Burnout is a Real Problem Affecting Young Professionals
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“Slow down before you collapse,” is a statement I made to Vijay (name changed) on several occasions. He was an extremely motivated senior executive with a hunger in his belly that was unsustainable. Every day, he burdened himself under the pressure and honored it by claiming it was under pressure that he performed the best. Unbeknown to him, he was adding disease in his body and mind. The positive feedback he received for burning the midnight oil made him continue that pattern. He slept little, ate whatever he got his hands on, had no time to nurture deep relationships and exercise was a distant memory etched in his childhood.
Slowly and steadily his decline started. His relationships with people began to fade and his relationship with disease flourished. Cholesterol, diabetes, chronic aches and pain became his everyday status. We all know Vijay, or a person like him. Heck, we may even be Vijay ourselves. Instead of rising through the ranks, we see burnout, loneliness, physical burden of illnesses and a slow creeping of mental and emotional health issues. Sadly, professionals like Vijay are not an exception but quite a norm today. No wonder the menace of burnout in afflicting young professionals in a major way today.
Burnout as a modern day health hazard
Such is the rise in this phenomenon of professionals working themselves to hell that World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon impacting health of individuals. Burn-out has been described as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy are characteristics of this condition. A survey of 2,000 Americans found that 36% of respondents experienced on-the-job burn-out every single week while another 56% felt burnt out on the job at least once a month. While we do not have a similar extended survey conducted in India, anecdotal evidence suggests the problem is deep-rooted here as well.
According to the WHO, depression and anxiety alone cost global economy approximately $1 trillion annually due to lost productivity. In fact, the WHO has deemed depression a leading cause of disability. Approximately one-third of the mental health cost burden is related to productivity losses, including unemployment, disability and lower work performance.
From Neutron Star to a Star
The bright star in us begins to fade exactly as does the neutron star. The neutron star is known to be the brightest, and it works really hard to be big, bold and impactful, till all the hydrogen runs out. And then it just bursts. The similarity is uncanny and we need to take heed and build resources to conserve our energy and provide us with long-lasting productive health.
Remember, that it is the luminary employee that spontaneously combusts. It is the leader who has spent little time nurturing all the other aspects of his life. It is time that we promote the values key to good health and help provide nurturing work environments for our employees.
Having spent almost two decades in the business of wellbeing, our company defined the wellbeing hexagon. It is only when we incorporate a structure of wellbeing through the verticals can one completely flourish. Optimum health is skewed when any of these factors is given less credence than the other/s.
The Wellness hexagon comprises of mental, physical, nutritional, mindful and financial wellbeing.
What is important to remember is that a decline of optimal health in any one of the vertical leads to an imbalance and the other pillars compensate for the loss of one until they burnout as well. Over the years, organizations have initiated efforts to improve physical health of employees, thereby only focusing on one pillar of health for an individual. But only tending to physical health and skill development programmes tied in with leadership training, as currently done by HR, will not solve the problem. The mindset of employers needs to shift to a new understanding of being the principal providers for good holistic health practices.
Tackling burnout crucial to improving productivity
As consultants, we have documented internally the facade of wellbeing in corporates. There is no holistic structure being adopted. Most companies are creating a jigsaw puzzle of programmes, primarily app-based that allows for metric and mathematical impact, but doesn’t really implement deep change, especially since they have only 4 per cent of employee sustainability and interaction.
Employers need to become mindful of the burden that employees face. The experience of an overworked mind leads to a lack of motivation, unforeseen errors, lack of positive interactions with the community. Mental health problems have an impact on employers and businesses directly through increased absenteeism, negative impact on productivity and profits, as well as an increase in costs to deal with the issue. In addition, they impact employee morale adversely.
In recent times countries are beginning to take mental health seriously as they have observed its effects on their economy. Scotland’s Labor Market Strategy’s vision is, “A strong labor market that drives inclusive, sustainable economic growth, characterized by growing, competitive businesses, high employment, a skilled population capable of meeting the needs of employers, and where fair work is central to improving the lives of individuals and their families.”
Investing in the holistic health care is not an option now, it is a necessity. It ensures that employees are better equipped to understand how to utilize their abilities positively. It also improves team work and creates a support system within the workplace that fortifies the employees trust in the organization and the ability to depend on them.
It is important for organizations to implement measures that allow employees sufficient relaxation and leisure time to re-energize their minds and bodies. The culture of being available on official mails and social media groups 24/7 has to end and a real office cut-off time needs to be laid down. Similarly, it must be ensured that employees are not disturbed on weekends and are allowed to spend time doing activities outside work. It is also important for employers to make counselors easily available to employees so that they open up and seek help before it’s too late. Managers must also be trained to be alert to identifying symptoms of burnout among employees and initiate remedial measures.
It is essential to ensure that employees are mentally fit, physically and nutritionally healthy and have the tools for resiliency. We do not want Vijay to collapse. We do not want you to collapse.