HEALTH | 12.27.2023
Burnout and mental health in the workplace. What steps can we take for self-care?
Who hasn’t come across the concept of “feeling burned out at work” at some point?
In today’s working world, where the demands for performance and constant digital engagement have soared to unprecedented heights, the term “burnout” is no longer a mere abstract concept; it has transformed into a tangible reality. This pervasive phenomenon affects workers across diverse sectors globally, with particular concern arising for the younger generations who seem to be especially susceptible to its impact.
What is burnout?
We’re talking about more than mere fatigue or weariness. Burnout encompasses emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion (including feelings of negativity, cynicism, depression, and more). It stems from prolonged or continuous exposure to elevated stress levels in the workplace, ultimately impacting the physical and mental well-being of employees.
Since 2019, with the implementation of the World Health Organization’s ICD-11 disease classification, this condition has been officially recognized as an “occupational phenomenon” rather than a medical condition. This nuanced distinction allows for a more targeted approach, addressing the issue from the perspective of the workplace context rather than placing the sole emphasis on the individual. This shift in perspective underscores the pivotal role of company policies and practices in effectively preventing burnout.
Causes of Workplace Burnout
Continuous and excessive work-related stress, known as burnout, is a nuanced and multi-faceted phenomenon. However, we can identify four broad areas that contribute to its emergence.
- Excessive Pressure
The imposition of excessive demands in the workplace, be it in terms of workload or unrealistic expectations regarding task complexity and time constraints, is a prevalent source of burnout. For the younger generations, there’s an added pressure to constantly prove themselves in an increasingly dynamic and competitive job market.
- Lack of Autonomy and Clarity in Responsibilities
Many employees navigate their workdays without a clear understanding of the boundaries of their responsibilities or the timeframes allocated for tasks. Additionally, the absence of autonomy or control over one’s own work adds to this challenge.
- Failure to Disconnect Between Work and Personal Life
The growing difficulty in disengaging from work, driven by constant digital connectivity, significantly contributes to exhaustion. The line between professional and personal life becomes blurred, making it difficult to find time and space for recuperation, rest, and meaningful leisure activities.
- Job Insecurity
Instability on the job introduces an additional layer of stress. The lack of job security can lead to constant anxiety, intensifying burnout as individuals grapple with the uncertainty of job retention and the potential for advancement in terms of responsibilities and financial compensation.
What are the repercussions of burnout in the workplace?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 27% of workers globally face elevated levels of work-related stress, directly contributing to the onset of burnout. Additionally, 15% of active workers grapple with some form of mental disorder.
These consequences result not only in a global loss of twelve billion working days each year but also establish a direct correlation between burnout and conditions like anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, burnout in the workplace poses a threat to talent retention. This concern has intensified in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent trend known as “the great resignation”.
How can we avoid burnout?
As previously highlighted, burnout in the workplace is an occupational condition. Addressing it involves not only organizational measures but also adopting personal strategies to help navigate pressure.
- What I can do to avoid burnout
Mastering the art of setting boundaries, both within the professional realm through assertive communication and in drawing the line between work and personal life is essential. Additionally, dedicating time to physical exercise, embracing relaxation or meditation practices, and cultivating hobbies that facilitate a genuine mental break from the work environment contribute significantly to alleviating the impact of excessive stress.
- What companies can do to avoid employee burnout
Fostering a healthy work environment is an essential, priority responsibility for companies.
This encompasses establishing clear time limits for work, implementing policies that support a harmonious work-life balance, nurturing transparent, direct communication channels, providing avenues for continuous learning, offering prospects for professional growth and mobility, and actively addressing detrimental behaviors such as abuse of power or discrimination.
In addition to these measures, the WHO and the ILO establish protocols, frameworks, and tools for measuring and preventing burnout. One accessible and practical tool for both companies and individuals is the Stress Prevention Checkpoints app, which facilitates swift collection and analysis of areas requiring attention.
How MAPFRE protects the health of its employees
At MAPFRE, we implement a global model for Healthy Company Management, serving as a framework to cultivate a health-conscious workplace and instill positive lifestyle habits among our employees. This model is structured around five domains: work environment, health promotion, physical activity and nutrition, mental well-being, and personal environment.
We have implemented programs for training, self-learning, and career development, ensuring that our employees have the tools to continually learn and progress. In addition to these, we have established recognition and mentoring programs aimed at helping both new and seasoned employees understand their value, responsibilities, achievements, and areas for improvement, all underscored by comprehensive and ongoing performance evaluations.
Moreover, we have immediate and direct communication channels, facilitated, for example, through our People app, streamlining HR-related transactions.
Beyond the confines of the office, MAPFRE is dedicated to promoting a healthy work-life balance, as evidenced by policies that have led to our EFR certification, endorsed by the Ministry of Equality, recognized as a Good Practice by the UN—an esteemed acknowledgment in the realm of work-life balance and equality in Spain. We implement programs for physical and emotional health, coupled with measures for digital disconnection and reconciliation, all aimed at fostering the well-being of our workforce. This includes informative campaigns, promotional activities for mental well-being, and access to psychological counseling services for employees and their families.
Additionally, we are staunch advocates for diversity management in all facets of our operations, recognizing its decisive impact on the personal and professional well-being of our employees. Satisfied professionals are not only more productive but also more deeply engaged with the company, leading to greater personal happiness. A better employee experience translates into superior contributions, generating positive effects on individuals’ well-being both personally and professionally.
Finally, our measurement model enables us to evaluate an employee engagement index across various dimensions, facilitating the identification of areas for improvement and the establishment of practices that contribute to creating a healthier work environment. In 2022, the engagement index reached 70, representing the percentage of employees who rated ten key variables with an average score of 8, 9 or 10. These variables include understanding of objectives, pride in work accomplished, recognition for work done, contribution to the company, receiving quality feedback, development opportunities, collaboration, working tools, taking care of people, and pride in social impact.