Preventing Workplace Burn-out: three simple tips

Jason Clark
June 12, 2019
Jason Clark

The World Health Organisation announced recently, that “burn-out” is to now be included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. At its heart, it is a syndrome brought on from unsuccessfully managed workplace stress.

Whilst not to be mistaken or classified as a medical condition, the ICD-11 notes burn-out as a reason explain why people contact health services.

What is workplace burn-out?

So what is burn-out exactly, if it is not a medical condition, but something that a person may still seek assistance from a health provider?

THE ICD-11 defines “burn-out” as follows:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • 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.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

How individuals are travelling in the workplace, from a health and well-being perspective, has now been on the radar for a while. The World Health Organisation is not only updating its definition about “burn-out”, but also announced that it is about to embark on the development of evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace.

All this is a helpful guide for ensuring that all employers can properly take steps to ensure a healthy, supportive and safe workplace for all.

3 tips for reducing workplace burn-out

In the meantime, here are some practical suggestions for reducing the risk of burn-out in your workplace or industry sector.

1. Disconnect from work and recharge

If we truly want to be able to recharge our own batteries, and not feel like we are constantly running on empty, then we each need to take responsibility for doing just that.

This can be easier said than done, particularly if it involves also challenging a workplace culture that is may not support us to turn off all devices and recharge: whether at the end of the day, week, or month.

Think about it this wary – from an out of hours work perspective, having and checking our mobile phone for work emails and texts means that we are connected to an “out of hours paging device”.

Prior to the mid-90s (yes, last century I know), the only part of the workforce who had such pagers, (and even then, that was in the hospital health care setting), was doctors or workers who were on duty or on call.

Unless it is part of your workplace contract to be “on call”, then there is no obligation to be “on call”. Of course, if you would like to be of assistance to work colleagues, then consider how you best do that, and if necessary, be clear and explicit with your teams and with your colleagues that you will not be guaranteeing 24/7 responsiveness to any and every work call, text or email.

Turning off the phone, for some people, can be easy. For others, it may be less so.

From a cultural perspective it is fascinating that we are only asked to “Turn off your mobile phone!” for the enjoyment of others, or, on a plane for safety reasons (albeit switching to flight mode). Otherwise, is it a social expectation that our default setting is “on”. Many people play games on their phone or regularly check social media. It can be easy then to check your work email as well.

Regardless of whether you are a self-diagnosed phone addict or not, there can be an insidious slippage in any workplace culture, if the new normal becomes regularly responding to workplace emails and texts out of business hours, when we are meant to be re-charging.

So, as a courtesy to others in your workplace, have a think about whether you are requesting (or even demanding!) responses out of hours and whilst your colleagues are getting on with their life-work balance.

2. Ask “Are you OK?”, listen to the response and act

“R U OK” day is a great initiative that we should all support it, as it helps bring attention to the fact that we need to be curious and supportive of how others are going. But let’s not leave it to the one day in the year, where we have a legitimate reason to ask. We should be frequently and spontaneously exploring how our colleagues and staff are travelling.

The big tip here is then to actually really listen to the response; what it was, what was not said, and how it was said. If there is a real disconnect between “I’m ok”, but they don’t actually look it, then maybe you need to think about exploring a little deeper.

Has there been a lot going on at work, or at home, which means that attention must be paid, perhaps in the form of annual leave, a “mental health day”, more support on the job, a break from the coal face, an opportunity to get the team together to reconnect or use of your staff counselling service. Whatever the solution, do not just leave it at asking the question. Have a real think about what you can do to help support someone in your team who is may need a circuit breaker, but does not even realise (yet) that they do. Don’t leave it until they break.

If aspects of the job are getting you or colleagues down, then identify creative ways to help support what and how the work gets done.

3. Saying thank you – and meaning it

At the end of the day, however, regardless of how you do the work (and noting it needs to get done), fully recognising and appreciating people’s efforts can really help them feel that the challenging bits were worth it.

This can help prevent a disconnect and also enable a broader sense of collegiality and connection. So if you are a supervisor, or even a colleague, always consider ways to genuinely thank your team, provide positive feedback and debrief over a difficult, recent, workplace task.

Say no to burn out in your workplace culture

Of course, each workplace is (subtly or not so subtly) different. Burn-out can occur either slowly, or more rapidly, and can be affected by a multitude of factors.

Take the time to have a look around your workplace, ‘sniff’ the workplace culture and do a quick audit of whether the above activities are occurring frequently enough in your workplace. If not, there’s no time like the present to act to ensure you and your colleagues to thrive, rather than just survive.

About Jason Clark

Jason Clark is Worklogic’s Director – Sydney. Jason has extensive experience as a workplace investigator, investigating a range of issues including fraud, bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. He has also assisted numerous organisations develop strategies to minimise poor behaviour and encourage a positive workplace culture.

Subscribe to the Worklogic blog to receive expert advice on resolving workplace complaints and building a positive culture at work direct to your inbox each week!

For event invites and compelling insights into resolving workplace conflict and building a positive culture at work!

Integrity Line

Integrity Line is an independent whistleblower service for complaints about inappropriate conduct at work, provided by Worklogic. Click here to visit the Integrity Line website.