Burnout has nothing to do with overexertion

RTS12CIFGabrielle Lurie / ReutersMore and more people are tired from their work.

We analyzed the General Social Survey 2016 and found that people today claim that they are overexerted twice as often as they did 20 years ago.

And more than 50 percent said that this is mainly because of the work. These are alarming numbers.

But what is particularly shocking about it: The statistics show that there is a connection between loneliness and overexertion. The more people overwork, the more lonely they feel – and vice versa.

Loneliness drives people into burnout

This loneliness is not just the result of social isolation, as one would think. This loneliness is caused more by emotional exhaustion, by burnout. When we did research for The Happiness Track, we found that 50 percent of people – no matter where they work, from the nonprofit to the medical field – felt burned out. Burnout is not a problem for over-stressed managers (although the high numbers of loneliness and burnout in this group speak for themselves). Our research shows that the problem exists across all industries and all hierarchies.

Loneliness, whether it comes from social isolation or overexertion, has dire consequences for those affected. John Cacioppo, who is considered to be a leading expert in the research field of loneliness and co-author of the book “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection”, speaks of devastating effects on psychological and physical health and life expectancy.

Studies by Sarah Pressman of the University of California, Irvine, have shown that being overweight shortens life expectancy in 20 percent, alcohol in 30 percent, smoking in 50 percent, and loneliness in 70 percent.

Also read: The truth about burnout that many don’t want to hear

One study even suggests that the chances of a heart attack or heart disease – the number one killer in industrialized countries – increase by 30 percent through loneliness. Conversely, the feeling of emotional security can strengthen our immune system, extend life and massively reduce anxiety and depression.

Anyone who has felt it once will confirm it: loneliness is a painful experience. The brain even perceives it as physical pain. And that emotion has a direct impact on productivity because people develop a kind of indifference.

As the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and Gallup have shown, this indifference and social isolation also causes high costs for companies: 37 percent more sick people, 49 percent more accidents, 16 percent less profitable and one cause 65 percent lower stock price over the years.

In the meantime, experts and companies are also trying to counter the growing number of burnout cases. Most recommend reducing stress, demanding sustainability and reducing workload – which treats burnout as an individual condition. But the connection to loneliness suggests that social ties inside and outside work are likely to be the key to solving the problem.

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RTS12CI6 (1)
Gabrielle Lurie / Reuters

Studies even show a relationship between social relationships in the workplace and lower burnout rates as well as more satisfaction and higher productivity. In the end, what counts when it comes to how happy you are at work, especially how well you get along with your colleagues, suggests a British study. Those who get involved in their work build up valuable relationships, feel valued, supported, respected and safe.

And if you feel connected to others, studies show that you have a higher level of mental well-being, which has a direct impact on productivity and performance. Social connection also leads to greater self-confidence, which means that the employees also appear more trustful, empathetic and cooperative – and vice versa they also get this openness from others.

So what can bosses and employees do?

Promotes a work culture based on integration and empathy

A study by Kim Cameron, author of the book “Positive Leadership” and lecturer at the University of Michigan, shows that workplaces in which people take care of each other, support, respect each other, are honest with each other and sometimes mistakes can happen are one have higher productivity.

You want to strengthen relationships and promote warm, friendly and understanding dealings. Empathy is the most important tool in the fight against burnout and overwork, studies say. Jane Dutton, a professor at the University of Michigan and co-author of the book Awakening Compassion at Work, argues in an article that compassion is probably the most important thing for a good workplace culture.

Encourage your employees to build networks

Your employees need networks, small groups of colleagues who can ask for advice. In many companies, such networks are left to chance. You could promote education by assigning new employees “onboarding partners”, starting mentoring programs, engaging coaches and consultants.

Try to remove any barriers that could prevent your employees from turning to colleagues. Leave them space on the calendar, offer them contacts, enable them to carry out their hobbies privately together.

Celebrate everything you have mastered as a team

A happy hour is unfortunately always over very quickly. But if you celebrate great success with the employees, then you bind them emotionally to the organization, they feel secure. One of the best examples in this area is the South African startup incubator Awethu. Every time a new employee came to one of the startups, a bell was rung, everyone stopped what they were doing and cheered instead. It is a ritual that builds solidarity and strengthens belonging. And all of this can help prevent burnout.

Companies don’t even know what they are putting at risk if they risk that their employees will be lonely – and fall into burnout. A British study suggests that loneliness costs employers billions every year and that burnout costs hundreds of billions of dollars in health care. Research is unanimous. Now only managers and executives need to recognize this and fight the epidemic.

This article was published by in September 2018. It has now been checked and updated again.


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