Career

Burnout: What to do when the stress at work gets too much

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Available around the clock, increasing pressure, lack of work-life balance: constant stress for months or even years can make you sick. Nevertheless, in many ways our society is geared towards the fact that everyone always has to function. Preferably at 200 percent.

This manifests itself in employment contracts that stipulate a maximum number of weekly overtime hours without compensation or payment. Or in the office, for whom it is all about who sits the longest – whoever goes home earlier than the others gets at least a wry look. Around half of all employees in Germany work more than contractually agreed. Managers spend an average of seven hours longer in the office each week.

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified burnout syndrome as a factor affecting health. Chronic stress in the workplace creates a feeling of being burned out – which in turn can lead to negative attitudes towards the job and lower performance. This is what the WHO writes in its definition.

There is no valid number of how many Germans are affected by the symptom. The absence report, which the Scientific Institute of the AOK publishes every year, clearly shows the problem. The number of mental illnesses and the resulting absenteeism has increased by more than 64 percent over the past ten years. In 2018, 11.4 percent of all job sicknesses were due to mental illness – making it the third most common cause of absenteeism. In the case of mental illness, those affected are usually absent for a long period of time: an average of 26.3 days. That is about twice as long as with other diseases.

Being able to say no: an important skill

But why do we keep overworking ourselves even though that hurts us in the long term? And for our employer, too, it is no benefit if we are absent for several weeks at some point. So what can we do?

Martina Ruiß has headed the human resources department at Personio, a Munich-based software provider for HR management and recruiting, for around three years. She observes again and again that young people in particular create unnecessary stress. They want to prove themselves, but at the same time they still lack the necessary self-organization. They often set priorities incorrectly or not at all. Saying no to a new task, even if the previous project isn’t finished? Absolutely no way.

“This quickly becomes overwhelming,” explains Ruiß in an interview with NewsABC.net. Your impression: Young adults who have just finished university or school want to impress and surpass themselves – and thereby perceive stress that does not necessarily have to be external.

“Pressure can come from other people,” says the HR manager. “But you can also make it yourself.” Stress in the workplace is influenced by many factors. An important step, on the other hand, is to prioritize, better organize yourself and also reject tasks within your own structure if you are overwhelmed. In short: to say no sometimes.

Separate work and private life

In addition, the boundaries between everyday work and leisure are increasingly blurring. “A lot goes on in the head,” says Ruiss. “Even if you are no longer at work.” Very few employees drop their pens on time and thus rest their work until the next day. Especially in the home office – as many advantages as this way of working has – we are usually on call. We also use business cell phones and smartphones privately. Reading e-mails after work is often preprogrammed.

Switching off works this way, however, less. “It’s hard to let go,” says Martina Ruiß. In order to be able to perform again the next day, relaxation is urgently needed. Anyone who works in the home office should therefore pay attention to a regulated structure – just like a day in the office. This includes switching off the laptop after a certain number of hours – and the company cell phone at the same time. Small rituals or a hobby can also be helpful.

What is also decisive is what the manager exemplifies. Because if the boss is not always available, it rubs off on the employees. “That has a very positive message in the company,” says the HR expert. Ideally, bosses shouldn’t contact their employees outside of their working hours.

Work performance beats work time

“We don’t praise anyone because they work several hours in addition,” says Martina Ruiß. Instead, the focus should be on the performance that an employee brings – and not on how long they plow every day. “When the results are available, you can stop earlier,” says the HR manager. And we shouldn’t judge ourselves based on how long – and preferably without a break – we work every day, but rather the quality of our output.

Individual agreements with the manager and flexible working models can also counteract a revision. “It’s about employees bringing good results,” says Ruiß. And thus bring added value to the company.

Silence is not always “gold”

Anyone who feels overwhelmed in their job should seek an interview. On the other hand, the employer has to create the necessary relationship of trust. “If someone comes and opens up, that shouldn’t be dismissed,” says the HR manager. You and your team therefore regularly seek talks with the company’s managers – but also with the employees. “To know how they are doing,” says Ruiß. Because burnout is an illness – which, undetected, means that an employee may at some point no longer be able to work.

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