Beating Burnout!

If constant stress has you feeling disillusioned, helpless, and utterly exhausted, you may be suffering from burnout. When you’re burned out from stress, problems seem insurmountable, everything looks bleak, and it’s difficult to muster up the energy to care – let alone do something about your situation.

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion from work, which results in lack of motivation, low efficiency, and feelings of helplessness. Its health effects can include anxiety, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, insomnia, and depression. Employees can get burned out when they have either too much, or not enough scope for power or affiliation compared to their individual needs.

"We found that the frustration of unconscious effective needs, caused by a lack of opportunities for motive-driven behaviour, is detrimental to psychological and physical well-being,” said Veronika Brandstatter, author and professor at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.“The same is true for goal-striving that doesn't match a well-developed implicit motive for power or affiliation, because then excessive effort is necessary to achieve that goal. Both forms of mismatch act as 'hidden stressors' and can cause burnout," Brandstatter added.

Further, the unconscious needs of employees – their so-called "implicit motives" – play an important role in the development of burnout. Researchers focused on two important motives, the first being the power motive, which is the need to take responsibility for others, maintain discipline, and engage in arguments or negotiation, in order to feel strong and self-efficacious. Second is the affiliation motive, or the need for positive personal relations, in order to feel trust, warmth, and belonging.

For the study, the team analysed 97 Swiss men and women, between the ages of 22 and 62.The greater the mismatch between someone's affiliation motive and the scope for personal relations at the job, the higher was the risk of burnout, the researchers found. Likewise, adverse physical symptoms, such as headache, chest pain, faintness, and shortness of breath became more common with increasing mismatch between an employee's power motive and the scope for power in his or her job.

Interventions that prevent or repair such mismatches could increase well-being at work and reduce the risk of burnout, the research team suggested.

"A motivated workforce is the key to success in today's globalised economy. Matching employees' motivational needs to their daily activities at work might be the way forward,” noted Beate Schulze, researcher at the University of Leipzig in Germany. “This may also help to address growing concerns about employees’ mental health, since burnout is essentially an erosion of motivation,” Schulze said, in apaper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

When you’re on the road to burnout, you can feel helpless. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think. Often the most effective way to relieve stress is to reach out to others. Here’s are some ways to do it:

  • Social contact is nature’s antidote to stress. Since the face and heart are wired together in the brain, talking face-to-face with a good listener can help to quickly calm your nervous system and relieve stress.
  • The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to “fix” your stressors; they just have to be a good listener, someone who’ll listen attentively without being distracted or judging you.
  • Try to be more sociable with your coworkers. Developing friendships with people you work with can help buffer you from job burnout. When you take a break, for example, instead of directing your attention to your smartphone, try engaging your colleagues. Or schedule social events together after work.
  • If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, it’s never too late to build new friendships and expand your social network.