I remembered vividly, the host of emotions that overcame me as I made the decision to leave my last banking job. I wanted to get out immediately, and so I did, just before the bonus payout. The job was taking a toll on my well-being. I was burned out. We all devote so much time and effort into our jobs, but to what end?
10th October is the World Mental Health Day, with a goal to raise public awareness about mental health issues across the globe. Burnout has been described as the biggest occupational hazard of the 21st century and is officially recognised by the World Health Organisation as a medical condition early this year. Current job burnout rates around the world are worryingly high, accounting for an estimated healthcare and employee absence cost of over $300 billion annually, though recent years have seen people being higher health conscious than ever, with all the fitness classes seemed to be taking the world by storm. The ever-growing trends of plant-based diets, wearable technology, sports tourism and mindfulness apps are seemingly unstoppable, too. But why is burnout rate still on the rise?
We live in an era of unprecedented technological changes. Technology makes everything so accessible that it is impossible for us to escape from receiving real-time messages and notifications nowadays. Instant responses and round-the-globe conference calls are expected in any job spec. If you’re slow, you’re out. Offices and perks are getting fancier but does that mean we are encouraged to spend longer time at workplace? Job security is a thing of the past. Companies held back on hiring full-time employees because of market turbulence with the surge in outsourcing across different sectors. Lay-offs are not uncommon nowadays and remaining employees are expected to pick up the slack. The higher paid you are, the higher level of expectations and associated stress that your job brings. The embedded culture of long hours, unpredictable schedules and demanding clients are what you are in line for if you want to chase for more money. On the other hand, founders fatigue and job security are also being known to be the dark side of the startup generation.
How do we tell when we have reached the point of a work burnout? It is a state of physical or emotional fatigue caused by a long period of chronic stress. Emotional symptoms include but are not limited to feeling unmotivated, overloaded by unmanageable deadlines, disengaged, lack of positive emotions, easily aggravated and cynical. Physical signs might include anxiety, sleeplessness, physical exhaustion, body and headaches. To prevent us from letting our work stress morph into burnout, raising self-awareness of these symptoms is the very first step. Negative effects of stress are causing high absenteeism, low engagement, poor productivity and decline in job satisfaction. Correlation between burnout and absenteeism can be incontestable. Research shows that over 60% of work absenteeism is attributed to stress-related burnout. Employee retention has become one of the biggest corporate challenges. A survey in 2018 suggested that 40% of the 2,000 surveyed employees said they were considering quitting because of burnout. Chronic stress may lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol and stress eating. If unchecked, it may also develop into health issues such as heartburn, high blood pressure, weakened immune system, risk of depression and more.
That said, it is not all bad news. Stress at a healthy level can be helpful and motivate us to achieve goals and be top of our game. Good stress pushes us out of our comfort zones, keeps us focused and alert. Often stress is inevitable. When we can harness and embrace the stress, our mental resilience is strengthened during the process. Mental resilience gives us the dexterity to adapt in the face of adversity and hardship while maintaining stable mental well-being. It helps us to thrive and bounce back quickly from the setbacks, essentially avoiding burnout.
How far have we come in promoting mental well-being in the workplace? A study estimates that companies across the South East Asia region neglecting corporate wellness have resulted in productivity losses of 44.6 billion a year. More firms showed awareness on employee mental wellness and have now engaged employee assistance programmes or mental health first aider to provide confidential assessments and emotional support for employees. Off-site retreats, corporate wellness workshops and focus groups are also on a rising trend. A growing number of corporations are shifting from perks to flexible work policy, offering employees more control over their work and personal lives. Research shows 75% of millennials want to be given flexibility in work schedules, as it leads them to feel valued and empowered. It is believed that such positive emotions are longer lasting, resulting in improved retention rate and productivity. Some corporations also provide an unpaid leave option. While employees get their much needed time off, employers also benefit from cost savings and increased staff retention.
What are the actionable strategies to incorporate wellness and resilience into our daily routines? Identify your most important life components, then design a balanced routine engaging each of them. As soon as you become aware of your burnout symptoms, make a conscious effort to re-prioritise. Here are the things you may try:
• Schedule quality time for yourself. Studies show that taking short breaks every 90 minutes gives 30% higher productivity.
• Reset yourself by practising simple mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes each day.
• Make conscious effort not to mindlessly check your work notifications outside of work hours.
• Welcome and cultivate stress. Remember good stress builds your resilience. Change the game.
• Set healthy boundaries on your work schedules even if you work from home. Work smarter not harder.
• Break down goals into smaller tasks to always achieve them.
• Refine your coping mechanisms each time. Be experimental.
• Challenge your negative thoughts. Be curious and find alternative thinking.
• Start the day with a ritual. Take pride over your healthy routine and stick to it.
• Reach out to talk about your struggles or seek help. Don’t detach yourself.