Burnout is a genuine potential problem for many professionals and their organisations. It is linked to depression and anxiety as well as physical symptoms and medical problems, and is likely to result in decreased commitment to the organisation or taking time off, as well as loss of positive attitudes to work. Burnout happens to people who normally do not have problems with their mental health; in fact, it often affects people who may normally be seen as highly successful and strong. Burnout happens when circumstances at work make individuals feel that they constantly have to prove themselves, working harder and harder, neglecting personal needs, denying the problems that emerge as a result, and becoming isolated. Not surprisingly, those who are more susceptible to stress are more likely to experience burnout, and severe burnout can lead to extreme depression and other psychological problems.
So how can one avoid burnout and can organisations help prevent their employees suffering from it? In her e-book published in 2015, psychologist Kate Lemerle describes a number of ways that mindfulness practices may help professionals avoid burnout. Using mindfulness involves practising being more fully aware of your experiences in each moment, including thoughts, physical sensations, emotions, and perceptions of the world and workplace around you. This can help you to do the following:
- Challenge any negative thinking you identify – do you have evidence for the conclusions you are making? Are you thinking according to habits or distorting the situations you find yourself in?
- Acknowledge the different emotions you experience and be forgiving and compassionate towards yourself when you make mistakes
- Practise gratitude; keep track of positive experiences and express thanks to others when they do things for you
- Set goals that you think will increase your happiness and satisfaction with yourself if achieved, and reward yourself when you take steps towards them.
These steps will all aid individuals in avoiding burnout. But is there anything organisations can do to help prevent burnout in their employees? It is important for individuals to be aware of potential indicators of burnout in themselves, and take preventative action. However, organisations can do a number of things to help employees do this:
- Raise awareness of burnout and its risks and encourage employees to use strategies like those suggested above to avoid it
- Encourage communication between co-workers and between employees and managers concerning employee experiences
- Allow members of the team to engage in coaching for improved communication, developing the support network that the team provide for one another. Social support can act as a buffer against stress, thus reducing the risk of burnout
- Ensure burnout is not stigmatised the workplace and all members of the team feel comfortable discussing any signs of burnout they are experiencing and any conditions they feel might be causing this.
By preventing burnout busy professionals can avoid psychological and emotional distress and consistently find their work more fulfilling. In turn, organisations will benefit from their employees’ well-being through the consistent effectiveness of their workforce, with fewer absences from work and greater continued commitment to the organisation.