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Beat the burnout – expert advice on what it takes to get ahead

Beat the burnout – expert advice on what it takes to get ahead

Beat the burnout – expert advice on what it takes to get ahead

Psychology expert says resilience won’t combat burnout.

Dr Michael Leiter, a professor of organisational psychology at Deakin University, says employees are often advised to toughen up to prevent burnout but his research shows the drivers of burnout are usually found in the work environment rather than in the individual failings of employees.   

According to the Black Dog Institute, sufferers of burnout often describe feeling exhausted and disconnected, and as though they’re “going through the motions” without motivation or meaning. Burnout can have serious consequences, including reduced work performance and life satisfaction, and has been associated with other mental health conditions such as depression.

“Burnout is becoming more prevalent as time goes on and it has a lot to do with the intensity of our work environments as people need to perform at such a high level in order to succeed,” says Dr Leiter. The Black Dog Institute and UNSW is currently conducting Australia’s first burnout study. Lead researcher Professor Gordon Parker says, “Burnout has existed for longer than the modern 21st century workplace, but advances in new technology and the 24/7 nature of mobile devices may be exacerbating factors. Precarious working conditions created by the ’gig economy’ could also be causing greater stress on workers, carers and families”.

Dr Leiter says “A lot of the advice that’s given to people is to toughen up and be more resilient to manage these pressures, but it’s not enough. When employees are burning out employers need to reflect on the quality of their workplace and not just tell people to toughen up.”

Dr Leiter says frameworks that encourage employers and employers to work together to enact purposeful change are key to reducing incidences of burnout. “Employees need to be inspired to contribute but at the same time employers need to do things that are meaningful to improve the way employees work,” he says. Dr Leiter has developed a world first ‘workplace civility’ program that aims to improve the quality of relationships among people at work. The results show civil workplaces experience higher engagement and work quality, and less stress-related absenteeism.

“One of the greatest joys of work is being part of a team that’s productive, mutually supportive and really likes you but, at the other end of the spectrum, dealing with difficult people can be one of the biggest stressors at work,” says Dr Leiter. The workplace civility program trains work groups to make a greater proportion of their daily interactions pleasant. People are encouraged to say good morning to each other, refrain from talking over the top of other people and generally reduce inconsiderate behaviour. It might sound easier to simply ask people to be nicer to each other or implement a company policy, but Dr Leiter says both employees and employers need commit to the process.

Research from the Université de Montréal also show that Université de Montréal fewer mental health problems were reported when employees are supported at work, when expectations of job recognition are met, and when people feel secure in their jobs. A higher level of skill use is also associated with lower levels of depression, pointing to the importance of designing tasks that motivate and challenge workers.

Professor Michael Leiter will speak about preventing burnout at the 2018 Australian Psychological Society Congress, held in Sydney, 27-30 September.

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