We’ve all heard that burnout is a real workplace issue. It can negatively affect morale, engagement, productivity and ultimately the success of an individual, department or organization if the problem is pervasive. As an HR professional, it’s a concern I have had for the organizations in which I’ve worked, the individuals on the teams I have led, and also a concern for myself. I, like many others, have read countless articles about what burnout is, how to recognize it, how to prevent it and how to deal with it when it happens.
I recently read that The World Health Organization (WHO) updated its definition of burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” and, believe it or not, I was inspired! The WHO lists the following as the three main symptoms of burnout:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings negative towards one’s career
- reduced professional productivity
What I have come to understand is that ultimately, the prevention and remediation of burnout is largely the responsibility of each of us, individually. Let’s parse the WHO’s definition, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
The first part is “chronic workplace stress”. What can I do as a leader to address stress in my workplace? Certainly, I can address a truly toxic person, or help create efficiencies, and anyone in a leadership role absolutely has the responsibility to help create a work environment which recognizes that employees are people with lives and allows them to disconnect from work and replenish their energy in whatever way works for them. However, the work itself is the work and there will always be pressures, deadlines, deliverables, difficult people and situations….stress!
The second part of the definition is what inspired me because it’s where the true power lies, “that has not been successfully managed”. Yes! Here is an action item, and something over which we each have control! To me this says that two people could work in the same place, experience the same chronic stress, and one could do just fine and the other could experience burnout because they haven’t successfully managed the stress. It’s the age-old idea that our experience is not the result of our circumstances, it’s the result of our response to our circumstances.
As employees, this means that to avoid or deal with burnout, rather than wishing for the people and circumstances around us to change, we can change how we are managing our stress, make sure we are taking care of ourselves and replenishing our energy.
As leaders, this means that instead of trying to change the workplace to make it less stressful (a nearly impossible task), the best way to help our employees is to encourage time off, discuss the importance of health and wellness, and while we all have high work standards, no one is expected to work themselves into the ground. Here’s the kicker – we also must model these same behaviors if our words are going to be effective.
Best wishes for keeping that fire burning!