Back to Basics: Strategies to Prevent Burnout | EAPA-SA

Burnout exists at all levels of employment.  It is more likely when employees have unreasonable demands placed on them or are in roles that are not a good fit. Burnout is characterised by emotional exhaustion, pessimism and ineffectiveness in the workplace, and by chronic negative responses to stressful workplace conditions.  While not considered a mental illness, burnout can be considered a mental health issue and is often perceived to have a stigma attached.

Building a resilient workforce is critical if organisations are to perform at their peak and meet the challenges of constant change. Employees get worn down by shifting goalposts, unrealistic targets and uncertainty about what is expected of them. Issues such as infrequent feedback, inadequate training and out-of-date technology or equipment are some of the negative pressures that may combine to push an employee over the edge into burnout.

Here are three strategies for preventing burnout:1. 2.

Recognise the signs and symptoms

The majority of employees who are experiencing burnout will remain at work and may not even realise that they are dealing with burnout.  They may believe that they are just struggling to keep up during stressful times. Stress, however, is usually experienced as feeling anxious while burnout is more commonly experienced as feeling helpless, hopeless or apathethic.1

Some of the signs and symptoms that an employee who experiencing burnout may exhibit include:

  • More time spent working with less being accomplished
  • Lowered levels of motivation
  • Reduced energy
  • Increased errors
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Suspiciousness
  • Increased frustration

 Set prevention strategies in place

There are management strategies that can help reduce workplace stressors and prevent burnout.  These include:

  • Enforcing reasonable work hours and helping assess the workload for employees who feel pressured to remain working beyond normal business hours.
  • Strongly encouraging employees to take breaks away from the work environment.
  • Setting reasonable and realistic expectations for all employees and obtaining confirmation that each employee understands these expectations.
  • Offering employees training to boost their mental resilience designed to help them manage potentially pressurised areas of their work and which can be key to reducing the likelihood of burnout, particularly for roles that have been identified as potentially stressful.
  • Providing ongoing training to employees to maintain competency and making sure that employees have the necessary resources to meet set expectations.
  • Helping employees understand their value to the organization and their contributions to the organisation’s goals.
  • Encouraging social support and respect from management and within, or between, work teams. Lack of support, an aggressive management styles and other people taking credit for an achievement are the kinds of issues that can make staff feel demoralised. It is important for leaders to actively create positive relationships.

Support recovery at work

Workplace-based employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are the most commonly used service to support staff suffering from burnout.

  • Employee support can include confidential counselling and referring cognitive behavioural therapy can help employees deal with their emotional support needs.
  • Health and wellness resources, such as fitness programmes, may assist in combating workplace burnout by improving employees’ overall wellbeing as can giving staff simple information on wellbeing issues such as how to improve their sleep patterns, or how to stop smoking or limit alcohol consumption.

Line managers also have an important role to play in managing workplace burnout. If employees know they can approach their manager about any negative consequences, this can make a big difference.

The negative outcomes of burnout, unaddressed

As a result of burnout employees will typically feel inadequate or incompetent, never feeling that the work they are doing is good enough.  They will feel unappreciated for their work efforts.  Left unaddressed, burnout may result in a number of outcomes including:

  • Poor physical health
  • Clinical depression
  • Reduced job satisfaction
  • Decreased productivity
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Poor workplace morale
  • Communication breakdown
  • Increased turnover


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