Burnout signs and personal stressors

Chris Wilson
November 16, 2022

This is guest post by Chris Wilson, a remote Chief Wellbeing Officer and a stress scientist. You can learn more about Chris and his amazing work in one of our most popular episodes of Team Engagement Live here!

Burnout – or the inevitable outcome of over-working - is an issue significantly affecting the workforce in Australia and in other developed nations.

Our latest Stress Science surveys show more than 90% of the workforces we collaborate with agree they have been negatively impacted by burnout, with the top reasons being compensating for others, fear of job security and no clear end to the workload.

How is burnout perceived?

The perception of stress and burnout is changing on a global scale. The World Health Organisation recently changed its definition of burnout to being a “syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

With more remote working, it has also become increasingly difficult to know where the personal and workplace thresholds start and finish. This has forced health and safety professionals to re-write workplace manuals and to monitor risks that were previously unfamiliar. One such risk is burnout.

What are the burnout signs?

Burnout is a phenomenon that is characterised by running out of adequate resources in the body to cope with the demands. This impacts mental, physical, and emotional capability and may cause a person to act out of character.

Sleep is sabotaged with anxiety and can cause fatigue, the ability to remain focused becomes increasingly difficult, and cortisol levels are chronically high, along with having a suppressed immune system.

People suffering burnout can make rash and illogical decisions and the critical and analytical function in their brain can be impaired. Evidence suggests that chronic stress and fatigue can lead to a significant decrease in emotional reasoning and empathy. From a risk perspective, it’s a proverbial car crash (insert any disaster in your industry) waiting to happen.

What are the burnout risks for your personnel?

Arguably, the Health and Safety professional’s role is to protect the people in their organisation. To escalate the difficulty faced when trying to mitigate stress and risk, each person in a workplace has individual tolerances. The best we can do is start to quantify the personal stress levels and risk-stratify the personal tipping point for stress tolerance. Only then can we create a clear picture of those who may be on the verge of burnout.

The worst-case scenario is that we have teams suffering in silence who are health and safety timebombs to themselves, their colleagues, and the public.

What are the burnout risks to your organisation?

The Great Resignation has been labelled a Human Resources problem, with workforce planning workshops already oversubscribed. Yet the evidence suggests that unsafe workplaces and lack of health and safety cultures are growing concerns for employees who demand to be kept safe while at work.

With promises of better work safe policies and care from our competitors, our talent is ready to leave in droves. This causes another potential risk where a resulting lack of capacity within the workforce can create problems. Under-staffing can lead to cutting corners, taking risks, and ignoring procedures to get the job done.

To add fuel to a red-hot fire, we must consider new team members who have had a fast-tracked onboarding process. This could leave a business vulnerable from an uncontrollable escalation in risk.

Unfortunately, this is a common conversation and could be avoided if we could keep hold of our talent by making them feel safer physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Understanding personal stressors

  • Identify the physical, mental and emotional early warning signs that indicate you are negatively stressed. This self-awareness allows you to stop yourself from over-reaching.
  • Set clear boundaries that meet your needs with family, health, and work requirements. Sacrificing one for the other leads to high levels of anxiety.
  • Set personal success milestones for family, health, and work. Success in each arena is fulfilling.
  • Learn your workplace support procedures and who you should speak to and when. Becoming informed can reassure you.
  • Build personal relationships with your colleagues. Trust is essential to having open dialogues, especially for those in positions of authority.
  • Allocate time to focus and remain on task. Create an environment where you can be productive to complete tasks.
  • Be physically active and eat healthily, as this lowers the stress response in the body.

Optimising your organisation’s operations

  • Create clear guidelines on communication flows. Working from home means we have been available to everyone at any time. We need to reset these boundaries, quickly.
  • Adopt technology to encourage self-monitoring. There are solutions to map workforces for stress and risk. These are simple and can be automated by Stress Science.
  • Write an up-to-date personal risk stratification policy and referral procedures that are clear for all levels of the organisation.
  • Deliver timely and precise communication on your current business status and projects specifically designed to protect your people.
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