How to manage each of the 5 stages of burnout

Even before the pandemic and the Great Resignation employee Well-being was a top trend for importance and that continues to this day. At the same time, an alarming trend continues to grow as more employees report workplace burnout. Businesses need to understand this phenomenon, assess their risks, and intentionally mitigate and control them to protect their employees and businesses.

The term burnout is used to describe feeling overworked or overwhelmed by one’s working conditions (read toxic work environments, micromanaging, overdoing or being asked to do more with less), but it’s actually more complicated than that. That World Health Organization recognizes burnout as a form of work-related stress that has not been successfully managed, although it is not classified as a disease.

There is five stages of burnout which individuals and organizations must assess and then take action to alleviate progressively worsening symptoms. Analyzing burnout risks is important in all organizations, but especially in high-risk industries such as construction, manufacturing, hospitality, and transportation, where the resulting reduced self-efficacy, decision-making ability, and misjudgment can be fatal.

Phase 1: The honeymoon phase

When you take on a new job, it’s common and even predictable to experience minor bouts of stress. Stress comes with the novelty of a big challenge or career advancement, but most people do well at this stage as they settle down and grow into their roles. Company leaders must provide clear expectations, training opportunities, support resources, and an appropriate level of autonomy to help employees manage burnout risks at this level.

Phase 2: Onset of stress

The onset of stress can manifest itself in a variety of ways, such as nervous anxiety, irritability, fatigue, or disorganization. Employees must prioritize their decisions as strategic, meaningful, or quick, and take adequate time to evaluate each type. Mindfulness techniques can also increase people’s awareness of mood swings, heart rate, and other physical changes such as muscle tension and fatigue.

Meditative box breathing and other simple techniques can relieve stress throughout the day at this stage. Company managers can assess the onset of stress among employees in regular check-ins such as 1:1 meetings, daily huddles and pulse surveys. Empathetic listening is the key to reducing stress at this point. There are also opportunities for executives to remove work blocks and bottlenecks, reduce the number of emails sent, improve strategy clarity and invest in wellness workshops connecting your workforce with highly engaging, diverse speakers on relevant and timely topics.

Stage 3: Chronic Stress

As stress levels rise faster and more frequently, the risks of mental and physical health consequences increase and employees could reach a dangerous tipping point. Today’s high employee turnover rates, longer hiring cycles, and shifting workloads can overwhelm remaining employees with too many tasks and decisions. The clarity and focus they need to make informed business decisions or perform tasks confidently decreases when stress leads to cognitive overload and decision fatigue.

Individuals are encouraged to take advantage of available medical services, employee assistance plans, or seek local counseling. Speaking up and innovating work improvements are also good options. Before employees escalate to this stage, business leaders must prioritize essential work, refine project scope, and increase relevant risk and safety training, rather than forcing employees to do more with less.

Organizations can achieve significant improvements through the use of technology and automation. Investing in digital platforms that connect your teams, automate workflows and communications, and/or integrate security and incident management can reduce the burden of chronic stress and allow teams to focus on what matters most. Those suffering from chronic stress should seek professional medical and mental health services.

Phase 4: Real burnout

When employees really reach the point of burnout [not in the way the term is commonly overused], they may experience far more critical symptoms such as cynicism and intense pessimism about their work, feelings of incompetence, unfounded fears, strong desires to escape or self-isolate, and other serious physical illnesses. These sharp changes in behavior can increase the likelihood of workplace accidents, injuries, disputes and violence; bad decision making; decision avoidance; Circumventing safety protocols or impulsive behavior (such as leaving work). Employees at this stage can pose a danger to themselves, others and your business; and it means that action is overdue and must be done quickly.

It’s time for those experiencing true burnout to take a vulnerable, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Is this really the job and company for me?” True burnout can stem from a lack of boundaries, people that result in liking, a superman (a form of cheat experience), or genuine resentment at a job. How you show yourself whether you lead by strengths, have the ability to delegate work, or whether your job actually has the power to put burnout into overdrive or reverse. For companies [except those in extenuating circumstances]Burnout can be mitigated with better strategic planning and organizational health resources.

Stage 5: Habitual burnout

This most severe phase of burnout occurs when a person’s damaging physical and emotional symptoms become embedded and affect their quality of life. This shows up in forms of chronic sadness or depression, mental exhaustion, low self-efficacy and, in the worst cases, suicidal thoughts. National resources at the Administration of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are here to support us all and we need to let go of any feelings of shame, guilt or pride and just get the help we need! Left unchecked, the consequences of habitual burnout can be devastating on both an individual and organizational level.

Businesses need to create safe, diverse and inclusive work environments led by well-trained, empathetic leaders to empower employees. High rates of habitual burnout warrant an assessment of key leadership, budgets, workflows, technology and more. Both white-collar and manual workers of all skill levels have many more opportunities today and are not staying in organizations where habitual burnout is prevalent. The level of investment that would be required to reduce habitual burnout could be allocated far more effectively to improved planning, staffing, tools and wellness programs earlier in this cycle.

Burnout doesn’t have to be devastating or permanent. Not only is it possible for a person to experience burnout in a job they love and want to keep, but for some people and businesses it becomes a catalyst for much-needed changes in leadership, culture, compensation and benefits, communications, technology investments etc the way work is done. It is clear that there is a degree of personal and corporate responsibility in managing burnout risk and that we must all be determined to develop meaningful solutions to protect ourselves and our company.

Princess Castleberry is interim Head of People & Wellness at beneficiary and the owner and principal adviser at Castle Risk & Personnel Consulting. How to manage each of the 5 stages of burnout


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