What is “burnout” and how can we prevent its effects?

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Burnout” is a psychological syndrome, characterized by lack of motivation and progressive reluctance to perform work, today affects 10% of the global workforce. This scenario makes essential that companies and their leaders adopt the necessary strategies to prevent and deal with it.

The hectic pace of work derived from the competition and high demand prevailing in world markets can bring severe consequences on the health of professional teams, both managers and supervisors as well as collaborators.

One of these complex situations is the “burnout syndrome” (also known as the “burnt worker” syndrome), a pathology of psychological origin that arises as a response to different factors of emotional stress and interpersonal relationships, typical of work.

Although this condition was only categorized a few years ago, today it affects at least 10% of professionals worldwide, according to the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization (WHO).

This incidence precisely motivated this international organization to officially recognize burnout as an “occupational disease” in May 2019.

How does it manifest?

As explained by health professionals, burnout tends to occur more frequently in competitive work environments, which translates into a higher incidence among professionals and senior managers.

Similarly, a study carried out by the University of Montreal, Canada, revealed that women are more likely to suffer burnout, due to their greater difficulty in balancing work and family, and the greater stagnation they suffer in their jobs, among many other reasons.

Beyond this particular incidence, burnout generally manifests itself in a state of physical and mental exhaustion that lasts for a long time. This sensation can cause personality changes and a considerable drop in the worker’s self-esteem.

This is reflected in various physical and mental symptoms, among which the following stand out:

On a psychological level, the person will feel irritable, apathetic, pessimistic, anxious and may even fall into cynicism, depression and aggressiveness. In this state, it is common to become emotionally distant from other people, including colleagues, bosses, and subordinates. In addition, the patient begins to suffer deterioration in his relationships and to manifest a strong tendency to avoid social interaction.

On a physical level, burnout can cause various disorders such as insomnia, cardiovascular deterioration, ulcers, anemia, muscle pain, headaches, sleep problems, gastrointestinal disorders, allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, alterations in women’s menstrual cycles and even brain damage.

The main risk that these psychosomatic manifestations entail, both for the person and for the company, lies in the fact that they generally lead to a considerable drop in work productivity and a lack of motivation that generates frustration and a lack of personal fulfillment at work.

Consequently, occur negative situations such as:

● Lack of attention to tasks.

● Frequent forgetfulness.

● A marked disinterest stemming from difficulty concentrating on work.

This forms a vicious circle that constantly feeds back, because without motivation the person literally institutionalizes the inability to concentrate, to fulfill the work, and to be oriented towards the achievement of objectives. All of which is reflected, for example, in the characteristic proliferation of “pending tasks”.

Additionally, there are other external factors that can also influence the aggravation of burnout, such as:

● Personal risk factors, such as low tolerance for frustration and stress, caring for the sick of a relative, or suffering from serious illnesses and emotional losses, among other possibilities.

● Factors related to the organization, such as gaps in the assigned tasks, oversizing of functions and responsibilities, complex work environment, failures in the company’s leadership, sustained work overload, lack of support and lack of resources, among other variables.

How to deal with this syndrome?

Undoubtedly, people are the backbone of any company. Therefore, guaranteeing their well-being will have extremely positive effects on organizational success and competitiveness, as well as on the proper functioning of teams.

This implies that the managers and directors of the people management area must find the most appropriate formulas to ensure the emotional balance of all the collaborators within the company, a scenario where their occupational health and safety becomes very important.

In this sense, to reverse a burnout syndrome, or to prevent its appearance within the labor force, it is necessary to identify and modify the working conditions that produce or amplify it.

In the same way, if repeated cases of this pathology have already been registered in the team, we can take measures such as relocating the affected workers, providing them with psychological counseling and assigning them to mentoring programs to help them correct the bad habits acquired.

If a support, analysis, evaluation and protection program is internalized within the corporate culture for workers who show symptoms of burnout, we will not only avoid damage to their physical and mental health, but also rescue valuable members of the organization. And we will be able to reconstitute their motivation and efficiency. All of this will also result in a global improvement in internal performance, the work environment, and the social-family space of the person himself.

The value of prevention

However, reactive actions are not the only answer to this problem. Prevention is possible and also very effective. This does not require large investments or structural changes, but use strategies similar to those used today to reduce the effects of other psychological pathologies related to stress.

For this reason, it is convenient for people management departments to develop and apply these strategies in a timely manner, so that it is possible to avoid the emotional exhaustion of collaborators and guarantee their mental well-being.

Some of these actions may be the following:

Assign tasks with realistic criteria: When delegating work, the amount of homework should be challenging, but not excessive.

Encourage personal passion: Each member of the team must perform the position or function that most excites and motivates them.

Give spaces for personal contribution: Innovative and successful ideas can also be born from personal proposals of each collaborator.

Propose flexible hours: Greater freedom improves individual performance and family reconciliation.

Promote breaks: Collaborators should never give up or put aside their snack schedules. Likewise, they also need at least fifteen minutes of rest or relaxation during their daily work.

Grant exceptions: It is convenient that workers have permission to attend important personal meetings or events. For example, their children’s art or student performances, a dinner, or some other important family event.

Set flexible targets: If tasks are poorly assigned or too complex, we must provide the worker an extend deadline or the help of other colleagues.

Do not overload workers: We should verify that there are not excessive parallel tasks assigned to the team, both individually and collectively.

Define specific roles: Each worker needs to know exactly what is expected of him or her.

Provide the necessary resources: This will ensure that the execution of tasks is as efficient and successful as possible.

Do not neglect training: Constant training, through courses or seminars, will improve the knowledge, skills and motivation of the workers.

Promote socialization: We must allow the team the opportunity of socialize inside and outside the workspace, either in person or virtually.

Listen to the collaborators: We must dedicate all the necessary time to know them on a personal level and, thus, address any concerns or needs they may have.

Make team building proposals: The managing must plan periodically internal playful activities in order to strengthen the unity of the team.

Provide constant feedback: It is important to dedicate time to meet with each collaborator, to allow them to resolve doubts, or improve the performance of their functions.

Finally, it is important to educate the whole company team about the characteristics of burnout syndrome, so that they know its symptoms, consequences and ways to prevent it.

If we apply strategies that include these prevention tips, the options to stop the appearance of burnout will increase exponentially, as well as to combat and counteract in time its harmful effects on people. All of which will contribute to improving the health of the staff, and optimizing the general performance of the company.

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Francisco Gonzalez

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