Over a million people miss work each day due to burnout and unmitigated stress
As part of the Porter Novelli (@PN_London) Learning & Development program, I recently jetted off to Austin, Texas to attend SXSW, an annual event that Porter Novelli has been involved in for the past 15 years as a content partner.
The trip was inspirational on so many levels, but the session which impacted me most discussed trends in society surrounding burnout at work and how it can be avoided. This talk by Michelle Courtney Berry, CEO of Courtney Consulting Enterprises, outlined that burnout is not only detrimental to employee health, but can also be damaging to businesses as a result of absenteeism.
As a society we are becoming increasingly achievement orientated and the value of a person seems to be driven by outcomes and results. This means that many people ignore the price they pay to achieve the outcome because the outcome contains all the value – but at what cost? We are working more hours than ever and at the same time feeling more discouraged. Workplace stress levels are on the rise which can result in poor office behavior and decreased productivity.
Some staggering facts from Michelle’s talk:
- 70% of employees are unhappy/disengaged at work
- 80% of employees say they are close to burnout
- 47% of time at work involves employees thinking about non-work-related items
- 35% of our lives are spent at work
Stress in small doses can allow us to meet daily challenges, provide motivation and push us to reach goals more efficiently. However, long periods of stress on the body results in harboring chemicals, such as cortisol and adrenaline.
If this persists for long periods of time, it re-sets how our bodies cope with it. For example, our hearts learn to deal with such high stress and it re-sets the mechanisms to accept this as normal for the body – causing damage to organs.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. This leads to an inability to complete simple tasks effectively.
It’s important to note that when employees consistently work at 70-80% of their maximum, it leads to better productivity for businesses. Although this seems counter intuitive, it is not. Working at full capacity for too long leads to high levels of stress and frequent illness.
Society is struggling
We live in an addicted society where we take pills to go to sleep and consume large amounts of caffeine to stay awake. Over time, an increase in sugar and caffeine intake leads to detrimental effects on the body and facilitates burnout.
It’s a lot more common than we think for our colleagues to be on the verge of burnout, but we don’t notice it as they put on a mask. Whilst it may appear on the surface that people are coping well, this is often not the case.
Here are some important things to remember when looking out for someone struggling in the workplace:
- Women are generally good at reporting stress, but men often significantly under-report their mental health struggles
- If somebody’s eyes don’t match their smile, they may not be coping as well as they say – the mouth can lie, but the eyes can not
- Rapid or slurred speech is a sign that somebody is overworked and stressed
- Reported changes in a person’s sleeping patterns or appetite may suggest a problem
- If a person is getting ill all the time, this is likely as a result of burnout
- If a colleague is angry, forgetful or finding it difficult to focus they may be feeling overwhelmed
Top tips to avoid burnout at work
Mindfulness can be defined as a current awareness of what’s going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. Michelle stated that the ROI on mindfulness is a 316% increase in productivity.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness, reducing levels of depression and anxiety. However, here are the best tips that I picked up during Michelle’s session at SXSW:
- The 5-5-5 breathing rule – find a quiet space and breathe normally for 5 seconds, followed by 5 seconds of inhaling, and finally 5 seconds of exhaling. This seems so simple, yet it is extremely effective in restoring normal chemical levels in the body, especially if you couple it with internal compliments about yourself.
- Don’t use devices in the bedroom – it is negative for health to be stressed out with emails and social media before sleep and when we wake up in the morning.
- Ask somebody to be your ‘No’ person – have somebody that is more senior to yourself that will look out for your workload and will tell people when to stop piling onto your plate. This should not be your personal/line manager and ideally, they should not work on the same projects as you.
- Give gratitude to others – this is a very positive way to improve psychological health and reduces a multitude of toxic emotions.
- Rest for 15 minutes a day – (not a nap) with no distractions such as a mobile phone, TV or other people. Just sit alone with your thoughts and de-compress. According to Michelle this can add up to 7 years to your life.
The team at Porter Novelli London are consciously making a huge effort to look after our employees, particularly surrounding mental health in the workplace. There are a range of support systems in place to make sure that we don’t reach burnout. For example, de-compression days, flexi-time, confidential counselling, and wellness benefits.
As I mentioned earlier, it is not selfish to look after yourself, it’s important and we need to be more mindful of this. Further, as a society we need to improve how we treat each other in the workplace, offering support and looking out for signs that someone may be struggling.
With the above in mind, there has never been a greater need for effective coping mechanisms to the daily stresses of work.
Could you be doing more to support your colleagues?
Jack Faulkner is an account executive in the Porter Novelli London office.