Job burnout: The causes, symptoms and remedies
Remember the good old days when you clocked out of work, went home and forgot about it until the next day?
Baby boomers might have dim memories of such jobs, but for Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z, it’s a world that never was. Nowadays, our electronic devices connect us 24/7 to news, entertainment and social media — and also to our jobs.
Small wonder that earlier this year the World Health Organization listed job burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” manifesting among workers in three ways:
• Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
• Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
• Reduced professional efficacy.
Not being able to disconnect is a big factor in experiencing job burnout, says Stephen Christian-Michaels, chief strategy officer for Wesley Family Services, a nonprofit organization providing behavioral healthcare and therapeutic support services, headquartered in O’Hara.
“To what extent can a person do their job and then let it go?” he asks.
“There’s an expectation that you’re always on — you hear the beep and you can’t just let (the phone) lie,” he says. “You can’t turn the work clock off at home. You have a loss of enthusiasm to the point of not caring.”
But what goes on within the workplace matters, too.
“Many forces can impact the people we work with, the multiple competing demands in the workplace, plus what’s going on at home,” he says. “What’s stressful to one person may not be stressful to another.”
“Burnout isn’t just being tired. It’s a multifaceted problem that requires multifaceted solutions. Just being tired is relatively easy to rectify. If a long weekend away from the job doesn’t solve it, then it’s probably burnout,” says Monique DeMonaco, an Aspinwall-based life coach, executive trainer, speaker and hypnotherapist.
DeMonaco says clients often come to her with these concerns that can indicate burnout:
• Lack of control — not having autonomy in decision-making related to their jobs, not having access to resources needed to do their jobs, constantly shifting priorities, financial pressures.
• Workload — feeling chronically overloaded or perpetually behind.
• Rewards — feeling that the job rewards (such as financial payoffs) don’t match the investment they make in the work.
• Fairness —feeling that all employees don’t receive equal treatment, not being acknowledged for contributions.
• Mismatched values — differing with an employer over what is important, leading to a drop in motivation.
Sometimes what’s going on in the wider world just piles on top of what’s happening at home and on the job, says Robin Jennings of the Excela Health marketing department.
“We’re much more confronted these days with the trauma of the world,” she says. “You get your daily dose from the news and develop concerns for things you can’t control. All of those things can be internalized.”
It can be hard for workers to tell supervisors they’re burning out for fear of the stigma attached, Jennings says.
To keep the situation from developing, Excela created an “Unplug and Recharge” program for its employees. The 15-minute sessions are led by registered nurse Betty Minerva, who is also a wellness health coach and certified in holistic stress management.
Participants work on mindfulness exercises, including breathing, body scanning, thought diffusion, guided imagery and stretching.
“We want to continue to develop mindfulness, to put self-care as a priority, to deal better with stress,” Minerva says. “When you realize you’re getting a headache or your shoulders are in your ears, you’ll have the tools in a toolbox to learn where you get stuck in stress. Even in the midst of chaos, you can have more compassion and empathy for yourself and others.”
Wesley Family Services also has worked to develop “a work environment that’s supportive to staff,” Christian-Michaels says, especially those in direct-care positions, where stress tends to be higher and wages lower.
One focus is to provide education opportunities for those workers to qualify for higher-paid positions, including certification programs, in-house trainings and on-site classes.
“We also have some mentor programs, where other employees come on board to teach them the tricks of the trade that a supervisor might not know, to make the job easier,” he says.
Employers and employees also can work together to eliminate stress, and building community within the workplace is a good place to start, DeMonaco says.
“It’s important to create positive connections with co-workers,” she says. Something as simple as agreeing to wear Steelers jerseys and order pizza for lunch could be a way to start.
Having a co-worker to share in stresses and accomplishments is good, too, she says — with a caveat: “You don’t want to overshare to the point of creating drama.”
If more help is needed, Jennings says, that’s where an employee assistance program can take over, if one is available.
An EAP, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, “can provide confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems. EAPs address a broad and complex body of issues affecting mental and emotional well-being, such as alcohol and other substance abuse, stress, grief, family problems, and psychological disorders.”
Are you burned out?
A “yes” answer to any of these questions could mean you’re heading for burnout:
1. Has anyone close to you asked you to cut down on your work?
2. In recent months, have you become angry or resentful about your work, colleagues, clients or patients?
3. Do you feel guilty that you are not spending enough time with friends, family or even yourself?
4. Do you find yourself becoming increasingly emotional — crying, getting angry, shouting or feeling tense — for no obvious reason?
10 most stressful jobs
A list from CBS News ranks the following occupations as the most stress-inducing. Other lists include EMTs, physicians, nurses, social workers, teachers, prison guards, fast food and retail workers.
1. Enlisted military personnel
3. Airline pilot
4. Police officer
6. Event coordinator
7. News reporter
8. Public relations executive
9. Senior corporate executive
10. Taxi driver
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter .