Overworked, under-challenged or downright jaded: Three types of staff burnout and how you can help

Overworked, under-challenged or downright jaded: Three types of staff burnout and how you can help

Posted: Tue 9th Oct 2018

Good news for small to medium-sized businesses: your workforces are far less likely to be suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety than those in larger enterprises.

In fact, companies with less than 50 staff have roughly half as many burnt out workers than companies employing 250 or more people, relatively speaking.

In 2017, there were 970 cases of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety per 100k workers in small British companies.

In those employing between 50 and 249 staff, there were 1,430 cases, while in the largest businesses there were a whopping 1,770 cases, according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

But that doesn't mean small businesses should be relaxed about work-related stress. In 2016/7, the condition resulted in 12.5 million sick days (a 7% rise on the previous year) and smaller players arguably stand to lose most from staff absences.

The fewer personnel and resources you're operating with, the fewer options you have if your staff burn out.

All companies have a duty to protect staff from work-related stress and any employers of more than five people must produce written risk assessments.

Psychologists define burnout as a worker's response to chronic stress and have identified three different ways in which it can manifest itself. Here they are:

Overload burnout

This will come as no surprise: overload your staff with too much work and you risk burning them out like a matchbox left too close to the fire.

Workload is the number one cause of work-related stress in Britain, accounting for 44% of all cases, says the HSE. Studies show there are three things to look out for in your workforce: exhaustion, cynicism and inefficiency.

Absenteeism is a sure-fire warning of overload burnout. Staff respond by pushing ever harder until they are either too stressed or too ill to work. It can cost firms dearly. One recent study found that the average US shift worker costs their employer $2,660 a year in unexpected absences, with stress cited as a reason for absence in 12% of cases.

Watch for presenteeism - the growing trend of staff turning up to work while ill - too. According to the ONS, the average British worker took 4.1 days off ill in 2017, down from 7.2 in 1993. That's an all-time low. Since 1960, as the number of sick days has fallen, the UK has gone from being Europe's most productive nation to one of its least.

Chronically stressed staff make mistakes. At times of stress our attention is narrowed towards whatever is causing the stress (say, a heavy workload) and other, peripheral matters fall by the wayside, leading to forgetfulness and poor decision making. So prolonged periods of stress with no let-up spell problems for your business.

Under challenge burnout

Staff can also burnout through boredom. Your staff are at risk of this kind of burnout in situations where the work is monotonous, and little is being done to forward their personal development.

As with overload burnout, warning signs of under challenge burnout are mounting cynicism, disengagement and arguments in the workplace.

One study found that under challenged and burnout staff were likely to become disengaged with their work and therefore the goals of the company. It stands to reason: the longer one is made to do menial tasks with little opportunity to progress, the more cynical and less motivated you are likely to become.

Another classic symptom of this kind of burnout can be procrastination. If workers feel they're not valued by their boss despite having the skills needed to do a job, or if they simply haven't been mentored properly in how to perform what is expected of them, their ability to make the right decisions quickly will be diminished.

Neglect burnout

Of course, all types of burnout are dangerous for employee and employer and need to be addressed.

But dealing with workers displaying the traits of neglect burnout can be particularly challenging. That's because the fore mentioned study associates neglect burnout with just one key trait: a lack of dedication

In other words, they've become jaded. Job satisfaction is at rock bottom, as is their effectiveness. Whereas researchers note that those suffering from overload burnout can show a greater focus on problem solving in response to stress, this group are more likely to go the other way and switch off altogether, making them even harder to win back.

All businesses have periods of stress, of course. It's your job, as an employer, to ensure that this stress does not become chronic - defined as pressure that's experienced for a long period of time which individuals feel they have little or no control over.

Rewarding hard work with time off and social activities can be key. Just as important is recognising your staff's needs to be challenged and to feel like they are valued by you.

Relevant resources

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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