Occupational Burnout – A Hurdle for Modern Companies

Have you ever experienced occupational burnout? If you are using a Kanban system at work, you probably have not, but many people are not as fortunate as you are.

Today, we live in the fastest time of development in human history, or the so called “fourth industrial revolution”. The professional demands of many industries have grown so high, that employees are getting overloaded with tasks and beginning to suffer from occupational burnout syndrome –  a more and more frequent occurrence in many business environments.

What is occupational burnout?

Burnout, in the context of one’s occupation, is a type of psychological stress characterized by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm and motivation. In most cases, these symptoms are accompanied by frustration and cynicism, which, in turn, lead to reduced productivity at the workplace. One of the most visible signs of organizational stress is an increase in employee turnover. If employees are fearful for their positions or feel the expectations are unrealistic, they may leave the organization rather than continue struggling. Turnover is a very costly process to any organization. Significant monetary costs are accrued in the process of recruiting, hiring, training, and the general decrease of productivity. The American Management Association believes the cost of finding an employee’s replacement is 30% of that employee’s salary. Turnover also causes additional work and stress on other employees who have to fill in during the recruitment period, thus leading to further instances of burnout in the team.

For example, the burnout person might be that colleague who is late each morning because he hasn’t slept well and dreads getting out of bed to head to the office or the co-worker who stares at the computer screen for hours on end, never seeming to focus on the task in front of her. The real problem is when you have a whole team, or even department of burnout people. How can you grow and reach high goals with unmotivated and uninterested people by your side? You can’t. The problem continues to develop as people from other departments feel the weakness of their colleagues and that end up affecting the whole company eventually.

What causes burnout?

The main factor is stress, caused by an excessive workload or an unfavorable environment at the office. Everybody has a different breaking point when it comes to coping with stress. The American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger and his colleague Gail North theorized the occupational burnout and divided the development of the syndrome into stages. Some are signs of burnout at work, while others come from personal life. 

  1. The compulsion to prove oneself. In most cases, this is a result of trying to do many things simultaneously.
  2. Working harder. In their desire to prove themselves to others or try to fit in as part of an organization that does not suit them, many people establish high personal expectations and, in order to meet them, they tend to focus solely on work and take on more than they usually would.
  3. Neglecting their daily needs. Since the individuals are already devoting all of their time to work, there is no room for anything else in life. Friends and family, eating and sleeping are no longer seen as vital aspects of life, and are just burdens which take away from the time that can be put into work.
  4. Displacement of conflicts. People who reach this stage become aware that something is not right but have trouble finding the source of the problem and often start placing blame elsewhere on the team or organization.
  5. Revision of values. Going down the slope towards burnout, people’s values change. Work consumes all energy, leaving none of friends and things they previously enjoyed. As work becomes the only focus, they become intolerant to other people’s mistakes and never satisfied with the work of their colleagues, which often leads to internal conflicts.
  6. Denial of emerging problems. At some point, people affected by the burnout become intolerant, aggressive, sarcastic. They begin to ignore problems related to the project they are working on because they don’t want to deal with them and blame it on the pressure that comes with their excessive workload.
  7. Withdrawal. With little or no social contact all the individuals become isolated. At that point, depression hits with all the weight of the world. The affected person disengages from team activities and communicates less with colleagues, which leads to problems in the team dynamic.

How to overcome burnouts?

There isn’t a magical pill that cures burnout or one to push it out of your system right away. There are different ways to avoid burnouts. As it is stress related, in order to stop it, you must find a way to reduce the sources of stress and reevaluate your distribution of responsibilities. If you cannot pinpoint the exact cause of burnout, take the time to analyze what’s going on in your life and focus on something other than work.

A good way to escape stress is by practicing sports. A research study published by the American Psychological Association shows that regular exercise helps to reduce stress, boost a person’s mood, enhance productivity and improve the quality of life. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and drinking a lot of water further reduce the stress levels in everyday life. Taking time off work to recharge your batteries is also a good idea. A week with family or friends, somewhere far from the office can do miracles for your mental health. In addition, don’t be afraid to speak out when you are overloaded and seek assistance from your team.

How to deal with burnout at work? Try with Kanban

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Dealing with burnouts at work is not easy. Why don’t you try to apply Kanban?

Kanban is a lean method focused on the flow of work. If your team’s activities are structured and based on the Kanban method, they become less so a source of stress and more often a timely challenge to concentrate on.

So, how to avoid burnout at work with Kanban? 

Start from here. Set up daily team stand-up meetings. An integral part of Kanban culture that makes it very easy to spot when something is wrong. Kanban is among the pull systems of work, meaning that a task does not move to the next stage of the work process, until it is completed to perfection and there is no chance of it being returned due to a defect caused by neglecting quality for the sake of pace. Applying this method of work means focusing on one thing in order to do it in the best possible way, instead of doing five things simultaneously and, in the end, achieving something mediocre. Simply said, quality before quantity.

Some may think that this way of work might end up being slower, but, in reality, it is exactly the opposite. Most of you are probably aware of the Brain flow. The Kanban system works pretty much that way, the work processes flow steadily, gathering speed and forming a constant value stream. WIP limits, an essential feature of Kanban, can regulate the amount of work a certain team member is working on at a time. Using WIP limits, the manager will be able to monitor the activity of his/her team closely.

One of the best things about using a Kanban board is that every aspect of the project is visualized right in front of you, so the work can be delegated accordingly among the team members. With Kanban, you can see if that colleague that is always complaining about how much work he has, is really that overloaded, or is just lazy and tries to hide from additional assignments. Same goes for the quiet person, who never complains and just takes everything that is sent her way, though she really has a full plate. This way it is very clear who has to do what and if the distribution is not balanced, it becomes obvious immediately when Kanban is in place.

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Kanbanize is a web-based software for process management with a rare combination of flexible Kanban boards, amazing collaboration features, powerful analytics and runtime policies for process automation. The analytics panel gives you precise information about the task distribution among the employees, how much time they spent working on them and the size of the tasks. This solves one huge problem caused by lack of knowledge about what is going on in the organization before the last minute, which is a cause of stress for the people involved.

Occupational burnout is a very serious issue that must not be taken lightly by project managers as well as their teams. One of the main goals of Kanban and online tools such as Kanbanize is to make the work process as efficient as possible and to make it possible to achieve greatness without pushing your team beyond the limit of their capabilities.

If you can relate to the problem above, and we helped you solve it, feel free to tell us how exactly and what you would add, in order to further prevent the spreading of occupational burnout.

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