What is burnout?
The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that’s characterized by feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion, negative or cynical feelings related to a job, and reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout has been a hot topic in the workplace for the last few years and has incredibly grown during the pandemic. In a survey conducted by FlexJobs in partnership with Mental Health America (MHA), they found out that 75% of people have experienced burnout at work, with 40% saying they’ve experienced burnout specifically during the pandemic. For 56% of respondents, having flexibility in their workday was overwhelmingly listed as the top way their workplace could better support them. Encouraging time off and offering mental health days are tied for second and third at 43%.
It is important to understand the difference between burnout prevention and burnout recovery. At New Life, we understand that burnout recovery requires a multi-systemic approach and should be tailored to the individual. We can communicate with employers that referred them to us and follow up care of our guests through social and educational support.
Burnout has been defined as the result of a broken way of working: it is not about “how much” we work, it is about “how” we work, the quality of the relations, the care and humanity that permeate the workplace. When work provides people with a sense of meaning, chances for burnout will be reduced. Burnout does not simply derive from working too much: it is about perfectionism, unreasonable expectations, a widespread systemic toxic work culture and a sense that we will derive existential purpose solely from our work in the world.
To develop a burnout prevention plan, we need to understand what causes burnout and that there are different causes and reactions from people. According to Professor Christina Maslach, pioneer of research on the definition, predictors and measurement of job burnout, it can be driven by six areas of work-life:
- Workload: The amount of work to be done in a given time. A manageable workload provides the opportunity to do what you enjoy, pursue career objectives, and develop professionally. A crisis in workload is not just stretching to meet a new challenge but going beyond human limits.
- Control: The opportunity to make choices and decisions, to solve problems, and to fulfil job responsibilities. A good match has correspondence between control and accountability. A mismatch occurs when you lack sufficient control to fulfil your responsibilities.
- Reward: Financial and social recognition for contributions on the job. A meaningful reward system acknowledges your contributions to work and provides clear indications of what the organization values. People experience a lack of recognition as devaluing their work and themselves.
- Community: The quality of an organization’s social environment. People thrive in communities characterized by support, collaboration, and positive feelings. Mismatches occur when you don’t have a positive connection with others at work.
- Fairness: The extent to which the organization has consistent and equitable rules for everyone, and where resources are allocated according to generally understood and consistent procedures. Fairness communicates respect for the organization’s members. A lack of fairness indicates confusion in an organization’s values and its relationships with people.
- Values: Values are what is important to you and the organization. When personal and organizational values are congruent, successes are shared. Mismatches occur when differences exist between your values and the organization’s values, or if the organization does not practice its stated values.
Burnout prevention is related to stress management. Your goal, when you are not burnt out yet, and you would like to avoid being burnt out in the future, is to learn how to manage stress well in your life. This should be a shared responsibility between the individuals and the organizations.
Stress management means planning and taking vacations on a semi-regular basis. It means exercising regularly. It means adding quiet screen-free time to your day, setting boundaries and learning to say no, getting into nature, getting good sleep, maybe having a gratitude journal, all of these things that we already know, help us to manage our stress and they are important, and they matter.
Prevention at the organizational level
So, the most effective way to prevent your employees from burning out is to change the organizational structure and processes that lead to burnout. The target state is one in which the workplace is efficient, stable, and reliable; where people treat each other with respect, where there is flowing and non-violent communication and compassionate leadership. It is important to create a psychologically safe environment, where people can speak up and be vulnerable, to express their needs and expectations and resource requirements to cope with the demands.
Prevention at the individual level
At the individual level, there are some proactive measures that one individual can take to help burnout prevention, as shown in the table below.
|Domain||Proactive action||Sample items|
|Work||Increasing/maintaining job control||I make sure that I am in control of when I carry out my work.|
|Increasing/maintaining supervisor social support||I ask my supervisor for support, if necessary.|
|Increasing/maintaining co-worker social support||I ask my co-workers to take over work from me, if necessary.|
|Seeking feedback||I seek feedback from my supervisor about my work performance.|
|Seeking/performing tasks that energize||I actively take on tasks that enable me to develop myself further.|
|Reducing hindering job demands||I make sure that I do not have to carry out tasks that cost too much energy.|
|Home||Increasing/maintaining home autonomy||I make sure that I am in control of how I spend my free time.|
|Increasing/maintaining home social support||I ask my family/friends for help, if necessary.|
|Reducing work‐home conflict||I make sure that I distance myself from work after hours.|
|Personal||Improving/maintaining physical health||I make sure that I get enough exercise.|
|Improving/maintaining psychological wellbeing||I try to put stressful situations into perspective.|
|Engaging in relaxing activities||I make sure that I take time for relaxing activities after work.|
How we can help
At New Life Portugal, we offer wellness retreats designed for individual’s needs: Community living, nature, yoga, mindfulness, specialized counselling and many other treatments and activities, to support your physical and mental health. Contact us to know our programs and we will help you design your burnout recovery or prevention care plan.