Are Your Employees Just Stressed, Or Are They Burnt Out?
No matter how many yoga classes you take, stress is, unfortunately, an inevitable part of life. Stress is defined as the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response, and can be caused by a number of factors in an individual’s life (an injury, lack of sleep, a strained relationship, a new job, etc.)
Between the pressure of meeting deadlines, long hours, personality clashes with co-workers and worries about job insecurity, it’s no surprise that the workplace is far and away the greatest source of stress for the majority of Americans. And while everyone responds to stress in different ways (some thrive under constant pressure while others tend to crumble beneath the weight of expectations), experts agree that constant and persistent stress isn’t healthy for anyone.
Employees who work in high-stress environments are also at the highest risk of suffering from employee burnout. Characterized by exhaustion, a lack of motivation and feelings of ineffectiveness or frustration, burnout is a condition caused by chronic and prolonged stress that leads to reduced efficacy and productivity within the workplace. Although the topic of burnout has garnered significant media attention during the past few years, there isn’t one clear definition of what employee burnout is amongst medical professionals and psychologists. In fact, “burnout” isn’t even a diagnosable syndrome in the way that other conditions, like depression or anxiety, are. This indecision amongst experts has left employers and employees alike without a clear sense of what burnout is or how to recognize it.
So how do you tell the difference between stress and burnout?
Because burnout is loosely defined as a result of prolonged stress, it can be very difficult to distinguish between the two. There are, however, a few key differences that can help employers identify who on their staff is just stressed, and who might be dealing the far more serious condition of burnout:
What causes employee burnout?
Despite the lack of a clear diagnostic definition of burnout, there is some consensus about what causes burnout in the workforce:
- Unclear/unrealistic requirements
It’s virtually impossible for an employee to meet or exceed expectations if they’re not entirely sure of what their job requirements are. Employees facing unclear or unrealistic expectations often feel overwhelmed with confusion and self-doubt.
- Lack of downtime
While most professions have some sort of “busy season” or a production cycle that ebbs and flows, employees who are constantly scrambling during what feels like a perpetual busy season without any hope of a slower pace or “downtime” to look forward to are at a very high risk of developing burnout.
- High-stakes consequences
If a typical office worker makes a mistake, they will undoubtedly face some sort of consequence, up to and including termination. And while dealing with job insecurity is an unavoidable part of being employed, for some professions it is by no means the worst thing that can happen if they make a mistake at work. Doctors, for instance, have to make decisions that can mean the difference between life and death for their patients on a regular basis. No wonder physicians have one of the highest rates of burnout.
What are the consequences of burnout?
In addition to the devastating physical, mental and emotional effects burnout can have on individual employees and their families, burnout can also cause a number of problems for employers, including:
- Increased rates of absenteeism
- Lower levels of productivity
- Reduced employee engagement
- Higher employee benefits costs
- Higher incidence of conflict between employees