Burnout: the numbers are rising

Increasing numbers of people are displaying symptoms of burnout before they reach their 30s. Afriforte, the commercial arm of North West University’s Work Well unit, discovered that 17% of people under 30 faced a serious risk of burnout.

Burnout is physical, mental and emotional exhaustion linked to working too much.

Work Well associate professor Ina Rothmann examined data from 33 679 employees and found that individuals with burnout were much more likely than other workers to rate their productivity as poor, to suffer from depression or anxiety, to be overweight, to suffer from heart disease and to claim from medical aid schemes.

Rothmann says many employees felt that they could not cope with the amount of work they had.

Sufferers from burnout often say things such as: “I am running on autopilot at a very fast pace, but it feels like I am staying in the same place”, or “I constantly found myself getting short with staff, family and friends, and then switching off from them all together.”

Causes of burnout include insufficient sleep, dull and repetitive work, unrealistic deadlines and unsupportive managers.

People with burnout often feel cynical and experience a false sense of failure. They might distance themselves from friends or family.

Rothmann says secretaries had a high risk of burnout, with 72% of people in administrative jobs at serious risk.

One reason could be that secretaries often have little control over their job, which makes many unexpected demands on them, and they are plagued by interruptions.

“They feel stuck, with little opportunity for career movement,” she says.

Many administrative employees find the work fast-paced but not challenging.

Managers can help employees avoid burnout by ensuring that the workload is suited to the employee’s abilities , showing appreciation of effort, ensuring clear communication, and by providing an environment free of gossip and bullying.

Many workplaces offer gyms or exercise classes to help employees stay healthy. But Jaco Pienaar, a professor at Work Well, says gym wasn’t always the answer.

“If people don’t have psychological resources left, then putting a treadmill in the office doesn’t help.

“I think gym is just bit of a fad,” Pienaar says.

By Katharine Child for www.timeslive.co.za

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