We’ve all heard that famous quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” But, how many of us take it seriously?We can all close our eyes and imagine what stress looks like or feels like. Tired, bags under their eyes, on-edge, and maybe even closed off - easy symptoms to recognize, a no-brainer that some help might be needed. But sometimes, the warning signs aren’t always so clear and extend far beyond just stress.
The World Health Organization recently classified burnout as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed", formally adding it to the International Classification of Diseases, or the ICD-11. Burnout is a rising epidemic internationally, with one survey noting that 95% of HR leaders say it's dramatically impacting employee retention. As such, it's critical for employers to recognize signs of burnout early and successfully counteract them for the sake of their employees' health and wellbeing. Here's how to do it.
Types of stress
Stress comes in many shapes and sizes, and the effects can be compounding. Think about all of the diverse situations and relationships in one’s life that must be managed between family, friends, work responsibilities and even internal struggles. These can make for some complex emotional days, and if there isn't sufficient room to allow a work-life balance, there can be lasting effects that may later act a precursor for much larger conditions such as depression.
There are two different types of stress: eustress (positive) and distress (negative). Having a general understanding of what stress does to the body, mind and spirit, can go a long way towards helping to prevent burnout, in yourself, friends, employees and colleagues.
On a chemical level, there are complex relationships between hormones released in the body. Even our stress hormones are as complicated as our relationship statuses. Adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol make up the main stress hormones. When a stressful situation presents itself, adrenaline and norepinephrine are first to act as part of the fight or flight response, whereas cortisol effects are a bit more delayed.
All of these hormones are primal instincts that increase heart rate and surge energy and focus in the short term. The vicious cycle presents itself when bouts of prolonged stress, from not being able to let go of a problem by ‘stewing’ over it, eventually leads to harmful side effects because the body keeps producing these hormones.
The mind and thoughts become cloudy and the spirit weaker, all while feeling like quicksand is taking over. The harder it’s fought, the tighter its grip becomes. Motivation continues to drop, enthusiasm disappears and the spirit can be bruised, seemingly beyond repair. Causing even the most charming extrovert to slowly head into a stupor, while feeling disconnected from their peers. Those closest to the situation are likely ignoring the warning signs, while the newly found introvert struggles to ask for help.
Signs of burnout
With this in mind, it's easier to understand how burnout begins. But, the great thing about being mindful and caring about the wellbeing of those around you is that you have an opportunity to help. Here are some tips on what hints to look for to determine employee burnout:
- Body language - Although there are some general examples of somebody who is ‘down’, such as slouched shoulders or low-hanging head, our body language is one of our largest communicators, and even slight variances can be picked up on. Notice if somebody is more closed off than usual, fidgeting or grabbing for their tight neck or shoulders.
- Verbal communication - Pay attention to both the presentation and content as separate manners. Think of this like a contradiction where someone is verbally replying ‘yes’ while shaking their head no. It can also present itself in uncharacteristic pessimism or general lack of enthusiasm.
- Spirit and mood - Irritability, mood swings and seeking isolation. Think of a child who goes through something traumatic or gets in trouble, their first instinct is usually to isolate themselves. Our behavior doesn’t change much in adult life, we just hide in different ways. Skipping out on social events, losing enthusiasm for things that previously used to bring us joy, and overreacting to events that normally wouldn't illicit a response are all signs to look out for.
Combating employee burnout
For employees experiencing burnout, it can be hard to break the chain of negative thoughts and actions once they get going. For this reason, recognition and awareness are half of the battle, but intervening on the behalf of a colleague can also make a huge difference. Here are some tips to get through the heaviness and bridge a return back to normalcy:
- Healthy habits - It's no secret that we're big fans of fitness and well-being at Peerfit, but studies have shown that exercise does benefit us mentally just as much as it does physically. We believe the key to finding your balance, at least when it comes to fitness, is through a personalized experience. Some days you might need to let off steam and hit the bags during a boxing class, while other days you may want a more gentle release where you can center my mind and body in a yoga class - in short, do whatever you need that day. A few endorphins never hurt anybody.
- Open communication channels - Keeping an open dialogue with family, friends and peers is important, but sometimes speaking to an unbiased professional, who has some distance from the situation, can unlock a new level of insight and remove even more barriers to communication. Even Olympic athletes such as Michael Phelps have benefitted from and not shied away from their therapy experiences.
- Maintaining balance - We all get busy, and while our work-life balance may not always be exactly 50-50, it also doesn't have to be 90-10. See to it that you do your best to leave work at work, so when you come home, you can truly unplug and destress from the day. Set aside some "you" time throughout the day or week, whether it be for a workout as mentioned above, or a quick walk around the block with your favorite playlist. Making time to do the things that make you "you" will only keep you happier and healthier in the long run.
Everyone around you is fighting a battle that you know nothing about, so be kind, always.