Preventing Burnout in the Workplace

How do we prevent burnout in the workplace in our staff and in ourselves? Depending on the field you work in, you could be a lot more likely to develop burnout over time. But first, let’s look at some facts.

About Burnout

According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout is defined as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” Burnout has three dimensions including Emotional Exhaustion, Depersonalization, and Reduce personal accomplishment. Below features what we call the Burnout Curve that tracks what someone may experience when they are experiencing Burnout

The Burout Curve starts at excessive expectations, then goes down to collapse. Also, shows how work output goes down and sense of emptiness increases

There are many reasons why we as managers care about burnout and want to help our employees avoid it as much as possible. As the curve shows, employees are less productive and find less value in what they are doing. We know as managers that our employees loving what they do is one of the most important things to having a successful team. If your direct reports are happy, your customers are happy, and everyone’s lives are better for it!

Why Managers Should Care About Burnout in the Workplace

Another issue that burnout causes is the inevitable turn over. When employees get burnt out often they end up leaving your company. How is that a problem for you? Well, I am sure you already know this but if you don’t the Society of Human Resource Management says that the average cost of training a new employee is $4,000. So for every employee, you have to replace you are spending your time and your money (or your companies money) doing so. Now if the person isn’t a good fit that’s ok, but if it could have been prevented wouldn’t you have liked to know how?

Studies have shown that the main reasons for turn over are: job or workplace was not expected, too little coaching and feedback (which we can help you with here), too few growth advancement opportunities, workers feel devalued and unrecognized, workers suffer from stress due to overwork and work-life imbalance, and finally there is a loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.

Not only is burnout rough on our company and its revolving door of new employees, but it is also hard on our bodies. Let’s face it, we all work to make money to support our lives (like that is a surprise to any of you). So when our jobs are unstable or we feel like we can’t keep up because of burnout it takes a toll. Let’s look at the numbers for a second, 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress and 75-90% of all doctors office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints! What?! Almost all of our doctor visits are at least partially related to stress? Come on now, tell me I have you convinced that burnout is a big deal. If not read the next two sentences, if yes, you can skip this part.

Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety. The lifeline prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.

Jobs with the Highest Rates of Burnout

Now like I said, burnout is a lot more prevalent depending on the field you are working in. So let’s look at what fields are the highest for burnout, shall we?

  1. Physicians
  2. Nurses
  3. Social Workers
  4. Teachers
  5. School Principles
  6. Attorneys
  7. Police Officers
  8. Public Accounting
  9. Fast Food
  10. Retail

As you can see, most of these jobs are people that help take care of others. We rely heavily on these people in our society to help keep us healthy and safe. However, newsflash, these people are people and when they go to work in these fields they bring in their own lives and background. Combine that with a high level of stress, caring for people that have encountered serious trauma, and burnout, you experience vicarious trauma. Now, what is that?

What is Vicarious Trauma

Vicarious trauma is defined as “is the emotional residue of exposure that (people that care for others) have from working with people as they are hearing their trauma stories and become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured.” It is important to note here that not all people that experience burnout will experience vicarious trauma and the same is true in reverse, not all people that experience vicarious trauma are going to be burnt out.

An Example of Vicarious Trauma Situation would be

  • Trauma Victim
    • Actual or threatened death or serious injury
    • A threat to the physical integrity of self or others
  • Reactions of Survivors, Family Members, Rescue Workers (police officer, social workers, doctors, etc)
    • Intense fear and helplessness, horror,
    • Nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance, dissociation, anger
  • Most people will not develop PTSD after a traumatic event. Those most likely to experience PTSD are survivors, family members, and rescue workers

To learn more about the signs and symptoms of vicarious trauma please click here.

What is Compassion Fatigue

Now, that we know what vicarious trauma is, let’s learn about a different thing that can happen to people that can be combined with burnout.

Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary trauma stress (STS), is defined as “the physical and mental exhaustion and emotional withdrawal experienced by those who care for sick or traumatized people over an extended period of time.”

  • STS is both physical and emotional stress responses to working with a highly traumatized population. It is a psychological phenomenon in which the caregiver experiences many of the common feelings and symptoms associated with victimizations
  • STS can affect all aspects of one life: cognitive, emotional, behavioral, spiritual, interpersonal, and physical.
  • STS comes on more quickly than burnout but is also more responsive to solutions.

How to Prevent Burnout of Employees

Now, why did I just tell you all of that? Let me tell you! It is important as a manager or an individual contributor to know and understand the various things that can happen because if you are noticing signs of any of these three: burnout, vicarious trauma, and compassion fatigue early on, you will be able to take preventative measures before it gets worse. But you don’t have to wait until you start to develop these things to prevent them. So as a manager what can you do to help your employees not develop burn out?

  1. Provide them a space to relax and take a break, to take care of themselves while on the job
  2. Try to eliminate as much management turn over as you can
  3. Work towards building your team and create bonding experiences for them
  4. Let people off early if you can after a busy day
  5. Make sure you are paying a competitive wage
  6. Reduce stress where possible in the day to day work activities
  7. Provide feedback on work
  8. Encourage “unplugged” vacations
  9. Build rapport with your direct reports
  10. Check in with your direct reports regularly
  11. Lead by example

So that last one, lead by example, yes that means you. You also need to not become burnt out yourself. When you do things to take care of yourself your employees will see that it is accepted and many will follow suit. Some of those things are

  1. Take breaks AWAY from your desk
  2. Actually, take your vacations and “unplug”
  3. Manage stress in a way that works for you (meditation, exercise, journaling, etc)
  4. Learn your warning signs (Remember what we talked about above, are you experiencing any of those common symptoms? Also, learn what happens to you when you have worked too much and need a break)
  5. Find the joy in the work that you are doing
  6. Schedule free time (like put that on your calendar, I’m serious do it)
  7. Pursue a passion
  8. Ultimately listen to yourself, you will find things that spark joy in your life

If you are having a hard time and reading books help you, click here for some books suggestions!

Blocking Burnout Take away

So after all this time together we have talked about burnout what it is and why it is important. We also discussed vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. Lastly, we talked about how to prevent these things in your employees and in yourself. I hope you enjoyed the information we provided you with. Please comment below and share this with your friends and colleagues!

How managers can prevent burnout
Sarah Brock

Sarah Brock is the founder of Unremarkably Remarkable. She is a wife, mom, trainer, healthcare advocate, writer, and editor.

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