Too many coping with burnout

Unmanageable workloads, constant interruptions both contributors: survey

Now that we’ve moved to a new office downtown, I’m trying to bike to work every day. A stretch of beautiful summer weather has helped my cause.

As much as I’m craving a rainy day so I can enjoy a relaxing streetcar ride for a change, I’m really enjoying my 30-minute commute on two wheels. I don’t have to rely on transit or contend with unexpected traffic delays — a bike pretty much always gets through.

It’s also a great way to destress. A bike ride at the end of the day lets me temporarily shed the challenges of the office. I hop on, weaving through bike lanes and pushy drivers and disoriented tourists, and lose myself in the chaos and the calm.

Burned out

Because, in my years on the job at various companies, I have felt moments of burnout. And, apparently, I’m not alone — 95 per cent of Canadian workers say they are at least somewhat burned out, according to a recent survey by staffing firm Accountemps.

Adding fuel to the fire, 96 per cent of senior managers also think their team members are experiencing some degree of burnout.

On average, employees said their level of burnout is 5.6 out of 10, while managers pick 5.7 for employees.

Those are some hefty numbers. Pretty much everyone thinks they’re burnt out at some point in time on the job.

And it’s not just perceptions that are validating the issue. Burnout has just been included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an “occupational phenomenon,” according to the World Health Organization — though it’s not classified as a medical condition.

The definition? “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

Those are some strong descriptors and I’m happy to say I haven’t felt that level of burnout often. But the fact that the WHO is delving further into the problem suggests we should be very concerned.

Putting out fires

As to what’s behind this trend, the Accountemps survey cites unmanageable workloads, constant interruptions and “putting out fires.”

Unfair treatment at work, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and support from management and unreasonable time pressure are other top factors cited in a 2018 survey by Gallup.

I’m also inclined to think technology is a big influencer. Not only are some people expected to be available at all hours, there’s also the temptation to check messages after-hours — something I do myself.

While my intention is to try to get ahead of any potential “fires,” it also can boost my stress levels at a time when I should be disengaging from work.

We’re also reminded with annual surveys of how bad Canadians are at taking their allotted vacation time. Making that escape from a job is so important to mental health and yet many people believe they can’t afford the time or the expense.

That’s not too surprising, considering the lacklustre pay raises we’ve seen of late. A recent survey by Mercer found merit-increase budgets rose only slightly in 2019 in Canada, to 2.6 per cent — up from 2.5 per cent the preceding three years. For 2020, 2.6 per cent is once again expected.

With the cost of living continuing to climb, those are not the kinds of numbers employees are going to be excited about, especially if they’re already experiencing burnout.

So, what’s the solution? There’s been a lot of focus on wellness in the workplace, with all kinds of programs vying to boost employee morale and well-being. But I wonder if that’s just applying a Band-Aid to a major wound.

Better communication, I’m sure, would help. Whether that’s managers supporting their teams or employees making themselves heard.

And I’d suggest it’s also about understanding that newer technologies can make a difference — good or bad — but that doesn’t mean everyone should always be “on.”

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