Beating Stress and Burnout at Work

Workplace changes since the economic downturn
In my work within the private and public sector, there has been a marked, and almost consistent across the board, change in the way that businesses have operated since the global economic downturn in 2008. This shift has seen either a reduction in the number of employees while the volume of work hasn't decreased or the volume of work has increased, but the number of employees hasn't increased. This is proving to be a challenge to getting the work done on time and to a satisfactory standard, as well as having a negative impact on employees' wellbeing, e.g. stress and burnout.

Doing more with less
As result of high workloads, whether as a result of fewer employees or an increase in the number of tasks, companies often find that they are asking employees to do more with less. More work with less resources, be they physical or technical, and the stress of this is meaning that employees are struggling to meet the demands of managers and directors, as well as putting a strain on being able to meet the standards that their customers expect and deserve.

Stress and burnout
I've observed first hand the impact that this has had on employees to the detriment of their health. Very capable and skilled professionals were pushing themselves to the limit with the consequence being that their physical and mental health was failing. The demands of increasing workloads had led to cases where the levels of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout had increased amongst employees. Not only was this having a serious and negative impact for individuals, it also meant that their work output suffered. In a large number of cases, employees were being signed off sick from work, in order to recover. The knock on effect to companies was that work standards suffered and in the instances where employees are signed off work sick, their workload often needs to be picked up by remaining employees and placing a greater burden on them, leading to a downward spiral of stress and burnout.

The way forward
The field of positive psychology is developing evidence-based interventions that enable people to play to their strengths and build resilience, which can combat stress and burnout. These can have a genuine value to workplaces where employees are struggling to keep up with the workload.

Resilience interventions can have the immediate benefit of offering ways in which employees can cope better in stressful situations and buffer against burnout. This can lead employees to be better prepared to meet their workloads and maintain their wellbeing.

The science of strengths suggests that when employees are aware of their strengths and are able to apply them more often in the workplace then there is increased employee engagement, productivity, job satisfaction and wellbeing. Additionally, I've had reports of reduced stress levels and numbers of days taken off sick by employees.

Job crafting
I encourage companies to look for ways in which job descriptions and workplace tasks can be reshaped, in order to allow employees to apply their strengths more often and carry out tasks where their strengths can be put to good use. Again, this is positively impacting on the output of employees and reducing stress and burnout.

You may just find that applying your strengths more often can increase productivity, work engagement, wellbeing and job satisfaction