Are you burned out at work? Symptoms and consequences of a disorder aggravated by a pandemic year | Economy


It is not a phenomenon that arose from the pandemic, but it has undoubtedly contributed to making it worse: uncertainty and changes in the work environment, together with the use (and abuse) of teleworking, have further blurred the separation between the personal and professional life of people, to the point that almost three out of four Spaniards admit to being unable to disconnect from work and almost half of them (45%) suffer from work stress, according to a study by health insurer Cigna on the global impact of the coronavirus. If that stress becomes chronic, it can lead to burnout or burnout worker syndrome, a condition recognized by the WHO since 2019 and that if left untreated can degenerate into physical, emotional and even behavioral disorders.

Regardless of the group to which it belongs, “the pandemic has increased stress levels in all professions (…). The drastic change in routines and habits and the decrease in personal and collective resources to cope with them have caused an emotional drain that is not only due to burnout but also to anxiety, depressive or anxious-depressive pictures that can often overlap ”, explains Andrés Córdoba, psychologist of BluaU at Sanitas. A phenomenon that has occurred with greater intensity “in those professions with greater treatment of the public, such as Nursing, Medicine, Psychology, Teachers or Social Work” even before the covid-19.

Where does the ‘burnout’ begin?

This disorder has its origin in prolonged exposure to stressful situations due to factors such as an excessive workload, lack of motivation and recognition and toxic colleagues or a toxic work environment, among others. Circumstances that translate into “a feeling of both physical and emotional fatigue, job dissatisfaction and loss of commitment in relation to the company,” says Carmen Rodríguez, director of the Psychological Intervention area of Affor, specialists in psychosocial well-being. Symptoms that tend to appear more commonly among those especially involved with the company, feeling that their dedication is not sufficiently rewarded.

The lack of concentration and the weakening of routines as a result of the pandemic can produce high levels of stress “that can be manifested in a greater intolerance, difficulties in social communication or in aspects related to health, such as sleep disturbances, diet or fitness ”, argues Roel Koppens, general director in Spain of the company of e-learning Goodhabitz. The phenomenon, now aggravated, affects the majority of workers to a greater or lesser degree, to the point that 67.58% of the working population in Spain have symptoms of anxiety such as nervousness, irritability and tension (present in 86% of workers); sleep disturbance (84.7%); headache (68.8%) and feeling overwhelmed (61.5%), according to a recent study by Affor. All this can also be seen in the use of anxiolytic and antidepressant medications, which experienced an increase of 4.8% in 2020 (with peaks of up to 14% during confinement), more than double the previous year (when they grew by two %).

“At Goodhabitz we have seen a higher consumption of courses related to stress and uncertainty, and that is why we develop a course interactive so that, in just over three hours, a person can learn what the burnout, know how to recognize the signs and what to do to prevent it ”, says Koppens. In just over two months, more than 50,000 Spanish workers have accessed this training through their respective companies and sectors. “As Human Resources and as companies, we have a social responsibility with the welfare of employees, but also to guarantee the productivity and continuity of your organization,” he adds.

Stress, however, can be good if experienced in a controlled way: “When kept at the right levels, stress responses help us to focus better and even be more productive. But when we exceed those levels —either by intensity or by duration—, they produce the opposite effect: they become blockers, generators of discomfort, “argues Rodríguez. It should be remembered that work stress causes almost 30% of sick leave in Spain, and that work disabilities for this reason (6% of the total) last an average of 83 days, according to the National Institute of Social Security.

Within the framework of the Strategy 2030Some governments are already implementing actions aimed at caring for the mental health of their citizens. Thus, for example, the Protocol for the surveillance of psychosocial risks at work, employed in Chile since 2013 and which includes additional contributions for those companies with absenteeism rates above the national average, recognizing it as an indicator of psychosocial risk. A very different situation from the one that, for example, is experienced in Spain, where the ratio of psychologists per 100,000 inhabitants (6) is three times lower than the European average (18). As early as January 2020 (before the start of the pandemic), the Ombudsman asked for an increase in resources for psychological care in the National Health System.

Are you burned out at work?  Symptoms and consequences of a disorder aggravated by a pandemic year

How to prevent burnout

Since this syndrome develops in the work environment, preventing it from the organizations themselves seems essential to reinforce the commitment and motivation of workers, promoting constant communication between company and employee and helping to avoid the development of emotional disorders (low self-esteem , depression, anxiety or inattention), behavioral (such as impulsivity and aggressiveness) or physical (headaches, gastrointestinal or sleep problems or cardiovascular diseases) that affect your quality of life and productivity. Some actions that Goodhabitz experts summarize in six areas:

  • Workload according to the capabilities of the worker, so that he does not feel overwhelmed.
  • Control: the company must promote autonomy with the necessary tools so that the employee does not divert their attention.
  • Reward: a job well done deserves proper recognition.
  • Community: either physically or by videoconference, it is the responsibility of the company to create a community with a positive environment.
  • Justice: establishing an equitable work system is a key factor.
  • Values: the company must know the values ​​of its employees, talk to them and check that they are aligned with those of the company.

Properly managing human resources in the company (from the leadership style to the existence of a career development plan and access to training programs) provides guarantees of well-being and minimizes the risk of burnout in the template. Teleworking, for example, requires another type of leadership; one more focused on obtaining results and objectives than on management by activity or time. And although Spanish workers acknowledge having a good relationship with their colleagues (79%) and superiors (67%), only half (49%) enjoy training and professional development opportunities within their company. “You still have to educate people on how to organize a day working remotely, wherever it may be. It requires other skills, and that is being applied by very few people … Many of our clients speak of a fifth wave that will not be caused by the virus, but because of mental wear and tear, being burned out and stressed by everything we are leaving behind, “warns Koppens.

What is occupational psychology?

This branch of psychology specializes in the work environment, both with respect to the person in the exercise of their professional work and their relationships with the rest of the team and the work environment. They are frequently integrated within the Human Resources departments of companies, with all that this implies, and they usually participate in personnel selection tasks, coaching or career management, and its scope of action includes from the development of so-called soft skills (or soft skills) and the leadership processes to the dynamics of the teams and the organization.

The most common training for psychologists who specialize in this field are the Master’s degrees in Human Resources, as a trainer of trainers and as headhunters. (headhunters), “But it is important that they have knowledge of emotional management, which is becoming more and more decisive within the scope of the company”, explains Rodríguez, while “health training continues to be essential for the psychologist, regardless of where they work”.

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