“While burnout can affect individuals in any profession, workers in certain fields have been proven to be more likely to suffer the effects of burnout.”
Burnout is a psychological syndrome comprising three factors: emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from one’s job and having a sense of being ineffectual or lacking accomplishment.
While burnout can affect individuals in any profession, due to the stressful nature of the work, the size of the workload and routinely long hours, workers in certain fields have been proven to be more likely to suffer the effects of burnout. Burnout caused by prolonged occupational stress can be prevented through organisational support, team and peer support and helping employees to recognise, comprehend and self-manage their work-related stress.
High risk professions
While specialists who work in continually stressful or high-risk professional settings, such as healthcare professionals, generally find their work to be meaningful and fulfilling, they are at higher risk when it comes to burnout. Among them are:
- Healthcare professionals
- Social workers
- Emergency response personnel
- Law enforcement officials
- Lawyers and other careers with large workloads
- Business development managers and sales representatives
- Teachers and educators
- Chefs and restaurant workers
“Major risk factors to the development of burnout include working within an organisational culture that requires sustained compassion from their employees while overlooking the need for self-care. “
Risks and implications
Major risk factors to the development of burnout include working within an organisational culture that requires sustained compassion from their employees while overlooking the need for self-care. On an individual basis, risk factors include a lack of emotion regulation skills and boundary setting, absent coping mechanisms as well as certain personality traits and lower levels of job experience – along with battling the stigma attached to seeking help.
Burnout has serious implications for the health and wellbeing of healthcare practitioners. Interventions are needed at an organisational level as well as an individual level. It also has serious implications for job performance, where burnout can lead to reduced empathy and compassion fatigue that can affect patient interactions.
“Burnout has serious implications for the health and wellbeing of healthcare practitioners. “
Tackling burnout in healthcare workers
The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) in the UK published a paper in July 2023 titled, Burnout in healthcare: risk factors and solutions, which states:
“Tackling burnout can be challenging, however, as it is caused by a complex interplay of cultural, contextual and individual factors. Interventions to address burnout and improve wellbeing are typically at the individual level, involving psychoeducation, counselling and resilience-building, or improving self-care or coping abilities… A multi-level, systemic approach is recommended where strategies are implemented at primary (organisational), secondary (individual) and tertiary (rehabilitation) levels.”
Support at an organisational level
The following supportive actions have been found to be helpful at an organisational level:
- Fostering a workplace culture where showing vulnerability is not stigmatised, while self-compassion and help-seeking are encouraged alongside the furnishing of appropriate support, mentorship and supervision.
- Implementing processes to identify the risk factors for stress and burnout, using validated measures to assess whether there are any roles or groups of employees at higher risk and using the findings to target interventions.
- Ensuring that leadership is compassionate, inclusive and ethical.
- Managers and supervisors should be trained in supporting the mental and physical health of their employees. This includes training line managers to identify the signs and symptoms of stress and burnout, allowing sufficient time to support the wellbeing of their employees while ensuring their own wellbeing is protected.
- Employees should be frequently reminded of the support available to them for preventing healthcare burnout.
- Ensuring that employees experiencing burnout are supported and reasonable adjustments made to facilitate their rehabilitation back to the workplace.
“Managers and supervisors should be trained in supporting the mental and physical health of their employees.”
Support at a secondary level
- Peer support
Interventions at this level involve strategies that help individuals cope more effectively with the challenges they face at work
- Peer mentoring and support networks can protect against stress and burnout by offering opportunities to talk with colleagues and peers in a similar situation. This can facilitate a sense of community, increase knowledge about stress and burnout and bring to light effective ways of coping and reducing the stigma that can surround the disclosure of mental health issues in healthcare.
- There is evidence that trusted coworkers, who are adept in detecting early signs of burnout in others, are well placed to monitor each other for symptoms.
- Individual interventions
Practitioners are also responsible for developing the personal skills and resources to help them manage a highly pressured working environment and support their wellbeing. Strategies that are needed that help repair, maintain and grow wellbeing include:
- Repair: the proactive actions people take when first noticing signs of stress.
- Maintenance: the ongoing self-help strategies that enable people to operate at full capacity.
- Growth: the strategies that people use to build their capacity for resilience, to invest in their future wellbeing
“Peer mentoring and support networks can protect against stress and burnout by offering opportunities to talk with colleagues and peers in a similar situation.”
Tertiary level interventions
Burnout is a complex phenomenon and supporting employees in their return to work can be challenging. Tertiary interventions are initiatives that focus on the treatment of individuals who are experiencing burnout and supporting them in their readiness to return to work (RTW). This encompasses several important factors:
- Monitoring the employee’s wellbeing.
- Timeously initiating their return to work.
- Planning the practical aspects of returning to work, duties and workload.
- Supporting re-engagement with work.
- Providing tools to support recovery.
- Monitoring the employee’s progress and ability to cope with work without relapsing.
In supporting an employee’s return to work, it is recognised that there is a need for a mutual understanding of burnout in relation to its signs and symptoms, co-occurring illnesses and the unpredictability of recovery – and openness about the employee’s burnout and its causes. There should also be insight into any personality characteristics that may increase the employee’s risk of burnout, psychosocial risk factors in private life and possible conflicts within the work environment.
Job burnout is an increasing concern in the modern workspace that affects professionals from all sectors. Organisations cannot afford to overlook burnout. It is essential for leaders to have the foresight to see burnout as an organisational problem not an individual medical diagnosis. While certain jobs might have higher exposure to the elements that lead to burnout, it’s pivotal across all industries and roles to recognise its signs and take preventive action – identifying the root causes of burnout and taking appropriate action.
“Burnout is a complex phenomenon and supporting employees in their return to work can be challenging.”
“Job burnout is an increasing concern in the modern workspace that affects professionals from all sectors.”
Click here to read the full SOM paper: https://www.som.org.uk/sites/som.org.uk/files/Burnout_in_healthcare_risk_factors_and_solutions_July2023.pdf