These days, many employees are facing crowed roads and packed trains on their commute. They spent long hours in traditional workplaces without pleasing aesthetics trying to juggle conflicting activities and unrealistic targets. Worries about rising cost of living, anxiety about keeping their job and stress on the home front can pre-occupy employees, negatively impacting their performance at work. Without appropriate support the individual may be heading towards burnout. Would you recognise such an employee?

In this month’s newsletter, we’ve interviewed two recognised experts in this field and are providing you with insights and tips to best support your employees while creating better business results.

What is burnout?

Herbert Freudenberger coined burnout in 1974 as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” While he focused on “helping” professions like doctors, nurses or police officers, burnout is no longer restricted to specific roles. Contemporary definitions see burnout having far wider reach across the individual, professions and industries:

“Burnout is the index of the dislocation between what people are and what they have to do. It represents an erosion in values, dignity, spirit, and will — an erosion of the human soul.” (Maslach and Leiter)

“Burnout syndrome [is] defined as a three-dimensional syndrome that considers emotional exhaustion, de-personalisation and reduced personal accomplishment.” (Briones Mella and Kinkead Boutin)

“Burnout is being physically and emotionally exhausted as a result of long term stress.” (Figley, Ph.D.)

What are the signs of burnout?

Stress and burnout may often be confused by the untrained eye. Signs of being burnt out include:

  • General low
  • Cynical and negative outlook
  • Lack of motivation
  • Reduced performance and quality of work
  • Feeling tired, drained and low
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Poor immunity
  • Retraction from work and social interactions

Dr. Asad Sadiq, Managing Director – Psychiatrist at The Psychiatry and Therapy Centre, provides a simplified differentiator between stress and burnout. For a stressed employee, work (or other parts of life) becomes “too much”. In contrast, burnout gives the individual the feeling of not being “good enough”. They can no longer function, are empty and feel dried up on the inside.

What causes burnout?

Burnout can have various sources and the Mayo Clinic identified a number of job-related factors:

  • Lack of control (e.g. around work schedule, assignments or workload)
  • Lack of resources
  • Unclear job expectations
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics
  • Mismatch in values
  • Poor job fit
  • Extremes of activity
  • Lack of social support
  • Work-life imbalance

How can organisations prevent burnout?

Recognising changed behaviours requires line managers to know their employees in the first place as Humaira Anwar, Chartered Occupational Psychologist at Innovative HR, explains. Organisations can use personality and behavioural assessments like Hogan Darkside to learn more about their employees. Line managers can use these insights and their daily interactions with their team to spot changes in the individual. During times of extreme stress, an employee’s strength may be over-used, becoming a negative like a hinderance or performance blockades.

Dr. Sadiq points out the need for an open and safe culture. In this region, it’s still regarded as a weakness for men to acknowledge the feeling of being overwhelmed (stressed) or feeling hopeless (burnout). Other parts of the world have made some progress to remove the stigma, yet, it’s still visible. Many male employees, especially in higher positions, are concerned about their career when speaking out about stress and burnout. All too often, employees think it’s only them feeling exhausted or low. Only in confidential session with a coach, psychologist or psychiatrist do individuals recognise that the issue is far wider spread.

In an environment that allows employees to speak out, companies can offer targeted support to the individual. This cultural transition comes from the top and leadership has to be an active driver for the new agenda. It’s becoming more widespread for organisations to support senior leaders with their own coach working with them on a work level and a personal level. As a result, “safe culture” companies experience a far lower loss in productivity and absences compared to other organisations.

Unfortunately, for many, this transient region is experiencing high turnover rates and companies are using these rates to not invest in their employees. The ROI periods are deemed too long for them. As a consequence, employees don’t feel valued, are stressed and not engaged. Still, Dr. Sadiq emphasises, employees want to be looked after and base their intend to stay on the company’s well-designed wellbeing programmes.

This supports findings that work is more than just a pay check. Employees are furthermore looking for a purpose in their role, an opportunity to make a difference and being empowered to do so. Line managers can utilise a job description to clarify the role and highlight its linkage to the success of the organisation.

A job description can also be used to identify training and learning needs and as a benchmark for performance discussions. Providing an employee with the right tools and knowledge is just as important as setting achievable targets and having realistic performance expectations. Rather than waiting for the end of the annual performance cycle, employees are looking for continuous feedback. Managers need to be equipped to also act as coaches who are giving constructive feedback helping the individual to improve rather than feeling put down.

In addition, employees are seeking more involvement around their role. Setting annual goals is only done jointly with 30% of employees according to Gallup’s “2017 State of the Global Workplace” survey. Most organisations follow a top down approach when deriving annual targets. By using also a bottom up approach in the goal setting process, higher rates of alignment and buy in are achieved, resulting in higher productivity and achievement of the set targets.

Finally, organisations can create internal support networks, which are especially in expatriate locations as Anwar points out. Company sponsored social groups can be established by interest, e.g. running or yoga group, or be linked to a CSR objective, e.g. environment protection group. Studies have shown that team members have benefited from increased communication and better team working while fostering improved personal relations.

Do you want to improve the lives of your employees and prevent burnout with pro-active initiatives? Do you simultaneously want to benefit from more engaged employees and higher revenue? Call us on +971-52-2516322 and find out how we can help you manifest a culture that supports your employees physical and mental wellbeing while achieving increased productivity and sales.