Feeling burnt out or stressed by your day job isn’t a new concept. But in 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified workplace burnout as an official disease described as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
By understanding that burnout is a medical condition, business leaders are now in a position to better understand and protect people from experiencing it as we learn and know more about risk factors and preventions.
Why Should My Business Care About Burnout?
Because workplace burnout is by definition related to aspects of our working lives, it’s important that employers understand what it is and how to prevent it. But why? Surely if burnout is a medical condition, it’s not a problem for business leaders running a company. Wrong!
Aside from the clear reason that a healthy workforce is a happier and more productive cohort, preventing burnout can also be a significant factor in retaining talent that your business has invested in.
A 2022 Pew Research survey found that almost 40% of people who left their jobs in 2021 did so due to working too many hours. Workplace burnout is caused by, among other things, dedicating too much time to your job.
In a post-pandemic working environment, where many teams are operating in a hybrid office with less distinction between home and work – at least geographically – it can be hard to down tools at the end of the day and easy to work far more hours than we should.
How to Prevent Employee Burnout
Knowing how to recognize signs of burnout may be key to preventing it.
WHO described burnout as:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to, one’s job
- reduced professional efficacy.
Ensuring team leaders are checking in regularly with staff, particularly those working remotely, to find out how they are managing workload and other pressures can be helpful in flagging if someone is struggling. It’s also important to realize that burnout isn’t necessarily a result of an increase in workload or a demanding project, but may simply be a feeling of disconnection to the job they have previously enjoyed.
This can be caused by aspects of remote work where we have fewer social interactions with colleagues, or a physical lack of separation between home and work as we operate in the hybrid environment.
Other ways leaders can help include communicating with teams about how they can prioritize their mental and physical health while working remotely. This might include:
Taking regular breaks from all screens – As well as causing mental fatigue, too much time staring at a screen can result in eye strain and sleep issues. Research recommends taking a 5–10-minute break every hour and practicing the 20-20-20 rule – every 20 minutes stare at an object that’s around 20ft away for 20 seconds.
Having human interactions every day – If you’re glued to Zoom all day in meetings you might feel like you’ve had enough of people, but solely digital interactions may contribute to bad posture, obesity and headaches. From a business perspective there’s evidence to suggest in-person meetings can result in more effective communication and stronger connections.
Prioritize tasks and time – A lack of focus on one specific task, or trying to juggle too many tasks at once, can result in a sense of working very hard but achieving very little. Not a great feeling. Putting your To Do List in order of need can help to keep you on track and enable you to tick things off, meaning a greater sense of satisfaction at the end of the work day.
Use screen time functionality to manage hours – Smartphones and computers have functions that allow you to track time spent on a device and help avoid distractions. Turning app or email notifications off during certain hours or setting up a custom Focus on your iPhone can help you stay on one task and avoid annoying pings when you’re trying to complete a project.
Avoid meeting overload – It might be tempting to schedule your meetings back-to-back to get them all done as fast as possible. Don’t do it. As well as making it impossible to get those all-important screen breaks, the anxiety when meetings run over, making you late for your next appointment, isn’t worth it, and could also extend your day unnecessarily. There’s no law that says meetings have to be 30 minutes or one hour long. Assigning 20 or 40 minutes to meetings can encourage more efficient time-use and easier access to breaks.
It’s not always easy to say no at work, or set better boundaries around when enough is enough at the end of a work day. Business leaders can do their part by setting good examples to staff and encourage open discussion about how others make it work for them.
Something as simple as turning all notifications off in the evening can help prevent working too many hours and help protect the mental and physical health of everyone in a team. Good leaders know that the success of any business hinges on the people who make it work, and they’re always an asset worth protecting.