In a time of constant change, tough new challenges and unnerving uncertainty, burnout is a possibility for many an employee and professional person.

According to Dr Koller, five occupational sectors in particular have been studied and are thought to carry higher risk of burnout: teaching, social services, medicine, mental health and law enforcement.

“Although there may be multiple factors that, in conjunction, can lead to burnout, it seems the workplace environment can be key in the development of burnout,” Dr Anthony Koller, specialist psychiatrist at the Akeso Psychiatric Clinic Group points out.

Dr Koller explains that being on the frontline (constantly interacting with individuals), heavy workloads, long working hours, strained relationships with colleagues, and a restricted amount of autonomy in making decisions directly related to performing your particular role best can all lead to burnout.

However, “frequently encountering many stressors at work does not always lead to burnout. This usually depends on the stage of burnout that an employee is at,” he adds.

Symptoms

The classic triad of burnout symptoms (as described by Maslach and Jackson) includes:

  • Emotional exhaustion refers to the almost complete depletion of one’s emotional reserves to the extent that a person feels that they feel they have nothing left to give to others emotionally. This leads to a feeling of intense mental and physical fatigue.
  • Depersonalisation, sometimes known as cynicism, refers to the uncharacteristically harsh, unemotional and indifferent way in which a person with burnout begins to treat their clients and or loved ones.
  • Reduced personal accomplishment eventually develops in the burnt-out individual, where they begin to feel a sense of incompetency, inadequacy and ineffectiveness in regards to their job performance.

Effects

An employee will naturally try to adapt to the increased demands made on them, so they can be affected emotionally and physically during the process of developing burnout. For example: “Someone with a large workloads will work longer hours, leading to less time for physical exercise, making healthy eating decisions, getting sufficient sleep, attending to chronic health conditions, neglect for relationships,” says Dr Koller. All of this slowly breaks down the vital reserves of the individual which are so critical to maintaining a healthy mental state.” 

Prevention is better than cure

“Many businesses, corporations, hospitals and schools are now realising that the environment they provide should be fitted to the employees’ needs to prevent burnout. Additionally, it is in their economic interest to maintain a healthy, happy workforce,” Dr Koller advises.

Employers can foster a positive work environment by allowing for employees to:

  • Strike a work-life balance.
  • Utilise flexible working hours.
  • Protect from occupational risks.
  • Offer long-term job security.
  • Provide compensation for reduced employment.

Rest, recovery and relapse

It is unfortunate that for the person with end-stage burnout there is very little evidence for specific, successful treatment strategies. By this stage a person has reached a point of such severe emotional exhaustion that time off work will be necessary. “A person can recover from burnout if they seek proper medical treatment and are able to take the time needed to recover, which can vary from weeks to months,” Dr Koller explains.

“Ultimately, burnout is a warning sign that there is a lack of fit between one’s working environment and oneself. Unfortunately, returning to the same working environment that produced the burnout is likely to produce the same outcome again. At this stage, people often make career-changing decisions when they realise that their current working environment is toxic to their well-being and that their organisation is unlikely to change,” he concludes.

Tips to manage/prevent burnout:

Action at the individual level is still useful and necessary in preventing and treating burnout, so no matter how demanding your work environment is you need to:

  • Ensure you get adequate quality sleep.
  • Take the time to incorporate regular cardiovascular and weight-bearing exercise.
  • Take the time to ensure you eat regular healthy meals.
  • Devote time to loved ones and actively cultivate rewarding friendships.
  • Don’t be ashamed to admit when things have become too difficult for you to handle and ask for help.

Source: Akeso Clinics. Image: Pixabay

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