While striving hard in your career is commendable, be mindful that too much chronic stress can affect your well-being and eventually lead to job burnout.
Are you walking down the path of burnout unknowingly? Recognise the signs and take concrete actions to combat it.
Ms Heng Teng Teng, a career coach with more than six years of experience, said: “Burnout is a prolonged state where people are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted due to demands from their jobs. Over time, this causes them to lose interest in other areas of their lives, such as social and family interaction.”
Mr Adrian Tan, a career coach with more than 10 years of experience, said burnout is a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about one’s competence and the value of one’s work.
Why do people suffer job burnout?
Various long-term stressors people face can contribute to an eventual burnout. This is especially so when demands placed on them outweigh their abilities and resources to meet these expectations.
Ms Heng said: “Reasons why people suffer burnout can be long working hours, demanding requests they have to accede to, aggressive performance targets to hit, tight resources and constantly needing to prove their worth.”
If you are constantly under immense work pressure, take action to prevent yourself from eventually suffering from a job burnout.
Do not sweep the problem under the carpet and wait for it to go away.
Ms Heng said: “Take concrete steps to resolve the issue. Re-evaluate your current work practices and workload. If you cannot manage your workload well, it is unlikely you can sustain producing good quality work. Think of long-term solutions and apply them, rather than short-term quick fixes.”
Ms Heng recommended giving yourself permission to take a break from work.
She said: “Set appropriate boundaries and refrain from checking e-mails or answering calls during those periods. For example, Sunday can be a time to rest and recharge.”
Have an active non-work life. Keeping to a regular exercise routine helps to release the physical tension and stiffness accumulated from sitting at your desk for long hours. Being part of interest or hobby groups can help to take your mind off work and leave you feeling more recharged.
Dr Seng Kok Han, a consultant psychiatrist at Nobel Psychological Wellness Centre, advises adopting a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and adequate sleep and exercise.
Identify negative thoughts that can be irrational, change them to helpful ones and focus on what you can do to improve situations. But be realistic and learn to accept what you cannot change, he adds.
“Support others within your capacity, such as by checking on them and providing a listening ear… After all, altruism is known to be an effective coping mechanism,” he says.
Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem recommends investing in building relationships and having engaging conversations with colleagues and bosses, especially when working remotely.
It takes more effort to consciously “meet” when working from home instead of in the office, so consider scheduling such social interactions into your calendar, she says.
Stick to a routine that mirrors your regular office day. This helps provide structure even if your personal and work spaces have merged, says Dr Seng.
There is no need to feel guilty about not responding to non-urgent work texts and e-mails after office hours.
Employers should respect such boundaries and not hold meetings outside workday hours just because everyone can attend them remotely.
Mr Tan recommended dropping unnecessary tasks to give additional attention to more important ones.
Be organised. Put aside 10 minutes to 15 minutes at the start of each workday to plan your day and week ahead. With competing deadlines and rapidly changing priorities, list all the tasks you have to complete and highlight those that are more urgent or important. Often, job stress is related to time – having to accomplish something within a specific time limit.
As mornings are usually when you are the most well-rested and alert, attend to urgent or important priorities first, although they may not be the most enjoyable or simplest of tasks.
During the course of the day, allocate time for strategic breaks to rejuvenate yourself and get more work accomplished.
Remote working is likely to remain the norm for many people, so make your workplace conducive by decluttering and being organised, says Dr Seng.
If possible, create separate physical spaces for taking work and social calls to differentiate between these aspects of your life.
Dr Seng recommends having ground rules in your home for work and communicating these clearly to family members.
If all these do not help, try having an honest conversation with your manager to work out alternative arrangements.
Identify the sources of your stress and differentiate between those you can control and those you cannot. Be positive and stop agonising over matters you have no control over, such as how your supervisor works.
Instead, channel your energy into areas you can control, like improving your productivity level or the quality of your work. Spending effort on what you can control propels you forward and invigorates you.
Ideally, your career should be in line with the above three factors. People are more fulfilled when their careers are meaningful, and offer them opportunities to utilise their skills and excel in their areas of expertise.
If you feel your current job offers you none of these aspects, it is time to rethink if you are truly suitable for it.
Organisations are coming up with more novel ways to introduce mental wellness programmes even in the virtual workplace, says Ms Low. These include art therapy, workout classes, mental wellness webinars and professional counselling sessions.
Bosses should also engage more often with employees and create a buddy system to encourage staff to check in with one another, adds Ms Low.
Mental health advocate and former nominated MP Anthea Ong calls on employers to reframe the workplace “not as the cause of mental ills but as a source of positive mental well-being”.
This means proactively supporting employees in the different roles that they play outside of work, such as in the family or community, so that they are in the pink of health mentally because of their time at work and in the workplace.
She cites a multinational energy firm that started providing workshops on homeschooling skills as well as counselling support for staff with young children when schools moved to home-based learning. The firm plans to continue offering parenting programmes beyond Covid-19.
Another global consulting company has also implemented support structures for employees who are caregivers of seniors with special needs.
Ms Ong suggests that bosses share honestly with workers about their own mental health difficulties, which not only builds trust and breaks the stigma around these issues, but also helps the bosses become more at ease with who they are.
Dr Seng notes that every crisis can be an opportunity to become even more resilient towards stress.
However, if anxiety symptoms are prolonged, excessive and out of proportion,
they can cause disability and lead to emotional problems and depression.
Dr Seng advises that in such scenarios, it is important to seek professional help.
1. Are you under the impression that your abilities and hard work do not gain much recognition?
2. Do you regularly sleep less than six hours daily to cope with work demands?
3. Do you regularly work seven days a week without sufficient rest?
4. Are you starting to lose interest in the other areas of your life?
5. Do you feel anxious at work most of the time?
6. Do you often doubt your competence level and the value of your work?
7. Are you getting more irritable and impatient with yourself and others?
8. Do you burst into tears at work often?
This article was first published in The Straits Times.