Strategies for preventing and treating Burnout Syndrome are needed now more than ever. With the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week being the norm, most working adults spend up to half of their waking hours working or at work. Coupled with the stress of a potentially long commute, everyday work stress has the chance to be exceptionally high.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic and the changing work environments that followed put worker well-being in the limelight. Specifically, mental health and the psychological work environment have moved to the forefront of conversations about work-related stress and burnout syndrome. With this comes conversations about how we can intervene and treat burnout from the level of the individual and the organization they work for.
Preventing and Treating Burnout Syndrome
According to research put together by University of Akureyri student Unnur Oddny Einarsdóttir and EWI Works’ Dr. Linda L. Miller, Burnout Syndrome is defined as a work-related syndrome that develops as a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job. The three main symptoms of Burnout are emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment. This may manifest as forgetfulness, tiredness, irritation, lack of interest, cognitive problems, sleep deprivation, illness, stress, depression, or even exhaustion.
Burnout Syndrome can often disguise more serious and very real mental health issues, especially depressive and anxiety disorders. Where Burnout Syndrome can be treated with time away from work or a change in workload, mental health issues often require therapy and sometimes medications. However, there is more that can be done to treat burnout, both from a personal and organizational level, when time off the job just won’t cut it.
Previously, Burnout Syndrome was thought to be a late career-phenomenon experienced by older adults and those closer to retirement. But as times change, new research is starting to contradict this notion. Recent studies demonstrate that younger people are also experiencing Burnout.
People working in jobs that have high demand, low control, insecurity, and low organizational justice over long periods are at a higher risk of Burnout Syndrome. Civil servants, nurses, physicians, occupational therapists, social workers, teachers, and others whose jobs have complex cognitive demands frequently experience more burnout symptoms.
According to the research put together by Einarsdóttir, adopting a multidimensional view of the relationship between work and mental health is the first step to treating Burnout Syndrome. However, the onus is not just relegated to the employees suffering from burnout. The highest chance of reducing feelings and symptoms of burnout comes from a combination of personal and organizational interventions.
Burnout Syndrome Interventions
For early-stage burnout, individual interventions can be made outside of work, such as:
- Mindfulness Practices
- Stress Management
- Replacement Strategies
- Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques
- Improved Nutrition
Those recovering from burnout syndrome report that support from friends and family is crucial. Emotional support, understanding, encouragement, and help have a big impact on recovery time.
Work-life balance has become increasingly hard with the shift to at-home work since the pandemic. However, things like hobbies, family, and social activities outside of work drastically improve mental well-being in many cases.
Additional help on a personal end can come from an occupational therapist or psychologist. These professionals can help work with difficult emotions and unhelpful behaviors associated with burnout.
More recently, employers have been called upon to make structural changes on the organizational side to better improve their employees’ work-lives. Organizational interventions can include making changes such as:
- Flexible Schedules
- Workload Reductions
- Work Evaluation
- Improved Supervision
These simple changes can reduce job demands and enhance job control. Preventions such as monitoring staff well-being, observing and examining the workload and atmosphere, and monitoring bullying in the workplace can also act as effective interventions.
Returning to Work After Burnout
For those who’ve had to take time away due to burnout syndrome, the next step is the return to work. When doing this, those who have experienced burnout need to rethink their work environment. It should reevaluate the work tasks involving both the employee and the supervisor. There are multiple tools and assessments that can measure the demands of the job and the work environment.
- Transferable Skills Analysis
- Job Demand Analysis
- Functional/Cognitive Behavioral Analysis
- Job Site Analysis
- Job Match Assessment
- Volunteer/Supervises Work Trial
A return-to-work plan should be made individually or with the assistance of a trained professional such as an occupational therapist or ergonomist. It should consider the personal way that the individual felt while experiencing BS and be tailored to the issues and feelings they faced.
Taking Burnout Syndrome Seriously
Burnout is a serious phenomenon that affects people in all kinds of professions and stages of life. When returning to work after treatment, both the individual and the organization need to reconsider the work environment; burnout syndrome has negative effects on employers and staff alike. The employee can develop a lack of motivation, reduced work performance, and increased illness, both mental and physical. For the organization, this lack of motivation and performance harms productivity and job efficiency.
This is why preventions, interventions, and treatment for burnout syndrome remain important as we face a changing work environment. EWI Works has a robust set of services and tools to help you and your team prevent burnout and get those who are experiencing symptoms back to working comfortably.
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