Stress is not always bad, in some circumstances positive stress and adrenaline can make us stronger, happier and healthier. Yet, in work environments, we commonly find that chronic stress provokes anxiety, detachment and fatigue that can lead to burnout.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly every fifth child or teenager and every fourth adult will be affected by burnout at some point in their life. It has gotten so widespread in developed countries that the WHO has added burnout to its list of globally recognised diseases, defining it as a syndrome of “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” which “includes feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, results in increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.”
Burnout: a disease of the modern world
We live in a high-speed world, where innovation and technology are supposedly making us smarter, faster and more effective. But this digitisation is also causing us to be more isolated as a race and is starting to impact our mental health.
Medical research indicates that our connection with ourselves, other humans and with our natural world improves our sense of health and happiness. But when we don’t have this connection, burnout, anxiety, and depression can becoming increasingly present in our lives.
A study by Gallup of the primary causes of employee burnout found that the main factors have less to do with expectations for hard work and high performance but are more closely associated with the management and treatment of an individual.
Large workloads, time pressures, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and lack of support from management and unfair treatment at work correlated most with incidents of burnout. Work environments are the least equipped support networks to respond efficiently to burnout with just 27% of supervisors responding positively to incidents of burnout and only one in three colleagues offering the support needed.
Women are also more likely to experience burnout with a significant contributor being unfavourable working conditions that hit women harder than men, such as fewer professional advancement opportunities and more frequent occupation of low-authority roles.
Standard protocols for addressing burnout in the workplace are unfortunately lacking, and those affected by the disease tend not to speak up about it out of fear or shame. This culture of fear impacts the early identification of the disease and can make it harder to make adjustments for employees.
As we move towards a fast-paced technological age, where we pride ourselves on equality of opportunity and efficiency, we must not forget the importance of being human-centred at work. After all, people are what make a business succeed.