Have you heard about people who suffer from burnout syndrome at work? Not everyone is aware that this disorder can cause people to become mentally exhausted. Worse yet, many people don’t even realize that they are potentially suffering from the syndrome, which is associated with high levels of stress (“work overload” sounds familiar?). Every employee and manager is vulnerable to having problems with exhaustion, even those who are the most highly engaged and motivated in their jobs.
The question that this leads us to is how to find the right balance between staying committed to your job while avoiding overexerting yourself professionally. According to a study conducted by the Yale University Emotional Intelligence Center, 18.8% of professionals have high rates of engagement but they are also mentally exhausted. 35.5% show moderate levels of involvement, but also demonstrate signs of burnout. The data are troubling, so let’s take a closer look at what this syndrome can signify.
What is mental exhaustion and what are its symptoms?
In the 1970s, after suffering from the affliction himself, the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger described burnout syndrome for the first time as mental and physical exhaustion linked to work life. The disorder can appear in people who work in all sectors of the workforces, such as health, education, communication and marketing, project management, information technology, law, and others.
With its mild onset, the syndrome can be difficult to detect. However, symptoms can include headaches, migraines, tiredness, sweating, palpitations, high blood pressure, insomnia, and gastrointestinal problems. More importantly, be aware of the attitudes that someone who may be suffering from burnout can exhibit. Absences at work, abrupt mood changes, aggressive behavior, anxiety, isolation and memory lapses are a few examples.
Freudenberger and Gail North wrote an article in Scientific American that lays out the disease’s 12 stages:
1. Need for approval – feels a need to demonstrate their value continuously;
2. Works too much – has difficulties disengaging from their job;
3. Neglects personal needs – diet begins to suffer, problems sleeping and decreased social interactions;
4. Conflict transfer – problems are dismissed, and the person feels threatened and anxious;
5. Change in values - family and friends are ignored, leisure becomes irrelevant, and work becomes the only focus;
6. Denial of emerging problems – the person becomes intolerant, aggressive, and has difficulties with social contact, complains about colleagues and sees work and a lack of time as the causes of problems;
7. Distancing – social life drops off drastically, and there is a need to relieve stress. Alcohol and drugs appear as alternatives;
8. Behavioral changes – obvious changes begin to occur, and family and friends start to worry;
9. Loss of personality – does not value self or others and becomes unable to perceive their own needs;
10. Inner void – feels empty inside and, to suppress it, begins to practice harmful activities, such as overeating or drugs;
11. Depression – feels lost, exhausted and with a dark and uncertain future;
12. Burnout syndrome – reaches total physical and mental collapse. Requires medical follow-up and very likely, medication.
How to differentiate fatigue from exhaustion
Alexandrina Meleiro, a PhD in psychiatry at the University of São Paulo (USP), described how to distinguish between simple fatigue and mental exhaustion in USP’s online journal. “Overwork, constant pressure, together with a reduction of employees can lead to the person feeling bogged down and gradually becoming ill,” she reported.
The psychiatrist shows that mentally exhausted people initially continue to do their work, though without their previous level of dedication, performing efficiently though mechanically. As the syndrome progresses to its next phase, the situation worsens: “There is a fall in the employee’s efficiency, work quality and the pleasure they took in their work.”
In her speech at TEDx Talks, Geri Puleo, Ph.D., who specializes in organizational change and burnout, talked about the syndrome, comparing it to post-traumatic stress disorder. The specialist and university professor works with people suffering from the malady and hopes to eradicate the problem of mental exhaustion at the workplace.
How to avoid burnout and maintain balance in your professional life
Work-related stress and overload are among the main causes for employee exhaustion. In addition to those two, high-levels of pressure, relationships with suppliers and consumers, problems with colleagues, isolation and personal factors can also be important factors. Read here about conflict management and how to deal with rudeness at work.
Usually, after a mentally exhausted person is diagnosed, the sufferer would need to stay away from work temporarily for treatment and recovery. It is therefore critical to be aware of the effect of moments of excessive tension, such as impending deadlines, deliveries to customers, and the completion of projects. Having too many responsibilities and too little support can negatively affect an employee, increasing the risk that he or she will begin suffering from exhaustion.
To minimize the chances of you or your staff being afflicted with burnout syndrome, this article from the Harvard Business Review explains how to promote engagement, while also considering your employees’ well-being.
Monitoring the deadlines and requirements being placed on employees, while also demonstrating recognition and giving opportunities are important steps that managers must take. In the same way, your employees’ activities must be reorganized so that they achieve physical and emotional balance.
>> Recommended reading: Visual management as a way to engage teams and increase productivity
Meditation and techniques to control stress and maintain productivity
Who doesn’t want to gain a higher quality of life, reduce stress and susceptibility to disease? There are a number of factors that contribute to achieving these goals while avoiding falling prey to mental exhaustion, in addition to those already mentioned before: employee skills training, building teams with autonomy and harmony, creating good relationships in the environment as well as the adoption of more flexible working hours.
It is also worthwhile to encourage healthy eating and physical activities. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercising decreases tension, elevates mood, and improves sleep.
In addition to these, your team can also rely on mindfulness techniques, which help to slow down one’s pace and avoid anxiety. All of these tips are very useful for controlling the feeling of strain, keeping employees’ bodies and minds in harmony and making them productive in their everyday lives. You can also check out these productivity hacks that you can apply to your daily routine.
>> Recommended reading: Focus on work and have more time for your life
Engaged Teams vs Mentally exhausted Teams
The positive aspects of commitment are clear. They include greater levels of employee dedication and increased performance and results when executing tasks. However, it is important to be alert to the two types of engaged professionals: the harmonious and the obsessive. Scott Barry Kaufman’s article, published in the Harvard Business Review, details the differences between the two.
The first has control over their work: knowing that they need to disconnect occasionally to go to the movies or play with their children, they maintain their well-being and concentrate on positive emotions. The second type of person places too much value on their work, often feeling an uncontrollable desire to get increasingly involved in their professional lives. The effects of such a focus on work are often negative, creating conflicts between the desire to work and other aspects of the person’s life.
A recent study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the United States analyzed two groups of nurses in different countries (France and Canada) over a six-month period. It became clear that obsessive engagement increased the risk of mental exhaustion and burnout as this type of behavior was not associated with job satisfaction.
Concern about engagement (or rather, the lack thereof)
The threat of mental exhaustion can generate concern regarding a possible excess of passion on the part of employees for their work. On the other hand, these days, managers also need to observe any declines in engagement within their teams closely. Employee involvement recently declined for the first time since 2012, according to the Global Employee Engagement Trends Report, published by the management consulting firm Aon Hewitt.
After monitoring five million people in a thousand organizations around the world, the study found that the overall involvement rate fell from 65% in 2015 to 63% in 2016. Only 24% of employees were considered highly engaged, and only 39% were engaged even moderately.
Automation can help prevent mental exhaustion
Management software like Runrun.it will help you improve your team’s level of involvement, monitor project execution for internal and external customers and make your day-to-day more productive.
You can also count on the tool to help you manage time more responsibly to avoid mentally exhausted peers. Runrun.it is a highly effective management system that helps minimize the risks of burnout syndrome while providing leaders with a tool to analyze employee performance and development. Sign up now for a free trial: https://runrun.it/