Burnout at work: symptoms, causes and how to protect employees

February 10, 2023

Stress can make people sick and lead to burnout in the long run. This widespread condition describes exhaustion that is accompanied by a loss of motivation and a lack of energy. It costs the German economy billions every year due to sickness-related absences and declining efficiency. How can companies counteract this?

Likeminded Editorial Team

Table of Content

What is a burnrout syndrom?

Burnout is a syndrome that describes various complaints that fall primarily into the categories of physical and emotional exhaustion.

Often, various factors can contribute to burnout. Causes of burnout include:

  • high time pressure
  • great responsibility
  • poorly defined criteria for success
  • lack of room for maneuver
  • difficulties to distance oneself
  • high-performance standards of the company
  • financial pressure
  • persistent stress
  • lack of rest

These can originate from the professional as well as private environment.

How does burnout manifest itself physically?

The symptoms of burnout are often divided into three areas of complaint.

1. Exhaustion: affected people often describe the feeling of inner emptiness, lack of energy, tiredness or dejection. Physically, this can manifest by stomach problems, sleeping problems, back pain, headaches or other pains.

2. Alienation: many people affected, develop a high emotional distance from their work, sometimes also from colleagues.

3. Reduced performance: burnout also manifests itself in a lack of concentration, listlessness and lack of creativity. Many that are affected also feel overworked or overwhelmed by their tasks.

It should be noted, however, that there is no clear and conclusive list of complaints.

What to do at first signs of burnout?

If there are signs of burnout, it is recommended to contact a doctor or psychologist. For many, their primary care physician is the first point of contact. However, the biggest hurdle is often that the affected person recognizes and accepts their condition themselves.

Can I go to work with burnout?

A person affected by burnout should not work, as they are usually no longer fit to work. In addition, they should not end their therapy or recovery measures too early. It is advisable to maintain these initially even when re-entering working life, otherwise a relapse may be likely. A therapy of four to eight weeks is usually a good period of time.

How long is sick leave granted in the event of burnout?

Employees are allowed to take up to six weeks of sick leave per year without the threat of termination in Germany. During this time, the employer is obliged to continue paying the salary. If the employee has been with the company for more than 5 years, this increases to 8 weeks, and to 12 weeks if the employee has been with the company for 15+ years. This period is followed by a further 4 weeks, during which the advance pay is half of the previous salary.

It is important for those affected to obtain a medical certificate. However, this does not have to state the reason for the sick leave. If the illness lasts longer than six weeks, the health insurance pays sick pay. This can be claimed for at least 26 weeks.

There is no protection against a termination of contract during sick leave. In the event of termination during sick leave, the employment relationship ends on the last day of the notice period. However, there is still an entitlement to continued payment of wages until the person concerned has recovered, but at most until the entitlement to continued payment of wages has been exhausted.

Tips for preventing burnout within the team

  • Communication about mental health at work within the team
  • Confidential persons who are available for one-on-one meetings
  • Learning to recognize and communicate feelings
  • Solution-oriented communication with employees
  • Open dialogue about professional and personal goals
  • Understanding within the team/company
  • Meditation exercises to reduce stress
  • The separation between work and free time, which should also be adhered to by managers
  • Establishing hobbies as a coping mechanism against stress
  • Recognizing warning signs of burnout, such as exhaustion and irritability
  • Creating an optimistic workplace that promotes serenity

It's finally Friday, the week is over, but your employees can't relax yet? Instead, their thoughts are focused on tasks that still need to be done, the upcoming meeting on Monday, and the email that still needs to be answered — Maybe just quickly this evening?

Stress can make you sick in the long run and often leads to burnout - a feeling of exhaustion that is accompanied by a loss of motivation, lack of energy, and reduced effectiveness. Chronic stress in the workplace is "contagious" and can affect the entire team. Avoiding stress and, ultimately, burnout means avoiding mistakes, reducing absenteeism due to illness, and increasing overall job satisfaction. In this article, you will find some helpful tips on how to actively counteract burnout, which resources can prevent burnout in the team, and how to deal with burnout in the team.

How to help employees prevent burnout

Physical and mental health go hand in hand and significantly impact job satisfaction and effectiveness. But how can stress and burnout be avoided? It all starts with the communication about the causes and consequences of stress, which provides the foundation for a trusting working relationship that determines loyalty, initiative, and, ultimately, productivity. This includes communication throughout the team as well as personal conversations with confidential persons. It is also important to understand what each individual can do to avoid stress or how to deal with a given amount of stress.

