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A quick assessment that can help you and your employees avoid burnout


Image of a female sitting at home office desk

Burnout is a measurable concern that can take a dangerous toll on your employees and your business. However, with simple changes, such as role-modelling healthy behaviours and educating employees about the long-term impact of less-effective habits, you can help prevent burnout in your workplace.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization defines burnout as: 

  • 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.

See Burnout: What leaders must know and what they can do to support employees

The impact of less-effective habits

A habit is defined as  “a settled or usual manner of behaviour.”

Whether they are developed consciously or unconsciously, less-effective habits wear people down and drain energy. And, if they are repeated over an extended period of time, they can drain employees’ mental batteries and increase the risk of mental injury and clinical burnout. They are often developed as a result of:

  • Poor coping skills

  • Perceived lack of control over environmental stressors

  • Lack of knowledge, skills, and routines to care for mental and physical health

  • Difficulty managing work demands

  • Inability to set boundaries, and unplug

  • Feeling trapped 

  • Fear of not being good enough

The good news is that less-effective habits are easy to detect and can be curbed through education and environmental support systems in your workplace.

Recognize and break less-effective habits to avoid burnout

Burnout does not happen overnight; it occurs over time when we routinely engage in less-effective habits. The frequency, duration and intensity of each habit, or combination of habits, determines the likelihood of developing burnout. 

The NPR article, Habits: How They Form and How to Break Them notes, "What we know from lab studies is that it's never too late to break a habit. Habits are malleable throughout your entire life. But we also know that the best way to change a habit is to understand its structure — that once you tell people about the cue and the reward and you force them to recognize what those factors are in a behavior, it becomes much, much easier to change."

The first step in breaking them is to indentify the behaviours that can become habit forming.

On a scale of 1 (never) to 7 (always), rate the frequency you engaged in each one of the behaviours below in typical day over the last six months.

The higher your ranking, the more likely a behaviour is on its way to becoming a habit. 

  1. Skipped meals

  2. Avoided social activities

  3. Drank high levels of caffeine

  4. Worked 10 hours

  5. Talked about how busy you feel

  6. Missed a family event like a birthday, child’s special day, or anniversary due to work

  7. Drank less than one litre of water

  8. Slept with your phone by your bed

  9. Talked to yourself about how hard or unfair life is 

  10. Worried about your financial health

  11. Got less than six quality hours of sleep

  12. Did not get physical exercise

  13. Took fewer than 6,000 steps

  14. Used alcohol to cope

  15. Fell behind on emails

  16. Ate when not hungry 

  17. Struggled with home relationships 

  18. Felt like you had no passions or outlets (e.g., sports, hobbies, volunteering) 

  19. Had little to no social life because you were occupied by home and work demands

  20. Struggled to unplug from work; constantly checked email and texts after work.

Make healthy choices and help your employees do the same

In its People Risk 2022 report, Mercer found that only 56% of Canadian organizations are currently addressing the risk of exhaustion. 

They caution, “Workforce exhaustion should not be ignored because it links into so many other people risks, from workplace accidents to reputational risks. Organizations that address these risks early (and holistically) will come out ahead.”

Below are a few steps you can take to begin addressing this risk in your workplace.

  • Make mental health a priority — Encourage employees to take care of their mental health by sharing and role-modelling what you do to charge your mental battery and inspiring them to do the same.

  • Provide mental fitness education — The key to mental fitness is helping employees develop habits that protect and promote mental health. Do not assume all workers know how to develop mental fitness. Many have never been taught intrapersonal skills like self-care and resiliency.

  • Challenge employees to evaluate their at-risk behaviours — Listen carefully to employees and when you observe or hear about a less-effective habit, respectfully challenge it. The goal is to impress upon employees that you don’t want them to engage in unhealthy behaviours and form poor habits. 

Less-effective habits aren’t only formed in the workplace. They result from a combination of factors like work demands and gaps in mental fitness and coping skills. However, you can help employees be more mindful of how daily choices and behaviours can become habits and how less-effective habits can impact their well-being. 

Like machines, if people run too hard for too long, the chances of breaking are extremely high.

Get to know the author – Dr. Bill Howatt