The Equal Opportunity Destroyer:
Stress and Burnout on the Job
By Dr. Nancy D. O'Reilly
has years of experience as a marketing executive, a demanding
position that requires her to travel and manage multiple projects
and deadlines. These challenges often leave Jane feeling exhausted
and overwhelmed. She admits that she is not handling the job
pressures well, and is calling in sick and missing days on the job.
In fact, going to work is increasingly hard and her stress has
become a chronic issue. She feels tired all the time. Her acute
stress is painful and she has not found ways to discharge it. Jane
is in danger of burning out.
For many people, the phenomenon called
“burnout” is a typical stress reaction. Simply put, burnout means a
worker has lost motivation and job performance has declined; it can
lead to termination or leaving the job. Its effects need to be dealt
with immediately to prevent valuable, well-trained, experienced
workers from walking out the door. This can and does affect the
company’s bottom line.
Stress has been called an equal
opportunity destroyer. No one is immune from its effects. Some
workers may express their stress openly but others may suppress and
ignore stressor signals until they are desperately ill. Stress can
cause physical symptoms such as headache, stomach problems, and
ulcers and can leave employees vulnerable to disease. Emotional and
behavioral stressors can also impact the overall productivity of the
workplace. A worker who does not manage his or her stress may find
that job performance declines and sick days increase.
Acute stress is painful but brief, and
fortunately most employees readily find ways to discharge it.
Chronic stress takes a terrible toll on the productivity of the
workplace when it goes on for days, weeks, months, or even years
without being processed or discharged.
Employers need to know how stress is
affecting workers and offer solutions for stressors to ensure their
employees’ wellbeing and continued fitness for duty. Various experts
even say that 80 percent –- even up to 100 percent of illness -- is
In the workplace, many workers even
become addicted to their own adrenaline. They love the rush they
feel when they are stressed to the max and pumping hard. This can
apply to home or work or even exercise. These workers may crash and
burn before they’ll seek help for their addiction and drive at work.
Checking Workers’ Stress: A wise
employer or supervisor will monitor employees and notice if they are
in danger of experiencing burnout. Is their job satisfaction and job
performance declining? Does work seem harder to manage? A symptom
checklist can help workers identify if they are experiencing burnout
and are at risk for illness and other severe consequences. Workers
who check four or more symptoms need to act fast to keep from
breaking down completely.
Workers may be burning out if they:
Often forget things. (What 10
Feel unusual fatigue. (Can’t I go
Suffer from insomnia. (Watching old
movies at 3 am)
Experience changes in appetite.
(Ravenous or nothing looks good.) This can be associated with
weight changes as well.
Experience changes in behavior and
mood. (Leave me alone or I’ll kill you!)
Often feel grumpy and crabby.
Get sick a lot. (My third cold this
Want to withdraw from others. (Go
Feel anxiety and worry. (Now what’s
Stoking the Fires of Enthusiasm:
Workers who check four or more of the symptoms above are probably in
the process of burning out. Managers and supervisors will need to
intervene now, before it’s too late! Encourage workers to tailor
these three simple steps to their own style and personality and
they’ll be well on their way to recovering vibrant energy and zest
First, Balance Your Lifestyle!
Nobody’s perfect - why expect or demand that of yourself? For
that matter, why expect or demand perfection from someone else?
upon your unique strengths to cope. Do the things that help you
feel calm and centered. If you’ve forgotten what those are, you
need to invest more in yourself so you can reconnect with what
let one aspect of life dominate the others. Do you have a hobby
or other activity you enjoy? If not, things are getting out of
you constantly feel you are out of time? Then it’s time to cross
off something you don’t enjoy. Let someone else do it! Who
knows, they just might enjoy it.
Second, Create Support Systems
It’s tough feeling alone,
especially in the middle of a group of busy people. So find
people you can talk to at work, at home, or in the community.
Find a place or activity that’s stress-free.
Share something with someone. Join
a professional organization or socialize with people in your
field who work for different employers. Everyone needs to be
able to talk over work problems.
Become a mentor or resource for
someone else, perhaps in your own workplace, or your church, or
other organization. Realizing how much you have to offer to
others can be a great antidote to frustration and burnout.
Third, Gain Control Over What You
Can And Let Go Of What You Can’t.
Remember that no one is indispensable. Find a better way to get
the job done rather that just doing more of the same.
to see opportunities instead of problems. It may be time to
review your career goals if you are working just to earn money.
Many people find that if they can do what they love, they love
what they do.
Schedule your days (and weeks, months, years) and work your
plan. Investigate ways to adjust your schedule with flex-time,
job-sharing or taking a new job.
a mentor you respect. You are not the first person to struggle
with work-life balance, and other people, (even your boss),
might have a lot of suggestions to offer.
Regaining One’s Zest for Living and
Working: Most important of all, workers (and employers and
supervisors!) need to remember that life is really much too short to
waste it feeling freaked out and frazzled. By restoring some balance
between the demands of the workplace and personal life, people can
douse burnout and prevent stress from taking its terrible toll.
Every person needs to take time to manage their stress so they can
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