Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Managing mid-year burnout at work

Half of the year is gone, but you already feel like it must be December, you are so tired. Burnout. How will you get to the end of the year?

Burnout is real and it does not only cost us our mental health and wellbeing, but also costs South Africa’s businesses and the economy billions of rands in lost productivity.

A 2016 study suggested that “presenteeism”, employees who show up and attempt to work despite their poor mental health, costs South Africa R235 billion a year, which is 4.2% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Since then, the risk of burnout has only increased, according to a global survey conducted last year.

Burnout is categorised as chronic physical and emotional exhaustion due to prolonged stress, often caused by excessive work demands or other sources of stress.

Signs of burnout

It manifests as fatigue, decreased productivity, detachment and negative emotions, which affect both your work and personal life, says Gary Feldman, head of healthcare consulting at employee benefits advisory firm NMG Benefits.

“Signs that indicate burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion, no longer appreciating things you used to enjoy, mood swings and irritability, feeling like you are overwhelmed and constantly on edge and physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle soreness, gastrointestinal issues and frequent illness.”

Feldman says these signs all have a negative effect on relationships, as burnout affects personal as well as professional relationships.

At the same time, reduced productivity leads to a decline in performance, a lack of concentration, struggling to meet deadlines, a lack of motivation and procrastination.

How employers can manage burnout risk

South African employers have an important role to play in ensuring the wellbeing of their people.

“It is critical for the health of their people and their companies, that businesses address the current raised levels of burnout risk.”

Feldman warns we have to do more to foster a culture of openness around mental wellbeing and put in place the policies and support that will help people through stressful times.

What can you do when you feel yourself burning out? Feldman has these tips for employees and employers:

Ensure it is okay to talk about burnout

When we take strain or feel overwhelmed, we tend to be embarrassed about not being able to function at our peak levels of performance and this only makes things worse.

“Talk openly about what you are going through. Get in touch with your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) to receive counselling to manage and overcome your burnout,” Feldman says.

ALSO READ: How to avoid a ‘quiet promotion’ without the increase

Make sure your people turn off work

As employers, it is important to create a culture where employees are encouraged to close their laptops at the end of the remote working day and stop answering mails and business calls.

Feldman says this starts with managers, who must set the example of breaking the “always on” culture. It is also important to ensure that employees take their annual leave.

Prioritise your tasks

Feldman says as an employee, you must take deliberate steps to keep track of your work.

“Use a spreadsheet or to-do list to arrange your days around these outcomes. Even better, schedule your tasks into your calendar and do not forget to include your breaks.”

Take breaks during the day

Take five or 10 minutes to step away from your computer to get water, make coffee, or take a walk outside. Sitting at a desk for a full day is a major contributing factor to burnout.

“The body was designed to be active, move and get outside to help improve your mood, energy, sleep patterns and overall health.”

ALSO READ: Mental health is important in the workplace

Change your lifestyle

Feldman says stress triggers both depression and anxiety, which often cause self-destructive behaviour.

Make changes to your lifestyle, get enough sleep, follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, take breaks and get outdoors as often as you can.

“The average person will spend one-third of their life at work and therefore, understanding employee wellness and burnout is crucial. It is important for mental health to be content across all aspects of life, as employees who are happy and healthy are more resilient and better equipped to handle change.”

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