Burnout - How to Prevent & Treat It
Updated: Apr 16
Burnout is a term that’s been more widely used in recent years, and HR and Wellbeing leaders have become much more adept at understanding the symptoms and impacts of it within their teams. In particular, with dramatic changes to ways of working and the collision of work and home lives since early 2020, preventing and treating burnout have been firmly established as priorities in the agendas of progressive workplaces. Of course, this is very much in the interest of organisations as HBR believe burnout might be costing the US economy alone more than $500 billion annually.
Burnout was originally seen as an illness related to depression. It wasn’t until 2013 that the WHO classified it as an ‘Occupational Phenomenon’ rather than a medical condition saying “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. The definition points towards different paths to preventing and treating it. Before trying to diagnose or cure yourself or team members , it’s important to understand the symptoms and underlying burnout mechanisms to successfully combat them.
The most common manifestations of burnout often include exhibiting the below symptoms in a greater intensity than previously encountered.
Feeling exhausted and depleted of energy
Having trouble sleeping
Quickness to anger and closed thinking
Decrease in work performance levels
Feelings of helplessness
These symptoms can develop over a period of time without the person noticing. Sometimes just being aware of the biggest risks of burnout can often be enough to help someone prevent burnout from escalating.
Many frameworks and tests have been created to try and assess burnout. Researchers have mostly aligned around the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) being seen as the gold standard. Christina Maslach, the inventor of MBI also stressed the role of the workplace conditions as a fundamental cause of work-related burnout, which is often overlooked. These may include over-demanding workload, the way employees are treated and value conflicts, to name few. Recently, the Burnout Assessment Test (BAT) was built on the foundation of MBI and is thought to address some issues of MBI, in particular with a stronger focus on knowledge economy workers.
The BAT involves a person answering a few questions across 5 key areas. Vitrue Health’s burnout assessment aligns with these and some of the recommendations we share with people are below.
Exhaustion - Is the person constantly tired and feeling overworked? Reduce this with techniques to enhance the quality of sleep and communications of workload expectations.
Mental Distance - When there is a psychological distancing from your job and colleagues. It is a result of depleted mental energy to deal with everyday stresses and an unwillingness to engage with others, reply to emails etc. This can be reduced by sharing thoughts about difficult things/moments shortly after they happen.
Cognitive Impairment - Can be characterised by memory issues, inability to think clearly or engage in problem solving. This can be reduced with relaxation techniques.
Emotional Impairment - Exhibited when losing control of emotions more easily. This can be combated by taking more breaks and techniques for emotional balance.
Secondary symptoms - Includes other symptoms that can manifest as physical pain or anxiety and nervousness. A healthier and more mindful lifestyle can help unless a medical professional should be engaged.
So what should you do now?
Employers already recognise that we’re living in exceptional times. Many leading organisations are providing their teams with better resources and access to services. Vitrue Health’s burnout assessment tool was designed in collaboration with mental health and wellbeing professionals, manifestation of pain and physical and environmental wellbeing. Leading organisations know that investments like these pay off with dividends as productivity increases while factors driving employee turnover decrease.
Besides services that allow employees to reflect on their own burnout and empower them to prevent and treat it, doubling down on employee engagement efforts are key. Get to know your teams better. Get your team to write ‘User Manuals’ for themselves to share and communicate how they work best. What do they love to do? How can you support them to do more of this and embed that into their career development (if even just a little)? Where are their weaknesses? Support them to get better rather than just point them out. Encourage them to set clear divides between work and home lives with fake commutes, break etiquette between calls and, if possible, not working from places like bedrooms. These are all best practice employee engagement techniques but it’s never been more important to focus efforts on people.
For individuals, the best thing anyone can do to reduce risks and impacts of burnout is to ask ourselves questions related to burnout and self-reflect on the factors that might be affecting us. If an assessment such as Vitrue Health’s indicates some risks that you’re feeling burnout now, it’s important to remember that it won’t go away after a few good nights’ sleep. It’ll take a while to reduce the sensation and symptoms. Focus on adopting a small number of new behaviours from assessment recommendations. After a while maybe try to add a few more. Reflect on progress and do an assessment again to validate your efforts for an encouraging self-pat on the back.
Remember, your health is the most important and valuable thing you own. Make sure you treat it that way and invest the time into it that it deserves.
To test Vitrue Health's Burnout Assessments for free, click here .
VIDA's original service is a wellbeing and desk assessment. This enables employers to be HSE compliant with a DSE workstation assessment that gives personalised recommendations on how to improve their ergonomics and wellbeing while working from home, remotely or in offices.