Gary Feldman, Executive Head of Healthcare Consulting at NMG Benefits
Burnout is real – and it’s not only costing us our mental health and wellbeing, but it’s costing South Africa’s businesses and the economy billions of rands in lost productivity every year.
A 2016 study suggested that ‘presenteeism’ – employees who show up and attempt to work despite their poor mental health – cost South Africa R235 billion a year, which is 4.2% of the country’s GDP. Since then, the risk of burnout has only increased, according to a global survey conducted last year.
Burnout is categorised as chronic physical and emotional exhaustion resulting from prolonged stress, often caused by excessive work demands or other sources of stress. It manifests as fatigue, decreased productivity, detachment and negative emotions, which affect both your work and personal life.
Signs that indicate burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion; no longer appreciating things you used to enjoy; mood swings and irritability, feeling like you’re overwhelmed and constantly on edge; and physical symptoms like headaches, muscle soreness, gastrointestinal issues, and frequent illness.
These all lead to a negative effect on relationships, as burnout affects both personal and professional relationships. At the same time, reduced productivity leads to a decline in performance, a lack of concentration, struggling to meet deadlines, a lack of motivation and procrastination.
Gary Feldman, the head of healthcare consulting at employee benefits advisory firm NMG Benefits, says South African employers have an important role to play in ensuring the wellbeing of their people.
“It’s critical, both for the health of their people and their companies, that businesses address the current raised levels of burnout risk. We’ve got to do more to foster a culture of openness around mental wellbeing, and put in place the policies and support that will help people through stressful times,” said Feldman.
If you feel yourself burning out, what can you do? Feldman has the following tips for employers and employees alike.
Make it okay to talk about burnout
When taking strain or feeling overwhelmed, we tend to be embarrassed about not being able to function at our peak levels of performance. This only makes things worse. “Talk openly about what you are going through. Get in touch with your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) to receive counselling to manage and overcome your burnout,” says Feldman.
Make sure your people turn off
As employers, it’s important to create a culture in which employees are encouraged to close their laptops at the end of the remote working day. Stop answering mails and business calls. This starts with managers, who must set the example of breaking the ‘always on’ culture. And make sure your people take their annual leave.
Prioritise your tasks
Take deliberate steps to keep track of your work. Use a spreadsheet or to-do list to arrange your days around these outcomes.. Even better, schedule your tasks into your calendar. Don’t forget to include your breaks.
Take breaks during the day
Take five or 10 minutes to step away from your computer to get water, make coffee, or take a walk outside. Sitting at a desk for a full day can be a major contributing factor to burnout. The body was designed to be active, move and get outside to help improve one’s mood, your energy, sleep patterns and overall health.
Change your lifestyle
Stress triggers both depression and anxiety, which often cause self-destructive behaviours. Make changes to your lifestyle, get enough sleep, follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, take breaks, and get outdoors as often as you can.
“The average person will spend one-third of their life at work, so understanding employee wellness and burnout is crucial. For mental health, it’s important to be content across all aspects of life, as employees who are happy and healthy are more resilient and are better equipped to handle change,” said Feldman.