Faced with an ever-increasing level of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion, some people understandably buckle under the pressure. The combination of COVID-19, being forced to work from home, economic uncertainty and limited interaction with the working environment is a volatile cocktail that can easily lead to burnout. Identifying the symptoms and changing bad habits are the key to avoiding this situation.
There were 239 cases of burnout recorded in Luxembourg in 2018. This figure is probably underestimated as burnout is not (yet) recognised as an illness here. However, this is a worrying phenomenon that affects an increasing number of employees, making their daily lives unbearable. This phenomenon saw a sharp rise in 2020 as a result of the healthcare crisis. The Luxembourg Chamber of Employees (Chambre des Salariés Luxembourg – CSL) warns in the introduction to its eighth national survey, the Quality of Work Index Luxembourg, that “there has been a significant deterioration in the perception of the quality of work in 2020”. Overall, the Quality of Work Index showed a significant fall in 2020. The decline was particularly noticeable among young employees, plant and machine operators, fitters, elementary occupations and part-time workers.
Our aim here is not to study the underlying causes of this deterioration; you are our concern. Are you facing a higher degree of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion in your professional life? If the answer to this question is yes, please be aware that burnout is not a taboo subject and that it is not inevitable. It’s time to take action!
How’s work? A nightmare!
If you can’t stand your boss, are terrified of going into the office and are having serious trouble sleeping, you definitely have the symptoms of burnout. This syndrome of emotional and psychological exhaustion is often linked to work and can affect any one of us, particularly those with an anxious disposition or perfectionist tendencies. The desire to control everything and the resulting difficulty in delegating are often risk factors.
Anyone can suffer from burnout.
Anyone can suffer from burnout. While some professions are considered higher risk (company executives, managers, teachers, carers, etc.), you too could become a victim of burnout.
There can be many causes: pressure from your employer to achieve challenging targets, pressure you put on yourself, a hectic working pace, staff shortages, the fear of losing your job or a fragile work-life balance. It’s often the culmination a number of factors that causes you to crack. And then it’s quite simply the fact that work is making you ill. With the decline in employee well-being in 2020, one in every three people is estimated to be at risk of depression.
COVID-19 and teleworking is an explosive cocktail
It has been even harder than usual to find a proper work-life balance during lockdown. Working from home surrounded by children playing or needing your help with schoolwork is a real challenge. Difficulties reconciling work and home life hit new heights for employees, both those with and without children (an increase of 35% versus 2014 according to the CSL figures).
Did you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with everything? Did you find it hard to be disciplined and work as efficiently as you do in the office? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. COVID-19 upended daily lives and took its toll on morale for everyone, bringing its share of stress and pressure as we were confronted with a new type of remote working, far from our colleagues and reliant on new tools. Teleworking and the absence of human contact have affected our health, creating a sense of abandonment for some of us. Cooperation, participation and motivation usually have a positive impact on the quality of work, but all were in short supply in 2020.
As a result, many of us who were already struggling with stress in our daily lives have become worn down, and ultimately unable to cope with an increasing workload and conditions that some of us have found more challenging. In its survey, the CSL notes a rise in the mental workload and time pressure, leading to a 15% rise in emotional difficulties related to work since 2016.
Burnout creeps into your life gradually and silently, and you don’t realise until it’s too late.
How to identify burnout
Burnout creeps into your life gradually and silently, and you don’t realise until it’s too late. So how can you tell if you are suffering from burnout? You have to respond honestly to a few questions.
- Do you often feel exhausted and drained? Low levels of physical, psychological and mental energy and an inability to recharge your batteries is a warning sign.
- Do you struggle to remain focused at work? Memory and concentration issues are common with burnout, and mistakes are frequent. Nor is it unusual to see a constant decline in productivity. You might find yourself sitting lifelessly in front of your screen, knowing what you ought to do but unable to find the strength to do it. This is a clear sign that you’re running on empty.
- Do you overreact emotionally? When we are exhausted, we may overreact to a remark or feedback from a colleague, flying into a rage or bursting into tears. Our tolerance threshold is lower than in normal times and we are extremely irritable. Not only are we unwell, but our reactions may also exacerbate the hostility of our environment. It’s important to act quickly to avoid succumbing to a vicious circle that ends in breakdown.
- Do you feel very detached from your work? It’s tempting to distance ourselves mentally to protect ourselves from work issues. Motivation can quickly give way to indifference. This is a useful defence mechanism initially, but may turn against us if this indifference leads us to neglect our work and avoid contact with colleagues.
If you’re also having trouble sleeping, experiencing panic attacks and psychosomatic pain, or feeling washed out and depressed, then you’re almost certainly suffering from burnout. Don’t think that it will go away on its own! You need to raise the alarm and take action against this treacherous foe to avoid a physical and mental breakdown.
Your first reaction should be to ask your GP or your job’s medical officer for help before you reach a state of total exhaustion.
What’s up doc?
Your first reaction should be to ask your GP or your job’s medical officer for help and a diagnosis before you reach a state of total exhaustion. Although burnout is not yet recognised as an illness in Luxembourg, it is the major cause of prolonged work absences. Your doctor will be able to sign you off work for a shorter or longer period in order to help you get back on your feet with personalised help.
And once this happens, take all the time you need. A week of rest alone isn’t always enough to get you back on your feet. No matter how great your work responsibilities, they do not justify pushing yourself to breakdown. The best way to avoid recovery from burnout is to believe that you’re out of the woods too soon.
You are your own greatest asset in fighting and defeating burnout. The best way to reduce stress and anxiety is relaxation and meditation. Wherever you are, regular breaks or a few breathing exercises will do you a world of good. Create a virtuous circle; take the time to remember three positive moments from your day before you go to bed – this could be an emotion, a compliment, an activity or even something you ate – and this will give you a little more taste for life with each passing day. Make an effort to broaden your horizons and stop focusing exclusively on your problems.
Healthy body, healthy mind! Physical activity is a particularly good way of clearing your head and suppressing negative thoughts. You don’t need to run a marathon, going for a regular walk should do the trick. You can go on your own or in a group, at home or outdoors, it’s up to you. What’s important is to get those endorphins!
These simple acts performed regularly will eventually help you get back to work and give you the best shot at avoiding any relapse. There are a few ways to give yourself the best shot at improving your well-being at work. Have the courage to talk to your boss or your colleagues about your unhappiness, so that you can organise yourselves to share the workload more effectively. Putting an end to hyperconnectivity and establishing a few boundaries will help you get back to the office with a lighter heart.
In some instances, burnout is a sign that you are no longer suited to your job. Follow the lead that some have given and take the opportunity to retrain and find a profession that will allow you to flourish. But don’t be in any rush, change can also be stressful. Act in your own time and once you have asked yourself the right questions.
Burnout can affect anyone, and the symptoms will differ from person to person. Take a few simple steps to reduce the risk of burnout and rediscover the pleasure of going to work every day.