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Workplace burnout can no longer be ignored by leaders



Featured | Workplace

By Guest Author

In its recent 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) [1], The World Health Organisation recognised the serious effects of burnout, defining it as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

The condition is characterised by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.

Recent findings reveal that workers who describe themselves as mentally distant, or disengaged – a key indicator of burnout – had 37% more absenteeism, 49% more workplace accidents, and 60% more issues with accuracy and defects [2], therefore businesses need emotionally intelligent leaders who know how to respond to a situation in a way that facilitates positive behaviours.

Insight and awareness around the feelings of others is a skill that can be learned and developed. Upskilling managers to both identify and manage their own emotions, as well as those of employees, is vital for a harmonious workplace. With five generations working side by side, leaders need to adapt their style to respect the needs of different generations.

“Emotions and vulnerability are part of who we are and that doesn’t just go away when we enter the workplace,” explains Marcela Slepica, Clinical Director, Access EAP. “Opening up to colleagues and letting them know when I was feeling vulnerable, allowed me to make real connections, gain support and feel better sooner. Leaders should show compassion and support workers to do the same, simply put, leaders need to lead by example.”

It is risky for an organisation to ignore the feelings of their team. Engagement is fundamentally an emotional phenomenon, so when employees have a strong reaction, it can impact on many areas including, working relationships, concentration, productivity and decision making.

Understanding the impact that feelings can have on a worker’s ability to function and knowing how to manage them are essential skills for leaders. Someone who is unhappy or burnt out will impact on others and while they may be present, are they productive? It’s estimated, that to replace a full-time employee it costs a business around six to nine months of that person’s salary, recruitment and training costs.

For someone who is earning $50,000, it could cost $25,000 – $37,500 to replace them [3]. To avoid this costly result, it’s imperative to focus on engagement and wellbeing initiatives which essentially means recognising the importance of emotions.

Here, AccessEAP outlines some tips on how leaders can encourage emotions to create a positive workplace;

1) Start at the top

Leaders set the tone for organisational culture and communication. They can implement proactive resilience initiatives that aid well being and engagement, resulting in an increase in productivity and of wellbeing factors by up to 40% [4].

They can also role model acknowledgement and acceptance of emotions through talking about their feelings and demonstrating that having and exhibiting feelings is normal. Its important to model the behavioural responses that you want to see in others. Role modelling is important, as employees will typically mirror the behavioural standards which are set by their leaders.

This may include having broader conversations which show an acceptance of emotions and showing compassion. Encouraging people to open-up could lead to them receiving needed support or help.

2) Support constructive conversations

At some point, we’ve all experienced a well-intentioned attempt to have an honest work discussion which has led to hurt feelings and further distress. Often this results in avoiding these exchanges altogether.

However, creating an opportunity to have these discussions and to clear the air can be very beneficial. Constructive Conversations training or coaching can provide leaders with the knowledge and skills to have these talks and manage negative emotion. The training covers communication skills and includes active listening, de-escalation and working towards compromise.

3) Improve self-regulation

Leaders must show the ability to control or redirect impulsive actions and feelings that might negatively impact an highly charged or difficult situation. Try to remain uninvolved in office politics or conflict and avoid impulsive decisions. If you are struggling to manage your own feelings, try waiting a few hours or days before responding or making a decision.

4) Learn about emotional intelligence

The best way to develop self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation and empathy is to practice these daily in the context of your work environment. This creates a culture which encourages and empowers employees.

5) Focus on mental health and wellbeing

With mental health issues receiving significant attention in the media and with 72% of employees asking their employers to champion mental health and well-being [5], leaders need to create an environment where talking about them is normalised. Sharing their own strategies for promoting mental health and well being allows staff to open up about their own experiences and to ask for help. This creates a psychologically safe workplace and a positive culture for all team members.

The ability to recognise, accept and utilise feelings in the workplace is a skill that leaders should be learning and developing.


About AccessEAP

AccessEAP is a leading Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider in Australia. We have been assisting companies across Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia since 1989 in supporting a

mentally healthy workplace. As an Australian owned not-for-profit provider, surplus profits are directed into programs to assist children at risk in the community through direct donation and via The Curran Access Children’s Foundation.


1 World Health Organisation https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/

2 Harvard Business Review: Proof that positive work cultures are more productive 01/12/2015

3 PeopleKeep: Employee Retention – The Real Cost of Losing an Employee 04/02/2016

4 Global Resilience Study 2018

5 Peldon Rose October 2018

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