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How to recognize and help worker burn out

May 30, 2019
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Everyone feels stress. We begin each day with a never-ending to-do list — get the kids to school, go to work, make dinner, drive the soccer carpool and, ugh, did the dog just make a mess on the carpet?

But there’s a difference between everyday stress and stressors so significant they contribute to burnout. The World Health Organization classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon tied to “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout is a serious on-the-job issue that can lower productivity and, even more worrisome, threaten your employees’ safety.

Nearly 1 million people a day miss work due to stress, according to the American Institute of Stress, and employers lose up to $300 billion each year on stress-related health care and absences. Workers exhibiting high stress are 30% more likely to have an accident, and more than 60% of workplace accidents are stress-related.

Anyone can experience burnout, including your highest-achieving, most-engaged workers. It’s alarmingly common. Nearly two-thirds of employees report feeling burned out frequently or sometimes.

Take the time to learn the signs of burnout and the toll it can take on employees and your workplace, then read on to find out how you can manage employee burnout.

Recognizing burnout

Physical signs of burnout include forgetfulness, headaches, dizziness, insomnia and nagging illnesses. Psychological displays of burnout include:

  • Exhaustion.
  • Detachment from work and its outcomes.
  • Feelings of lack of accomplishment or effectiveness.
  • Feelings of negativism related to one’s job.

How can you recognize these symptoms of burnout in your employees? Watch for:

  • Frequent absences.
  • Fatigue and irritability.
  • Changes in attitude, often characterized by apathy or lack of motivation.
  • Increases in on-the-job errors.
  • Complaints and general dissatisfaction.
  • Decreases in efficiency.

Working too much is a recurring trigger for burnout. Other causes range from feeling powerless on the job to insufficient recognition for achievements to monotonous jobs or chaotic workplaces.

Impacts of burnout

Workplace stress may manifest in serious ways. Short- and long-term health consequences for burned-out employees could include:

Burnout also can affect your workers’ efficiency. Quality of work may decline when a person feels disengaged due to burnout. Production can decrease if a stressed-out employee misses deadlines or makes errors.

Burnout may influence workplace dynamics, too. When a co-worker misses a shift, others may feel pressure to pick up unfinished work. Sometimes people even lash out; 29% of workers say they’ve yelled at a co-worker due to stress, according to an Integra survey.

Managing burnout        

Presenting realistic expectations for your employees and listening to their concerns may ease symptoms of burnout. You can also try these six steps:

  1. Release bottled-up emotions: Instead of stifling anger, hurt or other negative feelings, employees should seek healthy outlets, such as lunchtime meditation or walking programs, to work through frustration.
  2. Foster friendships: Co-worker friends can listen to frustrations and offer advice. Plus, people with friends are less likely to suffer from depression and high blood pressure. Encourage socialization through after-work dinners or by sponsoring a work softball team.
  3. Embrace mindfulness: Advise workers to monitor how they feel, including the physical and mental sensations associated with their emotions. Encourage workers to reach out to your employee assistance program if you have one.
  4. Say no: Give employees leeway to refuse a request, such as working overtime, that could impair their health. Promote mental health days so employees feel OK taking a break.
  5. Decrease “busyness”: Build downtime into work schedules to preserve employees’ focus and drive. Split tasks between two people. Divvy up project responsibilities.
  6. Set email boundaries: Discuss reasonable timetables for responding to emails. Many workers feel pressure to reply quickly, which could put them in danger if they are driving or working on a construction site. Address their concerns by helping them set up automatic replies acknowledging receipt of an email and promising a later reply.

Want to learn how make your workplace healthier? Get in touch with Health Links, our partner at the Colorado School of Public Health. You can also tap into our worksite wellness information and research.  

Pinnacol Assurance assumes no responsibility for management or control of customer safety activities. Please ensure your business meets the requirements of all federal, state, and local laws, regulations, or ordinances related to workplace safety.

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