GetFive Insights

Burnout is a real workplace phenomenon, says the WHO. Well, duh, says the working world

September 11, 2019
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Cropped shot of a young businessman looking stressed while working late in the office

Last week, the World Health Organization made headlines by classifying burnout as an “occupational phenomenon that undermines how well people perform at work.”

Well, duh, said everyone who has ever had a job.

The bigger story is WHO listed burnout in its latest International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), defining it as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

It went on to explain how burnout manifests:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job
  • Feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

We all know what burnout is, we all know it’s real, and we all know it’s a problem. Everyone who has been in the workplace for more than a nanosecond has felt it at one time or another.

The WHO is not the first health organization to tackle burnout. Last year, the Mayo Clinic wrote an article about it, citing burnout’s health implications, like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Compromised immune system

Those are real health problems, folks. And they all stem from the fact that people just aren’t happy for most of their daily lives.

People get burned out at work for a variety of reasons, like:

  • A lack of control over things like your schedule, workload, and resources to get the job done
  • A toxic workplace
  • Monotonous, repetitive tasks
  • Feeling isolated at work with a lack of support
  • Unrealistic workload
  • Work-life imbalance

The question then becomes what do we do about it? Burnout is certainly in HR’s wheelhouse to tackle. Some things HR can do:

Look for changes in employee behavior. Is someone calling in sick a lot or habitually coming in late? Talk to managers and supervisors to get their thoughts on whether anyone on their team is especially stressed.

Monitor people’s PTO. Are they taking it? We have a huge problem in this country with people not using their vacation days as some sort of badge of honor, and it’s contributing to burnout. Consider making those vacation days mandatory, and encourage people to really unplug. None of this going-on-vacation-but-still-checking-work-emails.

Reward employees during busy times. If once a year, quarter or even month your employees get slammed — it happens in every business — encourage higher-ups to reward people with free lunches or other perks.

Look at your workplace with a critical eye. If a toxic work environment is burning employees out, it’s up to HR to be a change agent. If processes and procedures are bogging people down and bumming them out, talk with managers about solutions.

Workplace burnout is real, and the stress of it can and does cause good people to go elsewhere. It just makes sense to tackle this issue before that happens.

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