BURNOUT AND WORKPLACE STRESS IN THE PANDEMIC
The state of physical and emotional exhaustion we tend to call burnout is now recognised by the World Health Organisation as an occupational hazard. It tends to happen when we experience long-term stress or when we have worked in an emotionally or physically draining role for an extended period.
Burnout is unlikely to just stop or go away on its own. In fact there is always a chance that it will get worse if not addressed. If you ignore the signs of burnout, it could cause further harm to your physical and mental health. Unfortunately, burnout can sometimes be misunderstood or stigmatised leading to some employees hiding or denying their feelings.
Mental Health UK have identified nine factors contributing to burnout in the UK over the lockdown periods. Not all are explicitly work-related, suggesting that it is work, combined with the many other stresses of the pandemic that are having an impact on our wellbeing.
Their survey about burnout and the pandemic concluded that lockdown severely affected the work-life balance for most people. Work and home life have become blurred, social lives have been curtailed, many people are working longer hours and parents have been looking after children during the working day. The majority of people felt that they were now more prone to intense levels of stress compared to the same time last year with 20% of those working full-time feeling unable to handle the pressure and stress of their work. These pressures have been compounded by the fact that many of us are being encouraged to work from home as Covid continues to bear down upon the economy.
The factors contributing to burnout are:
Working from home
Worries about job security
Caring for others
The symptoms of burnout
Delaying tasks and taking longer to do jobs
Feeling drained of energy most of the time
Feeling helpless and defeated
Feeling isolated and alone
Having a negative outlook
What can we do?
As individuals we will have our own way of reacting to workplace stress and we will find ways to decide what level of stress we find acceptable. However, recognising when we are reaching our own is limits not always easy. It is important that our stress does not increase to dangerous levels and so we need to be vigilant and honest, accept that changes may be causing us stress. We should try to set effective work boundaries, for example making sure we take breaks, get exercise and decide if we really need to be working extra hours.
If we notice changes in the behaviour of colleagues, sometimes simply asking them how they are can prompt a helpful conversation. We may notice a workmate being unwell or absent more than usual, being irritable or complaining of headaches or physical pains. These can all be signs of stress and possible burnout
If you are working from home then structuring your day can help:
Try to dedicate a work place away from others and distractions
Plan your start, break, lunch and end time
Taking a 5 minute break away from your screen every hour can improve well-being and concentration
Set boundaries – if you are in a shared household, discuss and agree when and where you do and don’t work.
How I can help
Before becoming a counsellor I held a number of executive positions and ran my own business. As a result I am very familiar with the challenges of a healthy work life balance and the dangers of burnout and stress. Now as a therapist I work with clients to take steps to reduce stress, avoid burnout and improve workplace relations.