Burnout – The Silent Killer

Stress and burnout have been normalised as: `Okay, so you’re tired. I am, too. Suck it up and get on with the job’. But there are jobs where burnout can equal death. The Japanese even have a word for it `karoshi’, meaning death by overwork.

Burnout can defined by the following symptoms: extreme exhaustion, decreased productivity, job dissatisfaction and cynicism. Where these symptoms form a regular pattern, either in yourself or others, you must take notice.

Burnout has become a topical medical condition with the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially classifying it as a mental health condition. WHO further define burnout as `chronic workplace stress that has not successfully been managed’ which `includes feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, resulting in increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional efficacy’.

Burnout, or prolonged exposure to stressful situations, are not only limited to the nine to five workers, but shift workers can be more at risk. It’s no secret that the shift worker has to adjust more than the traditional day worker. Yet, few realise that shift work, especially split shifts have detrimental effects on a worker’s emotional wellbeing and mental capacity. Combined with sleep deprivation, poor diet and social isolation, an already stressed worker can hit burnout quickly.

If not addressed early it can lead to people making life critical mistakes or providing the wrong advice which can result in malpractice or injustice. However, when there are emergencies or a task has to be completed urgently, wellbeing and selfcare are pushed back to focus on just getting the job done.

So, it is not surprising that one in four people are likely to develop a mental or behavioural disorder in their lifetime and the majority of those are a result of the workplace.

This aligns with a Gallup poll of 7000 full time workers which indicated one in four felt burned out often. Similarly, in a Deloitte study on workplace health, 84% of millennials felt burned out in their current job.

Burnout also has financial implications for both an organisation and the individual. In the current 2021 global happiness report, mental health injuries caused by burnout reduced income by 12% percent, 20% if you include COVID-19 as a cause. Over time, mental health injuries decrease productivity and increase `inemuri’, the Japanese word for sleeping whilst present. You may know it as presenteeism. While the global cost of burnout has not been calculated, the cost of mental illness is estimated to grow to $16 trillion by 2030 as a result of burn out.

As the world gets faster, technology increases, digital communications become the norm and social media becomes the smart way of communicating; so too does isolation, social disconnection and people start relying on technology for everything. Technology can certainly make work easier but you should not ignore the importance of human connection to get things done.

Humans are naturally social beings and to suddenly lose that connection will mean people lose that natural connection to one another, thereby increasing the likelihood of anxiety, depression and burnout.

To add to this, at work organisations are asked to do more and more with less resources. Leading to burnout of those few remaining in the workplace. The focus is on efficiency and cost savings but little is considered about the human impact of change.

While most incidents of burnout correlate with huge workloads, unreasonable time demands, lack of job clarity and unclear communication also play a role. The Gallup study of primary causes found it had more to do with management’s treatment and lack of support for their people rather than expectations of hard work caused burnout. When people are not treated well in the workplace they are more likely to experience burnout.

However, when people experience burnout in the workplace they are less likely to speak up out of fear, shame or expect that they won’t be taken seriously. This culture of fear in the workplace actually increases the likelihood of burnout and makes work more challenging than it should be.

When you start to feel the signs of burnout, it is time to stop and really look at your situation and ask yourself some tough questions. For if you fail to address the early signs, the risk to your health may be irreversible. Your feelings of decreased motivation, frustration or cynicism will soon translate into heart issues, digestive issues, panic attacks, depression decreased immunity which will open you up to chronic illnesses.

To find out if you are at risk of burnout, take the two minute busting burnout quiz.

To learn more about self-care and strategies to understand and manage your stressors please visit https://liveanwholisticlife/com and sign up for my newsletter to receive updates on an upcoming course which delves deeper into making an action plan to avoid burnout.

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