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Is Burnout Really a Disease?
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Is Burnout Really a Disease?

September 25, 2019
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Have you ever felt mentally drained or emotionally exhausted from work? If you have, you are certainly not alone, and you might be suffering from something called ‘burnout’. 

Work-related stress has become more prevalent than ever before in the last few years, as people struggle to find a balance between their work and personal lives. With cell phones, email, and computers connecting us to our work lives constantly, increased levels of stress and other adverse effects that could be attributed to burnout are common in society. 

Burnout has become so commonplace that, in May of 2019, the World Health Organization classified burnout as a “occupation phenomena” in an international health report. The report lists that symptoms of burnout can include, “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.” 

While it’s not considered a unique disease, many medical institutions have linked burnout strongly to depression, drug abuse, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, classifying it as a medical condition. The Mayo Clinic lists a few possible causes of burnout, including having an unorganized or dysfunctional workplace, a lack of clear direction in your role and, most commonly, a lack of balance between work life and personal life.

Causes and Effects of Poor Work-Life Balance

A national study found that poor work-life balance and high work intensity lead to decreased happiness and lower satisfaction among workers. Cities like Washington D.C. and Houston, whose populations generally work more than 43 hours per week, tend to have less happy workers due to a combination of burnout and low social support. The study researched an extensive number of societal factors including work intensity, city livability and institutional support to give U.S. cities a comprehensive work-life balance score.

Workplace stress contributes to at least 120,000 deaths a year, costing up to an estimated $190 billion in the U.S., according to a study by researchers at Harvard and Stanford. “Altogether, this proves that we need to prioritize our understanding on the role of workplace intensity in healthcare and well-being,” states Bernhard Mehl, CEO of Kisi, the company that conducted the Work-Life Balance Study. “When you see these figures, it makes so much sense not just for individuals but also for the companies that employ them to ensure that their employees’ needs are met. The end result is not just a happier, healthier workforce—but in the long-term a more economically viable one.”

Mehl, along with 96 percent of all managers surveyed believe that employees are  suffering from burnout. This staggering number indicates a crying need for increased efforts from office managers and administrators to help prevent this medical condition  from negatively affecting  the wellbeing of their employees.

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How To Prevent Employee Burnout

Failure to promote a healthy work-life balance is one of the main reasons why companies lose some of their best talent. HR managers often encourage employees to take their vacation days as a first resort when they receive complaints or see a worker’s energy flagging. However, this doesn’t address the underlying problems that may be causing burnout. Here are a few tactics managers can recommend to help employees destress and show that the concern is more than skin deep.

Disconnecting

No matter how many perks your job has or how high-paying a job may be, the inability to disconnect after work hours is a major cause of burnout.  Implementing a policy of no work emails or calls after 6 pm can go a long way towards boosting an employee’s morale. 

Taking Small Breaks

Encourage employees to go on a short walk (about 10-15 minutes), or eat lunch away from their desks. These small acts can help reduce feelings of anxiety and burnout. Some studies have shown that taking fifteen-minute breaks throughout the day can really help to rejuvenate and refresh worker’s minds. 

Getting Outside

Cities that have more green space (parks and outdoor recreational areas) were ranked to have a higher work-life balance score, and in turn happier workers in general. When workers are able to take advantage of these types of spaces, it might help reduce the amount of stress felt and increase their ability to disconnect from the office. Managers can contribute to this by hosting more outdoor team-building events or retreats that emphasize nature and peaceful environments.

Conclusion

While burnout isn't technically a disease, it does harm workers’ lives. The World Health Organization, as well as other major health clinics across the world, have recognized that it is a growing problem, with real physical and psychological symptoms. 

Employers who recognize that this is an issue can help retain their employees and keep them happy. A Gallup poll found that employees who are burned out are three times more likely to be looking for a new job. By taking small steps, employees can have a healthier work-life balance and reduce the symptoms of burnout.

Written by:

Bernhard Mehl
CEO at Kisi
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