HYDERABAD: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The proverb accurately depicts how working consistently leads to burnout — a condition doctors say is one of the leading threats to erode one’s mental health in today’s IT age. Ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10, experts discuss with CE how and why burnout needs to be addressed today.
To put it in simple terms, employees experience burnout when their physical or emotional strength is exhausted or when they experience a prolonged period of tension or frustration, says Tarun Gupta, co-founder, of Lissun, a tech-enabled mental health startup.
“Workplace stress, lack of support and resources, and pressuring deadlines can all lead to burnout. Burnout not only reduces productivity and performance but also causes anxiety and stress. It’s a vicious circle,” he adds.
Burnout is not a medical condition, but it has the potential to impact the overall mental and physical health of a person. “Extended working hours have become the commonest cause for burnout. Over a period, a lack of work-life balance can affect their personal life as well. At this juncture, burnout slowly can become a medical problem, landing them in psycho-somatic disorders or autoimmune disorders or lifestyle disorders depending upon the personality type they belong to, “ shares Dr Sudheer Reddy, founder, of Wishealth, Hyderabad.
He adds that a periodical assessment of the workload on the employees by the concerned human resources team can help one come out of this. “Recreation facilities at the workplace and outings at regular intervals help too. Early identification through symptoms of physical exhaustion, falling sick frequently and decreased interpersonal relationships at the workplace are some pointers to identify the problem.”
Burnout is more likely to happen to employees that have high expectations of themselves, consistently feel that their work isn’t good enough, feel inadequate or unappreciated, are overworked, or are in a role that is not a good fit for them.
Asked for signs of burnout, Mayank Rautela, chief human resource officer, of Care group of Hospitals, says, “In today’s performance culture, most employees will keep showing up for work, so absenteeism isn’t a good enough measure.
In addition, asking employees directly about their mental health may not give you the answer you need either as they may not be willing to discuss their situation, they may be unaware of it, or they might just chalk it up to 'feeling stressed'.
Burnout typically looks a bit different from stress. Stress is usually characterised by a sense of anxiety and urgency, while burnout is more likely to present with feelings of helplessness or hopelessness (or even apathy).
To give you an idea of whether a staff member may be struggling with burnout, you can look at their levels of energy, motivation, efficiency, productivity, error-making, physical health, patience, and compassion fatigue.”
Burnout, if left unaddressed, can result in self-medication (in the form of alcohol or other substances), clinical depression, and poor physical health, among many other outcomes, Mayank says, adding, “In particular, it is essential to watch for ‘compassion fatigue’, where the therapist begins to take on the pain and suffering of their clients, which can quickly spiral into vicarious trauma.”
“One must engage in self-care, manage stress, and seek support promptly. Doubly important is that organisations must have strategies, interventions, and wellness programs in place to prevent employee burnout. Rather than shifting the onus on employees, employers and organisations must prioritise their employees’ mental health,” concludes Dr Gautami Nagabhirava, consultant neuropsychiatrist, Kamineni Hospital, LB Nagar.