Psychological stress from work
"We are all somewhere on the way to burnout"
What is burnout Mr Trösch?
Burnout is a process that stems from long-term work overload. Each and every one of us is somewhere along in this burnout process. An example of this is that when someone has an extremely high workload, they don't maintain their friendships anymore because they need their free time to rest and don’t have any energy left for anything else. But this can then be remedied as soon as their pile of work goes down again. What is problematic is long-term complex stress – which might also be accompanied by never-ending questions about the meaning of it all –, which the person can’t mentally detach themselves from.
How can I understand this burnout process?
People differ in the limits of what they can take and how they deal with an accumulation of stress. The development of burnout can be divided into five stages:
1. In the build-up phase the person is highly committed, working non-stop without taking a break. At the same time, the person also starts to feel less appreciative of their team members and like they have to do everything themselves. There is nothing else outside their work. They block out their own needs.
2. In the second stage, they lose perspective and become insecure. Everything becomes overwhelming and they have trouble concentrating and remembering things. They increasingly neglect their private life and at work, their motivation and creativity decreases. Their motto is "work to rule".
3. Flattening: The person is very subdued, disinterested and indifferent. They avoid social contact and increasingly focus on someone close to them. They are no longer able to bounce back. At weekends and during holidays, they can’t switch off and even find them stressful. To cope with the situation, at this stage they may increase their use of addictive substances.
4. In the next stage, this enduring state of mind affects the body. They are more fragile and get ill more often, suffer more from headaches, back pain, aching limbs or neck pain, digestive problems or sleep problems.
5. In the final phase, overwhelmed by existential despair and the feeling that nothing has any meaning anymore, they can no longer feel any happiness. They are fed up with life and even think of ending it – and in the worst case scenario even attempt this.
What personality traits do people have who are particularly at risk of burnout?
There are no particular personality traits that make people more prone to burnout. An obsession with high performance can certainly foster burnout. Someone may have this drive because of their personality, but it is often also related to the positions that they hold in their life or work. Because of the circumstances they find themselves in, people may feel like they have no other choice than just functioning. Special attention should be paid to the risk factors.
What are these risk factors?
They can be work overload, time pressure or unrealistic goals. But also a lack of appreciation, no clear cut-off between work and private life as well as a lack of influence on the way work is organised. These are all factors impacting our mental health that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Burnout can be cured and you haven't failed and you aren’t weak. Dominic Trösch, Prevention Management Specialist at SWICA
How do I know if someone in my team is suffering from burnout?
It’s very difficult because the burnout process usually happens in private until the moment it escalates. Because of their lack of energy, the person no longer keeps up social contact, their interests and things which help them recharge their batteries. This causes them to lose even more energy and become even more exhausted, leading them to slip even further down in the burnout process.
Is there anything I can do to support them as a work colleague?
In the resilience or burnout training courses that SWICA offers its corporate clients, I always tell participants: Try to talk! People are social animals. For all of us, social contact has an enormous potential to reduce stress and thus help prevent burnout. In particular, informal chats, for example during breaks, can be a way of discerning a work colleague’s mood – even if you are their superior. If you notice that a team member who used to talk about all the exciting things they did at the weekend seems depressed and doesn’t do anything in their free time anymore, the alarm bells should start ringing. Here I recommend simply asking them. But to be able to do this, it’s important that you have a relationship of trust. Ultimately though, it’s always up to the person concerned whether they will allow and accept help as people still feel a lot of fear and shame about it. If they confide in someone, many people unfortunately still fear being thought of as weak or of losing their job.
What can I do if I notice a tendency to burnout in myself?
The first thing is not to be ashamed of being overloaded. You should start prioritising by putting your own mental health first. To do this, you should put some distance between you and the stressful situation, for example by going on holiday, taking time off and handing in work. You should also try to speak to your supervisor and discuss the overload with them. If your boss knows about it, they can redistribute and delegate tasks accordingly. You can get help by doing coaching or therapy. Many companies support their employees through occupational health management (OHM). SWICA customers can also use the santé24 psychiatric/psychological offer and get referred to relevant services. Your GP is also a good first port of call.
In the long term, and especially if you regularly experience a work overload, you should also consider whether you are in the right job. If you are overwhelmed by your tasks, maybe the job isn't for you and especially if you've already had a burnout, does it really make sense for you to go back to the same position and tasks?
Finally, it is very important to know that burnout can be cured and you haven't failed and you aren’t weak. In fact, it is often the most committed and motivated people who suffer from burnout.
Job Stress Index
In collaboration with the University of Bern and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), Health Promotion Switzerland regularly examines the extent to which work-related stress affects the health and productivity of the Swiss workforce.
Whereas at the beginning of the survey in 2014, one in four working people had a workload that was beyond their capacity, in 2022, 28.2% of working people, i.e., one in three people, were in this critical area of the Job Stress Index.
(Source Gesundheitsförderung Schweiz, 2022)
Burnout Challenge in BENEVITA
There is also more on the topic of burnout in the associated challenge in the BENEVITA app, which non-SWICA customers can also download free of charge.