“I’m exhausted,” were the first words out of his mouth as he walked into the conference room. He wasn’t the first person this week to express this sentiment. In fact, if I am honest, I, too, am tired.
In the workplace, we have been asked to deal with changing environments due to the pandemic. We have been asked to do more with staffing shortages getting worse. We have been asked to meet increased demand for our products or services. And we are dealing with more life stress than usual.
It is no wonder we are all stressed.
Stress isn’t a bad thing. Stress evolved to heighten our senses and to help us make better decisions in the moment. However, chronic stress is a bad thing. It can lead to physical, mental, and emotional diseases. It can damage our relationships with our loved ones. It can reduce our productivity at work.
The World Health Organization has acknowledged that burnout is chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been well managed, characterized by feelings of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, decreased connection from one’s job, and reduced professional effectiveness. Does this sound like you?
What causes burnout in the workplace?
Many factors could cause burnout in the workplace, but let’s talk about how stress works before we get into that. According to the American Psychological Association, “Stress is a normal reaction to everyday pressure.” Stress is our body’s natural physical and mental response to a situation that we perceive to have personal significance or overwhelming to us. When our body and mind have continuous stress placed on it, either physical, mentally, or emotionally it causes us to use coping mechanisms to deal with it. In the short term, it may elevate our performance. In the long term, it causes burnout.
So, let’s look at the factors that might cause chronic stress in the workplace.
- Feel like you have little or no control over your work.
- Lack of being valued for your efforts at work.
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics including racism, sexism, ageism, and disability, and religious discrimination.
- Doing boring work.
- Working in a high-pressure work environment.
- Working too much, without time for socializing.
- Not sleeping enough.
- Being a perfectionist. Nothing is good enough.
- The need to be always in situational control.
- Not willing to delegate.
- Holding yourself to high expectations.
Notice in this list that there are both outward pressures, like working in a high-paced environment, and inward pressures, like the need to be constantly in control at work. More often than not, stress comes from our perception of the situation (inward pressure) versus the actual situation (outward pressure).
So, what can we do to reduce the level of burnout in our workplace?
- Increase Stress Awareness: Even a low level of stress can cause us to tend towards burnout. If we do not recognize the signs of burnout within ourselves, it could lead to a cycle of ever-increasing stress.
- Improve Social Connections: According to HelpGuide, social connections are nature’s antidote to stress. The simple act of talking to a friend face to face can reduce stress and calm your nervous system down. Gallup maintains that the number one way to tell if someone is engaged in the workplace is to ask if they have a best friend at work. The more social connections we have, the greater our ability to handle stress. Even the simple act of volunteering our time for a cause dear to us can help reduce the amount of stress we are experiencing.
- Reframe Your Work: Have you lost sight of the purpose of your work? Why do you do what you do? When you work, who are you serving? When you ask these questions, you start to see the connection between the effort you put in and its impact on the community at large. Even if that community is your coworkers.
- Control Your Priorities: What is most important to you? What are your boundaries around how much effort you will put in, how long you will work, how perfect a project needs to be? Do not let work be your only focus.
- Chill Time: Humans can only productively work about six to seven hours a day. Spending time away allows your mind to refresh and build different neural pathways, which can help you in the long run.
- Exercise & Diet: Yep – exercise and diet help reduce stress. You know it, but sometimes you will forgo it to take care of work tasks. Taking care of your body and mind should be your number one priority.
- Mindfulness: The act of being more intentional with our thoughts and feelings is one of the best ways to understand the impact of stress on our minds and bodies. During mindfulness practice, you might be asked to do a deep breathing exercise. The purpose behind this is to help you stay calm and focused under the most stressful situations. If you don’t believe me, check out this article explaining why the #1 best military unit practices deep breathing.
Because I work with managers, supervisors, and team leads, I spend time helping them better deal with stress because I know that if they are calm, they will make better decisions when working with their teams. And if the leader of the group can see the benefit in reducing stress, then the whole team is more likely to work to reduce stress.
What are you doing to show your team the importance of reducing stress in the workplace?