost, it’s important to speak up, and let the powers-that-be know what you’re going through. No-one should be putting their health at risk for work, and perhaps your manager doesn’t realise the extent of the pressure you’re under.

2. Set Boundaries

Having explained your position, it’ll be easier to set boundaries – maybe you can even work with your boss to redefine your role if it’s in any way overwhelming or unclear.

3. Learn to Demand Less of Yourself

Perfectionists often suffer from burnout, so take the time to evaluate whether you’re putting undue pressure on yourself. Learning to say no is huge too; leaning on others for support is a sign of strength, not weakness.

4. Work on Building your Resilience

There are certain tactics you can employ to help cultivate your own sense of resilience in the workplace. These will help you cope with the various ups and downs of a busy job.

5. Establish a Work-Life Balance

Finally, make time in your life for the important things; family, friends, hobbies, creative outlets, and generally unwinding. Put regular time aside, and let colleagues know you won’t be contactable during those periods.

These steps should help you start to manage burnout. Remember though, if your symptoms are severe or you’re feeling particularly low, be sure to reach out to either a friend, family member or trained professional.

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