computer with paper for Work-Life-Balance
By IHPL - May 21, 2020

Have you ever experienced stress at work that has resulted in physical or emotional exhaustion? Do you find it hard to concentrate and drag yourself to work, feeling like you are unproductive?

A recent Gallup study of 7,500 full time employees found 23 percent of employees felt burned out most of the time or always while a whopping 44 percent reported feeling burned out some of the time.1  Not surprisingly, a 2015 Deloitte external workplace wellbeing survey of 1,000 fulltime U.S. professionals found similar findings of 77 percent of respondents who experienced symptoms of burnout on the job more than once.2

Workforce burnout has received considerable attention over the past several years due to its effects, not only for the person experiencing burnout, but also for its impact on those who interact with the affected individual such as friends, family members, colleagues and his/her employer. Left unchecked, one can experience the following:

  • Physical symptoms (chest pain, shortness of breath, headaches, and dizziness)
  • Psychological effects (depressive symptoms, insomnia, and psychological ill health symptoms including suicidal thoughts)
  • Organizational impact (job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, and disengagement)3

There is a steady increase of people experiencing workplace burnout not only in the U.S., but also across the world, prompting the World Health Organization to officially recognize it as an “occupational phenomenon” in its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).4

What can we do about burnout?

First, one should refrain from downplaying the issue or coming up with snap judgments about individuals experiencing workplace burnout. This is a REAL issue that requires a multi-pronged approach that will involve several approaches. The Gallup poll referenced earlier in this post found the following five factors highly related to burnout, and none of them has to do with sentiments that people do not want to work hard. Instead, burnout was highly correlated with:

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Lack of role clarity
  4. Lack of communication and support from managers
  5. Unreasonable time pressure

In reviewing the factors above, I am reminded of key concepts often taught in management courses such as organizational behavior and leadership development. While we cannot solve burnout in this one blog post, we can begin tackling some of the factors above by considering fundamental hygiene and motivating factors from an organizational perspective. Managers and leaders should take a look at Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory where hygiene factors often address a number of the factors outlined above including organizational policies, relationships, supervision, and work conditions that can impact an individual’s satisfaction at work.5 Once hygiene factors are addressed, employees can begin to appreciate some of the motivating factors of work such as achievement, the work itself, advancement, and growth.

The Mayo Clinic does not consider burnout to be a medical condition but as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”6 Some organizations are countering burnout by fostering a sense of meaning in the workplace7 and yet those who are driven by meaning or purpose are the very ones who are at increased risk for burnout.8 In other words, purpose driven work may be so strong that it begins to tip the scale towards spending more time at work while spending less time on one’s personal life including family, social and spiritual activities. Industries or professions that experience a higher risk of burnout tend to be healthcare professionals.9

Understanding the risk factors and coming up with organizational initiatives that are relevant and unique to the culture, workplace makeup, and employees’ needs will be a good start. Going back to a state of balance and wholeness in all facets of our lives will be key to addressing this issue.

Author Bio

Huma Shah, DrPH, MPH

Huma Shah, DrPH, MPH

Dr. Shah is an Assistant Professor at the School of Public Health. Her research interests include organizational strategy/culture, health policy, leadership, clinical outcomes, and spirituality in the workplace.

References

  1. Wigert, B. & Agrawal, S. (2018, July 12). Employee burnout, Part 1: The 5 main causes. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/237059/employee-burnout-part-main-cause...
  2. Fisher, J. (n.d.). Workplace Burnout Survey. Deloitte. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/burnout-su...
  3. Salvagioni DAJ, Melanda FN, Mesas AE, GonzaÂlez AD, Gabani FL, Andrade SMd (2017). Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185781. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185781
  4. World Health Organization. (2019, May 28). Burn out an “occupational phenomenon”: International classification of diseases. Retried from https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/
  5. Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snyderman, B. (1959). The motivation to work. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  6. Mayo clinic staff. (2018, November 21). Job burnout: How to spot it and take action. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642
  7. Steger, Michael. (2016). Creating Meaning and Purpose at Work. The Wiley Handbook of the Psychology of Positivity and Strengths-based Approaches at Work, 60-81. Doi: 10.1002/9781118977620.ch5.
  8. Mayo clinic staff. (2018, November 21). Job burnout: How to spot it and take action. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642
  9. Dyrbye, L.N., T.D. Shanafelt, C.A. Sinsky, P.F. Cipriano, J. Bhatt, A. Ommaya, C.P. West, and D. Meyers. (2017). Burnout among health care professionals: A call to explore and address this underrecognized threat to safe, high-quality care. NAM Perspectives. Discussion Paper, National Academy of Medicine, Washington, DC. doi: 10.31478/201707b

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