WORKER STRESS AND BURNOUT
Worker stress and burnout are a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that occurs when an employee feels overwhelmed with his duties and responsibilities at work, disabling him to live up to expectations. As stressors continue to place demands on him, he begins to lose the motivation that made him take on the position in the first place (Gryna, 2004).
Although stress is a prerequisite of burnout, burnout does not necessarily result from too much stress. For burnout to come about, psychological involvement is necessary. An employee can live with stress and even enjoy it sometimes, but there will come a point when the scale would tip over and he would feel like there is no way forward for him. For many this is precipitated by various factors such as losing sight of one’s priorities, violence in the workplace, lack of support from one’s bosses, and many more.
The process of burning out is often subtle; it develops gradually and occurs in stage. The person most affected is usually the last person to perceive it, because he is usually the last person to believe it could take place.
While burnout is principally a psychological condition, its common manifestations are physical symptoms. Classical symptoms include feeling tired most of the time, irritability, getting sick more often, pessimism, withdrawal from interpersonal relationships, increased absenteeism, emotional exhaustion, and being less effective at work.
Burnout may not be a recognized clinical psychological or psychiatric disorder, but some of the features mentioned above also manifest in diagnosable conditions like anxiety, depression and mood disorders. However, burnout is usually temporary, more common, and less severe in comparison and is mostly caused by circumstantial stressors rather than biologically mandated chemical imbalances.
STRESSFUL ASPECTS OF THE WORK ENVIRONMENT
Work-related stress can be defined as the destruction of one’s devotion to work that causes one to fail to produce desired results. Anyone who thinks he is overworked yet underpaid and undervalued is at risk of getting burned out. When this feeling is combined with doubts about competence and performance at work, an employee can face problems that may affect his health.
Job burnout can result from the following:
- Lack of control – the incapacity to influence decisions that concern an employee’s job (such as work schedule, task partners, assignments, or workload)
- Overwhelming or underwhelming tasks – set of tasks that are either monotonous in nature or are too large to easily finish
- Unclear job expectations – ambiguous job description, level of authority, and expectations from superiors
- Lack of Recognition – not being recognized for efforts, skills and time sacrificed for work, making employee feel like he is not a valued member of the organization
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics – workplace dynamics that undercut productivity and efficiency, drive customers away, and increases sick days and work avoidance in general
- Mismatch in values – employee having differing value from that of his employer or the business
- Poor job fit – employee having a job that does not fit his skills or interests
- Lack of social interaction – having no one at work to socialize with or who can act as a support system
Still, burnout is not solely caused by having too many responsibilities or by stressful work. Certain lifestyle habits, personality traits, and other factors also contribute to it. How much you let your personal problems affect your work and what you do in your spare time play big roles in causing burnout.
IMPLICATION OF STRESS AND WORKER BURNOUT ON THE EMPLOYEE
Many studies show that job burnout not only affects an employee’s work but also leave negative effects on his psychological health and personal and social life (Maslach & Leiter, 2008). The pressures of work can cause long-term changes on his body, making him vulnerable to common illnesses like fever, colds, and flu. Stress at the right level is actually a good thing that challenges employees to give their best, encourages their creativity and stimulates healthy competitiveness. When the pressures become overwhelming, stress results to burnout that could get in the employee’s way of achieving success. He may feel disconnected from people around him, have lower energy level in performing his activities of daily living, and also experience strain on both his personal and professional relationships. The following are some of the possible direct and indirect effects of stress and burnout on affected workers:
- Disorganization – Workers with unhealthy levels of stress are less effective in managing their time and thus become disorganized in the workplace. Having a team depend on a burned out employee negatively impacts the efficiency of the rest of the members.
- Lower productivity – Burnout can cause workers to miss their deadlines and quotas or cause them to clog up their workflows and complete their assigned tasks at abnormally slow rates.
- Wasted time – Burned out employees often spend more time on non-work related activities such as being on the phone with friends, doing online shopping and retouching make up, causing them to lose their focus on work.
- Lower quality of work – People who are overstressed tend to make more mistakes and take less ownership of the products and services they produced.
- Attitude problems – Burned out employees tend to complain a lot and often are more cynical, pessimistic, impatient, irritable, less social, and disagreeable.
- Weak immune system - Stress may worsen pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, hypertension, and diabetes.
IMPACT OF STRESS AND WORKER BURNOUT ON ORGANIZATIONS
One of the most common negative impacts of worker burnout on employees is a reduction in job effectiveness (Maslach, 1982). A study conducted to investigate the relationship between emotional exhaustion and employee’s supervisory job performance rating proved that the two variables are inversely related, which means that the more emotionally exhausted an employee is, the lower his effectiveness in the workplace becomes. (Wright & Cropanzano, 1998). As an employee’s productivity decreases, so would the organization’s overall functions. There will be fewer goods and services produced for customers and the company will earn less profit.
While this scenario chiefly affects management, some of the other negative effects of employee burnout include the following:
- More sick time leaves – Workers suffering from burnout usually get sick and thus need to seek medical attention more often or stay at home to recuperate. This means more sick time leaves will be used throughout the year.
- Higher turnover rate – When employees stop being satisfied by their job, they start looking for new ones. Burned out workers are more likely to resign. When they do, the organization would lose manpower, look for new employees to employ, and spend money to train them.
- Bad business image – Consumers consider seeing the same set of employees and being served by a consistent team as signs of good business.
- Increased errors – Workers who are mentally, physically and emotionally drained are less likely to pay attention to their tasks and thus are more likely to make mistakes. Increased errors would lower the quality of products, thus the organization would make less profit over time.
Most organizations view stress and burnout as problems of their employees that can be resolved with employee incentives or stress relief activities in the workplace. The truth is that both issues are often caused by organizational dynamics such as an ineffective management, presence of health hazards in the workplace or unrewarding tenure. Focusing solely on the responses of individuals to stressors is a waste of time, money and energy. Because worker burnout can be costly, employers should take the initiative to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Barnett, R. C., Gareis, K. C., & Brennan, R. T. (1999). Fit as a mediator of the relationship between work hours and burnout. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 4: 307–317.
Gryna, F. M. (2004). Work Overload!: Redesigning Jobs to Minimize Stress and Burnout (Illustrated Ed.). Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Quality Press.
Leiter, M. P. (1991). Coping patterns as predictors of burnout: The functions of control and escapist coping patterns. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 12: 123–144.
Maslach, C. (1982). Burnout: The Cost of Caring. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Maslach, C. & Leiter, M. P. (2008). The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Wright, T. A., & Cropanzano, R. (1998). Emotional exhaustion as a predictor of job performance and voluntary turnover. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83: 486–493.