Burnout & Workplace Stress is Bad For Your Health

Burnout & Workplace Stress is Bad For Your Health


1 July 2019


And the World Health Organisation has officially stated this. Stress plays such an important role in the state of our mental and physical health and it’s time we woke up to the facts.

The general definition of burnout has always revolved around stress and how it affects our lives. Until now, the condition has always hovered between being a ‘real’ state of mind to a word almost too casually used to be taken seriously.

When the World Health Organisation (WHO) – the world’s leading health administration whose main role is to coordinate health issues under the auspices of the United Nations – officially included burnout into its International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, sufferers breathed a collective sigh of relief. Finally, the symptoms and effects of burnout are being recognised and not just seen as a sign of weakness or an excuse for poor work performance.

Burnout in the workplace costs the global economy billions and should be taken seriously not only from a business, but also a mental health perspective. Human resource experts say almost half of staff turnover is caused by burnout and corporate wellness plays an integral part in staff retention. Some of the most common reasons why employees leave their job include a lack of work and life balance and poor well-being; while severe cases see workers feeling anxious and losing interest in their jobs. The worst-case scenario is when people commit suicide due to workplace pressure

The WHO describes burn out as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. It’s a condition unique to the workplace with symptoms that include:

  • Exhaustion, low energy levels and not wanting to go to work

  • Low levels of productivity and feeling dissatisfied with the job and everything related to it from colleagues to superiors and clients

  • Lack of concentration

  • Feeling critical, angry, disillusioned and anxious

  • Having trouble sleeping and suffering from insomnia

  • Experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, bowel problems, chest pain, palpitations, dizziness, feeling faint and nausea

What causes workplace burnout?

There are many instances when burnout can occur and most of us have experienced these at some point in our career.

Job expectations: We all need to know what is expected of us from superiors, colleagues and those we manage. Being unsure causes discomfort and confusion, which ultimately leads to disagreement and resentment.

When work takes over life: The constant struggle to balance work with time spent with family, friends and yourself is real. For many, burnout can occur even quicker when babies and young children are factored into the equation.

Boring or chaotic: There are some jobs that can be monotonous and repetitive leading to boredom. Then there are those that are too fast-paced with many tasks needing done on short deadlines, which can cause physical fatigue and the feeling that goals are unattainable.

Unfair compensation: The amount of work done and effort expended should equal to a fair wage. Employers encourage their workforce to use their time productively to achieve company goals, but they must also offer compensation for this. Often, this is not the case especially when overtime and long working hours are involved.

Lack of support: We are made to function better with emotional support and this can be anything from having lunch with a colleague to Friday night drinks with old friends. Loneliness is a real consequence of burnout so having social support is one of the best ways to ease workplace stress.

Office dynamics: How the workplace operates plays a key role in burnout. Bullying, micromanaging, unhelpful colleagues and superiors who take no interest in what you do all affect the office environment in a negative way.

Losing control: No one wants to work long hours or follow ineffective schedules, but this always happens when there’s a lack of commitment from peers and superiors. Burnout is also likely to occur when there’s a lack of resources but success is still demanded.

There’s no simple solution to ease burnout, but there are ways to soften the blow and curtail the symptoms. And, as logical as they sound, it’s not easy to just drop everything when work becomes too challenging. The first thing is to acknowledge that the job is restricting your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.

Take control of the situation and speak to your superiors about change. Accept that you may have to switch jobs to improve your health even if it means relinquishing certain perks. Choose a company that takes burnout seriously and offers solutions to the condition, and if you feel overwhelmed, speak to someone (family, friends, mental health professional). Remember, there’s no shame in quitting, taking a break (if your finances allow it) and look for a new job.