Depression and Burnout In The Workplace: Is Your Employer Stepping Up To The Plate And Are You Seeing The Signs?

Sometimes, I am asked by corporate clients to help new managers with the challenges of their new job. Usually, just the basic management tasks can be overwhelming without the added problem of dealing with people and especially ‘difficult’ people. There are many definitions of the word ‘difficult’ from the employee who constantly resists change to others who, for example, cannot integrate themselves in a team or cannot change the pace of their work to suit changing conditions.

There is no guarantee in any team that employees who are seen as ‘not difficult’ will not become ‘difficult’ at times and vice versa. Managers often put these difficult phases down to lack of ability, personality or the inability to change. However, many overlook a growing problem that threatens to engulf the workplace and if left unsolved will become the biggest single reason why absenteeism and poor performance will increase. Many employees suffering from ‘personal problems’, which is usually a sign for a manager that it is nothing to do with them, are in fact afflicted with the so-called ‘cancer of mental health’, depression.

Statistics stated five years ago that by 2020, depression would become the second most common ‘illness’ in the western world. Reasons cited for this were poor diet, more stress and a breakdown of traditional lifestyles. I often ask managers if they can really recognise the signs that one of their employees could be depressed and mostly they answer that as long as the work gets done, these problems should be dealt with ‘outside’. Additionally, many managers will not refer the problem to upper management for fear of being seen as having a lack of management ability.

In some countries, strong workers representative bodies prohibit too much ‘poking around’ in private issues and those employees who do seek help are shunned by a work culture that prizes people who work long hours. All this adds up to a scenario that depression, more often than not, goes unrecognised and people ’ suffer in silence’ and ‘muddle along’ as best they can.

I tell the managers that I work with that it is not only their job to recognise the basic symptoms of depression, that are incidentally generally easily detected, but it is their responsibility as an employer and a human as well. In our stressed out modern world, where bottom line and profit are everything, this does not always go down well but what kind of world do we live in when these are the only important factors and the human side of the workplace is pushed aside? Given that it is highly unlikely that the course the business world is on is going to change for the better, it is even more important that employers and managers take care of their biggest asset, the people who work for them. Many companies will often offer well-being classes, fitness studios and gym memberships and the feedback I have always had from the corporate world is that most employees are too busy “crunching” to enjoy the benefits.

Burnout is a problem that many people either face or come very close to facing at some point in their life or career and the numbers are rising. According to the American Psychological Association: three-quarters of Americans experience symptoms related to stress in a given month: – 77% experience physical symptoms – 73% experience psychological symptoms. In Germany, a recent study by the government revealed that 5% of all adults between the ages of 25 and 45 are officially suffering from burnout. They cited common symptoms such as: depleted physical energy, emotional exhaustion, increasing absenteeism at work, less investment in personal relationships, increasingly pessimistic view of the world and lowered immunity to illness.

If your job or some other commitment keeps you completely drained physically or emotionally, and if this situation goes on for an extended period of time, you may finally reach breaking point and fall victim to Burnout Syndrome. Burnout is a chronic condition that happens when your body or mind can no longer cope with overwhelmingly high demands. You are trapped in a state of emotional exhaustion, and it is hard to get out of that state. You stop caring about what you do, even though you may feel guilty about that fact. Even if you still continue working, it seems to be hard to make progress. You hardly accomplish anything significant, just going through the motions.

Burning out is not just stress, it is much more than that. There are people who may experience high amounts of stress in their job at all times but job stress does not necessarily mean that they are at risk of job burnout. However, certain categories of people and professions are particularly susceptible to job burnout. Most often these are people who are highly committed and motivated, who have high standards and idealistic dedication to their jobs. This condition more commonly occurs in such professions as entrepreneurs, managers (in business, education, health care, and many other fields), teachers and social workers or athletes.

There are many different situations that could lead to burnout. Common burnout causes include:

An overwhelming workload. Could be due to insufficient time management skills especially a lack of planning, prioritizing, or delegation skills.

Hard work with no clear goals. You work harder and harder, but no matter how long you keep at it, you cannot see any progress.

Powerlessness to change something important to you. Something that you are very much emotionally attached to but is at the same time beyond your control.

Forcing yourself to make the impossible happen. For example, solving problems without having the necessary resources.

A conflict between your personal values and the values of the company you are working for or partner. You don’t believe in or disagree with what you are doing, but you feel the circumstances force you to keep doing it anyway.

Hitting the invisible ceiling. No matter how good or competent you become, there is hardly any chance of recognition or promotional opportunities.

For all of those burnout causes, what is important is not as much the external factors that fall on you, but how you interpret them, what you say to yourself, and what actions you take in response. Finally, it is important to understand the risks of burnout in your personal or job situation. Once you are its victim, it may not be easy to get things back on track. The condition does not go away quickly . You may not be able to recover by yourself, and you may need to make drastic changes in your attitude and life style. You are much better off taking preventative measures than putting your life back together later.

If you recognise the warning signs of impending burnout in yourself, remember that it will only get worse if you do nothing about it. If you take steps to get your life back into balance, you can prevent burnout from becoming a full-blown breakdown.

Burnout prevention tips

Start the day with a relaxing ritual.  Get out of bed as soon as you wake up, spend at least fifteen minutes meditating, writing in your journal, doing gentle stretches, or reading something that inspires you.

Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands.

Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things that you truly want to do.

Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email.

Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work.

Learn how to manage stress. When you’re on the road to burnout, you may feel helpless. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think. Learning how to manage stress can help you regain your balance.

To finish. a famous quote on the subject by Susan Scott :

“Burnout happens, not because we are trying to solve problems but because we are trying to solve the same problem over and over again”

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Russell Edwards

    Great Post Dr Jenner. With regards to burnout at work Einstein’s quote makes sense: insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again and expecting different results. The situation isn’t going to improve unless you address it. It’s going to get worse.