One of the workplace topics being discussed with more frequency is employee burnout. It’s commonly included as one of the contributing factors to employee disengagement. But what exactly causes burnout?
During the Massachusetts Conference for Women, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion specifically focused on burnout. It was interesting because the group talked about stress and burnout in a unique way. They said that stress is something we have on a regular basis. When we’re dealing with something that has consequences, when something we care about is at stake, we experience stress. It can occur when there are good things taking place in our life such as buying a new home or getting a promotion. It can also happen when there are unfortunate things taking place such as death, divorce or illness.
Ways we can manage stress
There are several different ways we can manage the stress in our lives. We can bookend or protect “me” time on our calendar. We can make sure we have time to exercise, sleep and eat well. If our jobs involve travel, we can use “airplane mode” to decompress a little.
However, burnout occurs when there is a collapse of our stress instincts. Instead of saying burnout is simply too much stress, we need to think of burnout as a breakdown in stress management.
Recognizing the signs of burnout
The group was very open about their personal experiences with burnout. They identified two noticeable behavior changes:
- Being exhausted every day. Not just tired but exhausted and wanting to withdraw from life.
- Being cynical. More than being a pessimistic. Everyone and everything was wrong.
While these might not be the only signs of burnout, the signs discussed offered a way for individuals to take time for self-care and self-reflection. So if someone thought they were experiencing the signs, the could take steps to re-engage and work toward developing a positive stress relationship. A couple options that the panel mentioned for reducing the signs of stress and burnout included:
Utilizing organizational resources such as an employee assistance program (EAP.) Sometimes when we’re talking about stress, we have a tendency to think of dealing with too many emails or social media fatigue. Truth is people are dealing with all kinds of stresses we’re not aware of. And it might be difficult to ask for help and/or the find availability of resources. As human resources professionals, we need to make sure programs are well publicized.
Resilience training. I’ve heard a lot about this lately. Resilience training helps employees move past their inner critic and deal with setbacks. It’s very easy to tell someone, “Hey – don’t beat yourself up.” But it’s not easy to do. Organizations want employees who are open to change, which means they need to be open to making mistakes. Resilience training can support those efforts.
We might joke around about needing a Happy Hour to unwind after a long day in the office. But, make no mistake, stress and burnout are serious issues that need to be dealt with in a serious way. Each of us as individuals need to identify our stressors and find our own methods for managing stress. That doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. But we do need to be self-aware.
Image taken by Sharlyn Lauby wandering the streets of Reykjavik, Iceland after speaking at the Flora Icelandic HR Management Conference0