Job stress and burnout: The equal opportunity destroyer

Dr. Nancy D. O'Reilly
Tags: talent management

Jane has years of experience as a company executive, a demanding position that requires her to travel and manage multiple projects and deadlines.

These challenges often leave Jane feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. She admits that she is not handling the job pressures well, and is calling in sick and missing days on the job. In fact, going to work is increasingly hard and her stress has become a chronic issue. She feels tired all the time. Her acute stress is painful and she has not found ways to discharge it. Jane is in danger of burning out.

For many people, the phenomenon called "burnout" is a typical stress reaction. Simply put, burnout means a worker has lost motivation and job performance has declined; it can lead to termination or leaving the job. Its effects need to be dealt with immediately to prevent valuable, well-trained, experienced workers from walking out the door. This can and does affect the company's bottom line.

Stress has been called an equal opportunity destroyer. No one is immune from its effects. Some workers may express their stress openly but others may suppress and ignore stressor signals until they are desperately ill. Stress can cause physical symptoms such as headache, stomach problems, and ulcers and can leave employees vulnerable to disease. Emotional and behavioral stressors can also impact the overall productivity of the workplace. A worker who does not manage his or her stress may find that job performance declines and sick days increase.

Acute stress is painful but brief, and fortunately most employees readily find ways to discharge it. Chronic stress takes a terrible toll on the productivity of the workplace when it goes on for days, weeks, months or even years without being processed or discharged.

Employers need to know how stress is affecting workers and offer solutions for stressors to ensure their employees' well-being and continued fitness for duty. Various experts even say that 80 percent – even up to 100 percent of illness – is stress-related.

In the workplace, many workers even become addicted to their own adrenaline. They love the rush they feel when they are stressed to the max and pumping hard. This can apply to home or work or even exercise. These workers may crash and burn before they'll seek help for their addiction and drive at work.

Checking Workers' Stress

A wise employer or supervisor will monitor employees and notice if they are in danger of experiencing burnout. Is their job satisfaction and job performance declining? Does work seem harder to manage?

A symptom checklist can help workers identify if they are experiencing burnout and are at risk for illness and other severe consequences. Workers who check four or more symptoms need to act fast to keep from breaking down completely.

Workers may be burning out if they:

Stoking the Fires of Enthusiasm

Workers who check four or more of the symptoms above are probably in the process of burning out. Managers and supervisors will need to intervene now, before it's too late! Encourage workers to tailor these three simple steps to their own style and personality and they'll be well on their way to recovering vibrant energy and zest for life.

First, balance your lifestyle!

Second, create support systems.

Third, gain control over what you can and let go of what you can't.

Regaining One's Zest for Living and Working
Most important of all, workers (and employers and supervisors!) need to remember that life is really much too short to waste it feeling freaked out and frazzled. By restoring some balance between the demands of the workplace and personal life, people can douse burnout and prevent stress from taking its terrible toll. Every person needs to take time to manage their stress so they can enjoy life.

About the author:
Nancy D. O'Reilly, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist, researcher and founder of the WomenSpeak Project, an online resource based on a decade of research about aging in a youth-driven society. A member of the American Psychological Association, she is the author of, "You Can't Scare Me: Courageous Women Speak About Growing Older in a Youth-Oriented Society."