Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Employees who suffer from burnout are:
- 2.6 times more likely to look for another job
- 63 percent more likely to take a sick day
- 23 percent more likely to visit an ER
Much of the ‘great resignation’ is attributable to burnout among workers during the pandemic. Part of the solution for companies is to understand and share with their employees what burnout is – and is not, and how to mitigate it. Failing to do so can have dire consequences for the employee and the company.
“It’s dangerous; it leads to isolation, disengagement, and depression,” explained Linda Saggau, chief Strategy Officer for R3 Continuum. “Burnout if left unaddressed can lead us into suicidal ideation. It’s important we talk about this.”
During a recent webinar Saggau explained how burnout is different from stress, and ways leaders can help their employees and retain their top talent.
Stress vs. Burnout
Stress is described as an emotional feeling or physical response to outside stressors. It can be a good thing.
“We need a certain amount of stress to perform,” Saggau said. “Stress is normal – until it’s not.”
Too much stress results in people being overly engaged, overzealous or having overactive emotions. People may display a sense of urgency, even to the point of being somewhat compulsive. “That’s when we know it’s chronic stress, it’s not good,” she said. “[The person] may have lost energy, have anxiety. It takes a physical toll.”
But even with bad stress the sufferer can see the end in sight, such as the conclusion of a big project, or the end of turbulence on an airplane – whatever is creating the physical response. Burnout is different.
“It’s a deep-seated exhaustion – mentally, physically, emotionally, due to repeated exposure to demanding situations,” Saggau said. “Instead of urgency and hyperactivity, you’ll see diminished motivation and it can tip into depression …. When you feel burned out the sensation is that there is no end in sight. No matter how much harder you work you’re not going to get out of this mudhole you are in.”
Also, unlike stress, burnout does not suddenly appear; it creeps up slowly. It’s chronic stress that has not been dealt with, a state of mind that takes a while to develop. “It’s important to understand it takes a while to slide into burnout,” Saggau said. “It also takes time to get out of it.’
Burnout is a feeling of helplessness that can’t be fixed by, say, taking a week off, or even going to a different job.
“What they probably don’t understand is that their burnout is going to go with them because the behaviors and habits are just going to go with them,” Saggau said.
The best remedy, she suggests, is to make people aware of the signs that indicate they may be sliding into burnout so they can address them before it becomes a problem.
Slipping into Burnout
One way to help people understand whether they are undergoing too much stress is to look at the Yerkes-Dodson bell curve. Developed by two psychologists in 1908, their ‘law’ says that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal – but only up to a point. When it ‘tips’ over the curve and levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases. This right side of the bell curve can be thought of as the ‘zone of delusion.’
“It’s a psychological concept,” Saggau said. “If we tip over the top, there is decreased performance due to too much pressure. This is where we can go into the delusion zone … slipping into the state of burnout and don’t recognize we are exhausted, and have deep seated feelings of inefficacy.”
Someone who is slipping into that zone of delusion will feel drained emotionally, behaviorally and mentally. Performing even simple tasks becomes overwhelming.
“Literally the smallest act – licking a stamp, returning an email – it becomes really, really challenging,” Saggau said. “That’s when you go, ‘oh, I may be burned out.’”
Feelings of cynicism, inefficacy and – especially – exhaustion are key indicators of burnout. And it is insidious, Saggau explained. It impacts everything from work and health to relationships. Family and friends may feel ignored or unheard.
In addition to helping employees understand where they may be on the bell curve, organizational leaders can help prevent burnout among their workers by simplifying things as much as possible.
“If your strategy isn’t clear and you’re in a position where you can get your strategy clear, get it a little more grounded in some rationale and get it communicated throughout your organization – do it,” Saggau said. “We’ve gone through so much change. Clarifying strategy and getting everyone involved and understanding strategy helps people understand and go, ‘oh, here’s where we are going and here’s why we are going there.’ Not having a strategy in place right now can be sort of a dangerous thing. It’s good for your business, good for your people, good for you.”
Processes that may be broken should be addressed and improved. “If you redesign key processes, clean up your operations – whatever it may be, this is how we take out duplicative effort and we streamline things, building in efficiencies, people’s jobs get easier,” Saggau said.
Finally, Saggau advises employers to look at their staffing models to see if they are working. “Think about how you can cross train people, create capacity when you are in a high-demand or high-volume type of situation,” she said. “This is a time we can kind of slow down and get really creative. We don’t need to necessarily spend more, just think more strategically and maybe a little bit smarter so we can make the lives of those we work with and care about a little bit easier.”