Identifying the signs of workplace burnout

15 June 2018

Close-up of woman with beanie who looks like she is experiencing stress is talking on her mobile phone outside

Jayson Forrest

Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.

Stress in the workplace affects 78 per cent of Australians, which has a knock-on effect on productivity and business costs. But identifying the signs of stress and appropriately responding to them can help more employees thrive in the workplace.

Speaking at the Financial Executive Women (FEW) Leadership Conference, Heidi Dening – the founder and chief executive officer of Workable Wellness – said that with most Australians typically spending 90,360 hours at work during their working life, it’s not surprising that so many Australians will suffer burnout at some stage of their career.

“Australia is ranked third in the world for burnout in the finance sector,” she said. “Stress holds us back from being emotionally, physically and psychologically well. But if we are to change our stress levels in the workplace for the better, then change needs to start at work.”

Dening suggested individuals could proactively improve their stress levels by reducing their dependency on technological devices and applications.

“We are an over-connected society that is addicted to our devices,” she said. “When we are disturbed by email or text notifications, or phone calls, it takes approximately 64 seconds to get our brain working back to its full capacity that it was prior to the interruption. During the course of the day, these types of distractions can increase stress levels and add up to 8.5 hours of unfocused time, which equates to loss of productivity.”

Dening said countries around the world had identified workplace stress as a major contributor to a loss in national productivity. Some countries, like France, are seeking to reduce the levels of workplace burnout by introducing laws that make it a legal offence for companies to contact staff after work hours, on weekends or when staff are on holidays.

“Denmark was recently named to most productive country in the world. It has struck what it believes to be the right work/life balance by introducing a 33 hour working week. By doing so, it has considerably reduced workplace burnout, while improving productivity.”

However, Dening believes Australians can better manage their stress levels by becoming more aware of certain warning signs that an individual’s body gives them. These include: impaired sleep patterns; becoming forgetful; issues with your physical health, such as a breakout of cold sores; and the effects on mental health, such as aggression, depression and anxiety.

“These are all stages in the lead up to burnout. Your body is warning you. That’s when you need to stop, recognise these warnings and adjust your lifestyle,” Dening said.

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