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Workplace burnout is real and should not be ignored


Be aware of mounting stress

It took a global pandemic for companies to begin to highlight the challenges of stress at work. Suddenly, remote work and Zoom became a thing overnight. Apparently, many employees returned to work unaware of the mounting levels of stress awaiting them. Some opted to resume at-home work. Others complained to HR about “burnout.” Many workers simply quit their jobs and sought employment elsewhere.

What is “burnout”? For some, burnout looks like simple tasks suddenly seeming insurmountable. High levels of irritation and cynicism tend to ensue. Constant sickness upon waking can signal that the body is keeping score from all of the stress. Another indicator can be an increase in mistakes. Burnout can come from either extended hours on the job and/or a high level of stress. 

Too much ‘busy’ can be harmful

Sometimes, toxic work environments emerge unintentionally. Your boss may not be a narcissist, but they may have unrealistic expectations about work and life and how you alone should personally balance everything. Feelings of burnout shouldn’t be ignored. If there’s too much crammed into every hour of your day, there’s not enough time to fully process what you’re doing. Some people like to simply stay busy, but for the “thinkers” in the world, too much “busy” can lead to a lot of burnout.

Rising inflation has touched upon most every socio-economic strata. Certainly, there are times  when cash flow issues are strictly a personal problem. But if your salary isn’t in line with competition, or you have earned a degree but no one wants to pay you more for that accomplishment, it can be a contributing factor to employee burnout. Compensation is a valid form of recognition, and if all of the kudos from team members don’t lead to a promotion, raise or end-of-the-year bonus, then all of the diligent and faithful service tends to become meaningless.

Not all burnout is a direct result of what is perceived as poor leadership. Sometimes it’s unintentional. Leaders are also busy and have their own stressors. However, sometimes, a bad leader in the mix can have a subtle but damaging impact on organizational culture.

Burnout can be specific to the occupation

Dr. Mindy Shoss, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida, has described workplace burnout as an “occupation-related syndrome” that is the result of chronic stress that has not been successfully managed (by both employee and employer).

“Burnout involves ongoing emotional exhaustion, psychological distance or negativity, and feelings of inefficacy,” Shoss said. “This adds up to a state where the job-related stressors are not being effectively managed by the normal rest found in work breaks, weeks and time off.”

True workplace burnout is specific to one’s job or occupation. It’s more concerning and detrimental than the daily irritations everyone experiences and most of us manage. Still, Shoss specified three dimensions to workplace burnout that every worker should take note of:

—Feelings of energy depletion or emotional exhaustion;

—Increased mental distance from one’s work and negative or cynical feelings toward one’s work and

—A reduced sense of efficacy at work.

Lack of recognition often a leading factor

“There are many potential  causes of burnout in today’s workplaces,” Shoss explained, “including excessive workloads, low levels of support, having little say or control over workplace matters. There’s also a lack of recognition or rewards for one’s efforts which can lend itself to an interpersonally toxic and unfair work environment. Add the constant possibility of a recession, and it’s no surprise that burnout is on the rise in many workplaces.”

Psychology Today ran an article last year that illuminated the leading scientific research in revealing that employees who experience workplace burnout have a 57% increased risk of workplace absence greater than two weeks due to illness. There was a 180% increased risk of developing depressive disorders, as well as the risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes increasing by 84%. Hypertension was another health factor which, if not addressed, can be increased by 40%. All of these factors, of course, lead to more sick days which not only affect your work day but your homelife as well.

Another report, this one from the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, points out that a toxic workplace can be harmful to employees’ mental and physical health. “Toxic,” in this case, is a workplace described as “disrespectful,” “non-inclusive,” “unethical,” “cutthroat” and “”abusive.”

Surgeon General’s report

“Workers manage daily stress that affects their health and organizational performance,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. In one survey cited in the Surgeon General’s report “Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing,” 30% of employees reported getting harassed, verbally abused, or even physically abused by someone inside their organization or someone outside it, such a customer. When employees feel that they’re constantly under threat of a tongue-lashing–not to mention physical violence–it adds unnecessary stress to anty job.

“If you’re the boss, any such dangers must be addressed immediately because you simply can’t create a healthy, well-functioning workplace if the people in it are scared all the time,” Murthy said. “Creating a workplace environment where people do feel connected to one another should be among your top priorities.”

Murthy said being valued at work starts with being paid a living wage. According to his report, “Financial stress and money worries have a severe impact on mental health.” Paying employees enough to live on in reasonable comfort–wherever your company is located–is not only “important for their well-being,” it’s a good idea in a labor market where too many jobs are still chasing too few qualified employees. The report recommends that employees have as many opportunities as possible to participate in workplace decisions, especially ones that affect their jobs. Also, employees should receive recognition and appreciation for their efforts.

African-Americans and workplace stress

“When people feel appreciated, recognized, and engaged by their supervisors and co-workers, their sense of value and meaning increases, as well as their ability to manage stress,” the report explains.

African-Americans are especially affected by the stresses and frustrations of today’s workplace. Recent data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that “adult African-Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness than adult “Whites.” The reasons for African-American burnout are not surprising:

—Being overworked

—Feeling like you don’t have control over your life

—Not being appropriately awarded for your time and effort

—Negative relationships

—Deficit in fairness.

The pandemic turned daily lives upside down, particularly for African-Americans as this community witnessed an excess in job loss–and loss of life–more so by capita than any group in the United States. This, in turn, increased anxiety and stress at home. As well, the social-emotional development of children in Black households tended to suffer as parents and/or guardians were constantly “on guard” regarding their employment, ability to pay bills and to look after loved ones who contracted the virus.

There are things you can do to help counter burnout. The CDC report suggests you:

—Turn off social media. There’s too much out there that can raise stress levels when you’re already overwhelmed;

—Focus on the things you are thankful for and what is going well in your life;

—Get a hobby. Finding something to do that you love can help you relax when you need it;

—Discover your purpose. There are many programs that can help you identify your strengths and live a life full of purpose;

—Prioritize your health. Don’t ignore your symptoms. Focus on finding ways to improve your daily health. Eat well, drink plenty of water and exercise.

While African-Americans continue to endure many struggles, burnout happens in overwhelming numbers. There is hope that people can overcome daunting obstacles and experience greater rest and peace even in challenging circumstances. Remember to reach out and ask for help when you need it the most.