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What is burnout?

July 26, 2021

The pandemic has caused some people to experience work related burnout – and not only those in professions such as nursing, who obviously remain under incredible pressure. Many of us have experienced new challenges in our jobs over the past 18 months, not least getting the hang of working in very different ways. Certain sectors have seen an increase in business, and things have become significantly busier, putting staff under strain. Dating app Bumble recognised this and closed for a week to give its burnt-out staff a break.

According to Mental Health UK, burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you’ve worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time. While it’s always been an issue in the workplace, the likelihood of experiencing burnout has increased recently: in a poll carried out by Mental Health UK in March 2021 46% of UK workers said they felt more vulnerable to stress than they did the previous year.

Whereas some people have found that working from home gives them a better work-life balance, it’s had a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of others, with working longer hours and being unable to ‘switch off’ contributing to feelings of burnout. In a Royal Society for Public Health poll 45% of respondents thought working from home was better for them, but 29% thought it was worse.

Common signs of burnout include feeling tired or drained most of the time, having a cynical or negative outlook, and taking longer to get things done. If the problem isn’t addressed, these symptoms can then lead to other issues in life, including low mood and depression or getting further behind on tasks.

Red flags to watch out for if you’re a manager, or if you’re concerned about a colleague, include a sudden drop in performance, an employee starting to turning their webcam off for video calls, or someone becoming more emotional or short-tempered.

If you’re feeling burned out, do consider taking sick leave if you think that would be appropriate and helpful. While generally speaking we think it’s okay to take time off for a physical illness, some are reluctant to do so as a result of stress or a similar difficulty. Some time out might well give you the breathing space you need to recover. You may need to talk to your GP about getting a Fit Note.

If you wish to stay at work think about whether there are any small changes you could make to improve your wellbeing and avoid burnout. These might include taking an hour away from your desk for lunch, setting an alarm to make sure that you take regular breaks, or changing your start and finish times, if your manager agrees, to avoid a stressful commute. You may need to set clear boundaries, and be assertive about maintaining these if you feel you’re being asked to do too much. Mental Health UK also has some suggestions for changes you could make outside of work – such as improving sleep.

If you’re currently off work and you’d like to return, it might be beneficial to talk to your employer about how you could do this gradually – for instance by working temporarily reduced hours or performing different duties. Could you ask for a mentor or a buddy to help you ease back in? If you have a condition that’s covered by the Equalities Act, your employer will need to consider making reasonable adjustments to help you stay in work.

If you’re continuing to work from home, keeping work separate can help. This includes not only having a room or space that you can close off from the rest of your home in some way, but also using psychological differentiators – for example Counselling Psychologist Carole Francis-Smith suggests wearing a certain perfume for work.

Our previous blog on managing work-related stress might give you some more ideas on how you can avoid burnout. If you find you are becoming stressed, depressed or anxious as a result of pressure in your job, CBT can help you to manage the symptoms. Find out what to expect from ieso’s online CBT treatment here.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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