Burnout in the Digital Age: How Professionals Can Avoid Workplace Stress
Workplace stress is likely to be an issue for all professionals at some stage in their careers. No matter your industry or level of experience, managing stress levels is something all professionals need to practice to achieve success and happiness in and out of work.
If poorly managed, the impacts of workplace stress can cause workers to experience burnout, a phenomenon we’ve all become more familiar with over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
The last year or so has really tested us all, especially in achieving a work-life balance. According to research from Indeed earlier this year, 52% of employees feel burned out. What’s more, as searches online for ‘signs of burnout’ have increased by 24% throughout 2020 compared to the previous year, it’s never been more important to understand burnout and how it can impact our lives. The good news is that there are a lot of ways that employers and employees can reduce the probability of experiencing burnout. From self-care to evolving company cultures, the future of work doesn’t have to be one where digital burnout is commonplace.
In the age of multiple screens and constant communication, learning how to spot the warning signs of burnout and prioritizing your mental health is an essential practice in order to have a sustainable relationship with our work and careers. In this guide, we explore what burnout looks and feels like, how to avoid it, and how to progress in your career without compromising your own stress levels.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a term we see thrown around quite a lot nowadays, but it’s a concept that has been explored since the 1970s, with the publication of Herbert Freudenberger’s book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He defined burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
We can understand burnout in the context of workplace stress, which many of us experience at some point or another. We can all become stressed at work, particularly if we are putting in longer hours than usual, there are important deadlines coming up, or we have issues in our personal lives. Research by Mental Health America and FlexJobs shows that 76% of respondents agreed that workplace stress affects their mental health and have experienced burnout.
Burnout is an extreme form of workplace stress whereby the stress you are experiencing makes way for mental and emotional exhaustion. The World Health Organization (WHO) characterizes burnout by three main dimensions:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
- Reduced professional efficacy
When we are experiencing stress at work, it may be difficult to concentrate on tasks, and we may have feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious. But workplace stress becomes burnout when we no longer have the capacity to care or engage with our work.
Why do people get burnt out?
Burnout is a result of excessive workplace stress, so it is essential to look at the factors that can create stress in the workplace, and therefore the environment for burnout to take place.
Historically, the work culture in most companies is centered around productivity. And this is because businesses, by nature, are driven by profit, which is achieved by operating at maximum output. This often translates to an approach whereby productivity comes first, and inevitably, the needs of people come second.
This way of working creates the exact environment in which burnout can occur. This is because prioritizing profits and results become a cultural norm that everyone is expected to practice. And voicing concerns about mental health often negatively reflects on performance and an employee’s efficacy.
A culture that normalizes long working hours and neglects mental health is much more likely to see cases of burnout amongst its people. This is because it causes stress, and employees are not taught to recognize the signs to avoid burnout.
Lack of support from management
Management figures have the potential to represent a solution for stressed employees, and research does show that 96% of employers provide mental health resources to staff. But the effectiveness of this support doesn’t always translate, with only 1 in 6 employees feel supported by these resources.
Another factor to consider is the way in which senior members of staff manage their teams and employees. The WHO lists “poor communication and management practices” as a risk factor for poor mental health, which directly contributes to burnout.
This is because employees often feel like they cannot tell their managers that they’re struggling. According to research by Deloitte, “the top driver of burnout...was lack of support or recognition from leadership, indicating the important role that leaders play in setting the tone.”
Empathetic management practices encourage communication and compassion amongst teams and create a safe environment for employees to be transparent about their mental health and stress levels. This positive environment can combat stress and prevent burnout, but the reality is that many workplaces don’t provide this kind of opportunity for employees to have their needs met. A recent study, Hindsight 2020: COVID Concerns into 2021 showed that a third of employees wished their managers acted with more empathy.
To here view Burnout in the Digital Age: How Professionals Can Avoid Workplace Stress guide