In the fast-paced modern business environment, stress – and even burn out – has come to be seen as something of a ‘norm’. A 2015 study conducted by international research company Bloomberg ranked South Africa as the second ‘most stressed out’ nation in the world, following Nigeria.

“Stress can be linked to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and in extreme cases can contribute to substance abuse and even suicide,” explains Lyndy van den Barselaar, managing director of workforce solutions provider Manpower South Africa.

“Owing to the economic downturn, many South African businesses have been forced to implement job cuts. This leaves those who remain within the organisation with more work to be done, as well as the possibility of job losses looming, resulting in rising stress levels and increasing the probability of employee burn out.”

She says it’s important for both employers and employees to recognise the signs of stress, and put in place certain tools in order to avoid burn out. “Employee burn out not only has a negative effect on the person, but on the organisation as a whole. With stressed staff members taking time off work, more stress is placed on to other members of the team.”

Van den Barselaar notes that burnout is not necessarily only linked to over productivity, saying that there are three different types of burn out that occur within a business environment:

Work-life balance
The most obvious burn out happens to those who are overloaded with work, and are not able to strike the right work-life balance. “While these people are often excellent performers within their positions, this can be short lived as exhaustion sets in,” she explains. This type of burnout is strongly related to the number of hours the employee works per week, and amplifies the importance of a work-life balance and careful and realistic planning. Another study, conducted in 2014 by Ipsos Global and Reuters, found that up to 53% of South Africa’s workforce do not take their allotted annual leave. “Time away from work is another important factor in easing stress and preventing burn out,” says Van den Barselaar. “A work-life balance is extremely important in maintaining a positive attitude towards ones career.”

The second type of burnout takes place when an employee feels disengaged from their job, which is fuelled by factors such as boredom, lack of stimulation and little room for growth. “When employees do not identify with their work or the tasks they are expected to complete, they can easily begin to feel disengaged from their job,” Van den Barselaar asserts, highlighting the importance of regular staff performance reviews in which staff are able to express their thoughts and feelings about work.

Career stagnation
The last type of burnout is associated with those who have been in the same position for a long period of time, who may feel their work is not adequately acknowledged or that they do not have adequate control over their work. “This type of burnout amplifies the need for regular promotions within the organisation,” says Van den Barselaar.

“Most importantly, employers should provide a solid structure for employees which ensures that goals set for each week, month, quarter and/or year are realistic, and that the necessary support structures are in place should the employees feel overwhelmed or run into any issues or challenges. Employees who feel supported and valued are more likely to remain productive and engaged in their roles and dedicated to their personal growth within the organisation.”

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