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Recognising and addressing Fatigue and ‘Burnout’

The concept of burnout is evolving in the time of Covid-19 with many of us managing a new remote working environment, juggling home responsibilities, and preparing for the new academic year whilst finding ourselves surrounded by social media pressure to make use of our time at home to bake the perfect sourdough and finish that first novel.

In these strange times with ever changing guidance, it is easy to start to experience decision fatigue with everyday activities requiring additional assessment e.g. am I structuring my work day effectively? Should I go to the high street for the kid’s start of school supplies? When will it be quieter for me to do the food shop?

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress that has not been successfully managed.

Burnout is defined by the World Health Organisation as follows:


“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • 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.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”


Working from home fatigue and burnout

Many of us are navigating a prolonged period of working from home which has meant adapting and adjusting to new working structures and technologies, a loss of connection and natural energy from being around colleagues and changes to the dynamic in working relationships. Underlying this for many is a sense of anticipatory anxiety about exactly when, and what, a return to work will look like.

Working within this context over a long period may promote feelings of vulnerability, leading to individuals overcompensating and working harder and harder, losing their sense of the boundaries between work and home and becoming unable to completely switch off.

Spotting signs of burnout in colleagues

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Burnout occurs when we forget to take time for ourselves to relax and practice self-care.

There are some tell-tale signs of burnout, Health Assured outline some key changes to look out for in colleagues:

  • Sudden change in mood
  • Drop in performance levels
  • Uncharacteristic behaviour
  • Reduced energy and efficiency
  • Decreased motivation

Common symptoms are prolonged and include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of energy
  • Continued fatigue
  • Sleep disorders
  • Reduced initiative
  • Reduced performance
  • Concentration or memory problems

Changes individuals can make to practice self-care and avoid the risk of burnout

Sleep

There is no one answer to the question “how much sleep do we need?” On average, it is said that 6-8 hours’ sleep per night is recommended, but some people need less and some people need more. The simplest answer to the question is that you need enough to feel refreshed in the morning and to stay awake and alert throughout the day.

Exercise

Exercise is an essential part of any healthy lifestyle, adults should aim to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity could be to complete 30 minutes during your usual commute time over 5 days a week.

Nurture relationships

Arranging to see friends or making use of technology to stay in touch with family and colleagues are all ways you can make connections with other people to help maintain your wellbeing.

Teams could consider setting up an online Wellbeing Hub to collate resources and enable connection opportunities.

Set boundaries

Putting structure into the day and setting boundaries for when you are working and not working will help with managing your energy and free up time to relax and practice self-care. Making use of your annual leave to take time away from the work environment is important.

A list of tips for better sleep

How to support individuals who have reached burnout

Have a Conversation

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If you recognise a colleague is displaying symptoms of fatigue or burnout, inviting them to discuss their wellbeing can be a helpful first step. Approach the conversation with understanding and compassion, avoid making assumptions by asking what they need from you so you can provide genuine support and signpost to available resources. If they are feeling vulnerable make sure to tell them what they do well and help them recognise that self-care is not selfish.

If you feel uncomfortable in initiating such a conversation, you may wish to enrol on the ‘How to have a Wellbeing Conversation’ module to get some tips. More information is available here.

Annual Leave

Encourage colleagues to use annual leave to help lessen the risk of burnout and exhaustion. Taking time away from the work environment will help refresh and recharge those individuals who have been stuck indoors with no change of scenery.

Identification and Management of Sources of Stress

If you are responsible for people management, there are a variety of resources available to help support the wellbeing of your staff including:

Staff Helpline - 0800 028 1947

The staff helpline and counselling service is provided by an independent external provider, Health Assured and is a means for all staff and their immediate families to access practical help, information, advice and support to address and resolve problems and issues they may be facing at home or at work.

The service is free, independent, confidential and available 24 hours a day.

More information is available here.

Looking for more tips and insight?

Listen to this Mental Health First Aid Podcast with Tony Piper, a Stress & Burnout Coach to learn more about what burnout looks like, what questions you can ask yourself to spot if you are nearing burnout and how you, your manager and the workplace can work together to help prevent burnout.

Watch this short webinar from Health Assured on the common symptoms of burnout, the changes that we can make to avoid the risks and the ways we can assist someone who has reached burnout: