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Workplace Wellbeing Series: Identifying and Managing Burnout

Burnout has become a growing concern in today's work environment.

This month's session of the Workplace Wellbeing Series had Dr. Sridevi Kalidindi, a Consultant Psychiatrist and National Clinical Lead from NHS and founder of Kilp Global shed light on what burnout is, most importantly, offering profound insights into its identification and management– both on individual and organisational levels.

Dr. Sridevi

Here's a detailed breakdown of the key learnings from our discussions:

Understanding Burnout:

The conversation began by distinguishing the difference between wellbeing and mental illness.

"Wellbeing is not on the same axis as mental illness’, you can have a mental illness (depression) but actually your wellbeing can be high and equally you can have no mental health issues whatsoever but have really low wellbeing".

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), burnout is classified as an occupational phenomenon, distinct from mental health disorders. It manifests in three core dimensions:

  • Chronic Exhaustion: Feeling drained and unable to engage in activities you normally enjoy.

  • Cynicism: Increased detachment from your work, often accompanied by cynicism or negativity.

  • Reduced Professional Efficacy: A decline in your sense of accomplishment and ability to perform your job effectively.

A man experiencing burnout at work

Signs of Burnout:

Identifying burnout involves recognising subtle yet persistent indicators. Individuals experiencing burnout often exhibit signs of exhaustion that transcend normal fatigue, hindering their ability to engage in activities they once enjoyed.

Moreover, they may develop an emotional disconnect from their work, characterised by cynicism or apathy. This detachment can be particularly striking in professions where empathy and compassion are integral, such as healthcare and HR roles. Additionally, burnout can manifest as a decline in functional efficiency, leading to decreased productivity and prolonged task completion times.

Causes of Burnout:

Understanding the root causes of burnout unveils a multifaceted interplay of factors.

Dr Kalidindi covered a number of organisational factors that can contribute including:

  • High perceived workload, irrespective of its objective reality, can induce stress and contribute to burnout.

  • Workplace dynamics characterised by bullying, harassment, or inadequate supervision can erode employee morale and well-being.

  • Lack of appreciation for employees' contributions and meaninglessness in work tasks can fuel burnout.

  • Organisational changes, such as constant restructuring or reorganisation, can further exacerbate feelings of alienation and helplessness, amplifying burnout risk.

Individual factors: Beyond external stressors, individual characteristics can predispose individuals to burnout.

Certain personality traits, such as neuroticism or excessive conscientiousness, may increase vulnerability to burnout. For example, individuals prone to self-criticism or those who excessively strive for perfection are at heightened risk.

Similarly, traits like workaholism, while initially associated with job satisfaction, can ultimately impede recovery and escalate burnout risk.

Identifying Burnout:

Recognising the early signs of burnout is crucial for timely intervention. Individuals experiencing burnout may exhibit heightened sensitivity to stimuli or drastic mood swings. They may also withdraw from social activities and experience a sense of disconnection from themselves and their surroundings.

By being attuned to these subtle cues, organisations can intervene proactively and provide the necessary support to prevent burnout from escalating.

Preventing Burnout:

Dr. Sridevi Kalidindi is dedicated not only to helping people survive but is passionate about helping individuals and organisations to thrive. She offered valuable insights into practical steps that can be taken to prevent burnout. With her knowledge and experience, we could have easily spent a day on this topic.

Proactively preventing burnout entails fostering an environment conducive to employee wellbeing. Central to this is the promotion of autonomy in the workplace, where employees are empowered to make decisions and manage their workload independently.

Conversely, micromanagement and a lack of trust can breed discontent and exacerbate burnout risk. Moreover, the attitude and support provided by line managers play a pivotal role in mitigating burnout. When managers prioritise employee welfare and offer adequate support, it fosters a sense of belonging and reduces the likelihood of burnout.

Individual Strategies:

Practice self-care through healthy habits like sleep, exercise, and relaxation techniques.

Set boundaries between work and personal life.

Seek support from colleagues, friends, or mental health professionals when needed.

The Future of Workplace Wellbeing: What Organisations Should Do?

Dr. Sridevi highlighted primary, secondary and tertiary actions to support employees. Primary includes things like psychological safety, leadership support and policies, secondary encompasses well-being activities building skills like resilience. With tertiary actions focusing on what you need in place you know once something like burnout already occurred.

“We focus on the secondary and that's good and needed but the primary stuff can be harder to implement. It takes strategy and time, a longer time. It needs to be tailored to understand what's needed in our organisation.“

Here are just some of the suggestions covered to address burnout in organisations. Adopting a multifaceted approach based on your context is key.

  • Implement Supportive Policies: This includes implementing clear and accessible policies for example flexible working, holiday policies, as well as ones that support employees through difficult life events like pregnancy, loss, adoption, moving/relocating, and menopause. They need to ensure that policies are not merely symbolic but are deeply ingrained in the organisational culture, aligning with its core values and actively supported at all levels.

  • Develop a Burnout Strategy: Looking ahead, organisations must adopt forward-thinking strategies to tackle burnout comprehensively. This involves developing tailored plans to address the unique stressors within their organisational context.

  • Offer Support Programs: Coaching, therapy, and programs promoting self-compassion and stress management can be helpful for employees (e.g., programs like those offered by Kilp Global). Fostering a culture of self-acceptance and self-compassion can empower employees to navigate stressors more resiliently. Dr. Kalidindi has seen the coaching and therapy or a blend of both working particularly well in organisations.

  • Psychoeducation for Employees: By fostering a culture of psychoeducation and open communication, organisations can enhance employees' awareness of burnout risk factors, help them recognise the signs and take preventative measures. This education gives employees and managers the language and understanding that enables more powerful conversations. Often promotion comes with managing other staff which requires new skills that the individual has not had an opportunity to develop and they don't get the support they need, leading them not to manage people particularly well. Line manager, attitude and support are one of the main factors that lead to burnout, and psychological safety and it is an opportunity for all organisations to focus on improving their line manager capabilities.

  • Benchmarking and Learning: Benchmarking against industry best practices and continuously iterating on interventions ensures ongoing improvement in managing burnout effectively. As the saying goes - what gets measured gets done. It also provides important data points to find opportunities for improvement and sense what is working.

In essence, by prioritising employee wellbeing, fostering a supportive work environment, and implementing proactive measures, organisations can cultivate resilience and mitigate the detrimental effects of burnout, thereby fostering a healthier and more sustainable workplace culture.

To learn more from Dr. Sridevi and how Kilp Global can help feel free to reach, join the Kilp WhatsApp community and check out the attachment with more information on how they can support you.

As part of Kilp Global’s commitment to your wellbeing, they have offered us access to a complimentary mindfulness session, register for it here

Once again, thank you for participating. We look forward to your feedback and hope to continue supporting you on your professional journey.

All best wishes,

The Rest Space team, Sri and the Klip team.

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