Recognizing one's feelings and communicating them sometimes is not that easy. Employees should regularly reflect on their feelings and try to name them: Am I angry, overworked, frustrated, feeling misunderstood, or not heard? A Burnout Counselor can help understand the source of these feelings and support employees in finding solutions to these dissatisfactions before they lead to self-doubts and burnout. Pressure and the lack of recognition can increase one's own frustration.

Positive communication should be the base for a good atmosphere at work. On the one hand, this means that criticism should be communicated as constructively as possible. “We are dissatisfied with the end result” could mean 'we want to go in a different direction”. Criticism should also always be accompanied by notes that help to internalize it and do better next time.

On the other hand, positive feedback is a good way to show employees that they, as a person and also their work are appreciated. Talking about successes contributes significantly to job satisfaction. Especially in relation to the job, it can be helpful for employees to remember their own goals and ask themselves how their job enriches their lives:

  • What made me start this job?
  • What are my short-, medium- and long-term goals?
  • How does my job fit into these plans?

Open dialogue about professional and personal goals promotes a sense of being heard and understood and can strengthen the bond between employees and the company.

How to prevent burnout within the team

In the workplace, which is usually dominated by numbers, KPIs, optimization, and increased efficiency, it can happen that the will to optimize processes challenges humanity. No one is perfect, and it's important to keep reminding yourself that people are not machines. Empathy can sharpen this understanding - it's worth being gentle with yourself and others.

Being mindful of one's own physical and mental health can be supported by regular exercise, a healthy diet, and enough sleep. It is important that both employees and managers pay attention to the balance between productivity and relaxation periods. Are there enough breaks, or do employees spend their lunch break on the computer? No one should feel bad about clearing their head in between, having a quiet lunch, or taking a walk.

But getting out of the thought patterns of a stressful workplace is sometimes not that easy – especially when you have to take care of important projects. But maintaining calm in busy periods is something that can be practiced – by the whole team.

For example, meditation exercises can help focus on a specific thing – such as the tip of the nose or breathing - so that upcoming thoughts don't take over control. Mindfulness experts can teach exercises that help employees actively counteract stress. According to studies, being present in the moment also helps to reduce stress and its consequences, such as high blood pressure.

Managers act as role models

Managers act as role models - they set the tone for the workplace. Their stress level has a significant impact on the employees' stress levels. A company that establishes stress as the status quo leads to stressed and quickly exhausted employees. Although it has improved flexibility, the home office especially challenges the balance between work and free time.

Therefore, it is even more important that managers respect this separation. This includes, for example, not sending emails at midnight, even if it seems urgent at the time. Always ask yourself how an email can affect your employees when they enjoy their well-earned evening off. Separating work from free time is essential to prevent stress and, in the worst case, burnout. It makes it easier to be more focused.

How to deal with burnout within the team

Just like stress, burnout is "contagious" to a certain degree because the burnout of a single team member can affect the whole team. First, the affected person should be relieved. Managers should always ask themselves whether deadlines can be postponed or tasks delegated to other employees. Individual and group discussions can also help find solutions to the current situation:

  • Can the stress level at work be reduced?
  • How can a better balance between work and free time be created?
  • What do I like about my job, and what do I like less?
  • Is there a way to shift the focus from negative things to positive?
  • What coping mechanisms do other team members use to deal with stress?

Hobbies and fulfilling personal life help to recharge outside of work. Open communication can also help employees feel that they are not being left alone and can counteract feelings of failure.

Book a demo with Likeminded

Managers should recognize the first warning signs of burnout. Late deliveries, exhaustion, and irritability can indicate an upcoming burnout. It is vital to seek discussion with the affected person and find common causes and solutions. The person can be offered a new goal, such as further training, a new project, or a different department, to counteract the dissatisfaction and show appreciation.

Likeminded does not only provide support through selected psychologists and trained coaches; employees can also take the opportunity to discover their current mental health by taking a test on their own. Through group sessions within the teams or with external participants, stress points can be identified early and addressed in an open space. For managers, in particular, this awareness of employees' mental health is enormously important. In a joint coaching session, they learn to recognize possible signs early on and can thus prevent potential problems.

The workplace should be a place where your employees feel good. Optimism or even a smile can bring more happiness into the day. Even small gestures of gratitude, mindfulness exercises, and team building can help prevent burnout.

Managers can protect their employees by ensuring a positive working relationship and promoting open communication and work-life balance. It is equally important that the team can address criticisms, suggestions, and successes among themselves.

Group conversations that go beyond the usual meetings and focus on the well-being of the employees can improve team bonding and individual satisfaction at the same time. "Together we can do it" is the message that can prevent collective burnout.

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