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For many of us, work forms a major part of our daily lives. In this article, we discuss burnout, work/life balance, and the importance of practising self-care over the festive season (and beyond).

Written and accurate as at: 6 Dec 2019

Approximately one-third of our adult life can be spent at work.

Importantly, without work and the income derived from it, many of us would find it difficult to:

  1. maintain our present living costs, and,
  2. execute plans in relation to accumulating wealth to fund our future living costs.

However, income is often just one reason (albeit a key one) why we front up to work each day. Other reasons can include enjoyment/satisfaction in what we do and a feeling that we are making a difference.

From an income perspective, this is why insuring against its loss due to sickness, injury or disablement, is a vital consideration. And, we aren’t just insuring against a potential physical health event. For example:

Also, mental health conditions contribute to presenteeism and absenteeism in the workplace#.

As previously discussed in our article, ‘The prevalence, incidence, risk and cost burden of ill health’, mental health conditions can encompass a variety of disorders, such as:

  • affective disorders (depression),
  • substance use disorders (alcohol/drug dependence), and
  • anxiety disorders (panic and post-traumatic stress disorder).

Interestingly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently included ‘burnout’ in their latest International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon; stopping short of classifying it as a medical condition.

However, research into burnout has yielded some relevant findings in this regard. For example, mental health conditions, such as depression, can be not only precursors to burnout, but also consequences of burnout.

So, what exactly is burnout? According to WHO, burnout is, ‘a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. And, ‘it is characterised by three dimensions:

  • reduced professional efficacy;
  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; and
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.’

Although, each occupation and industry can have their own unique ‘chronic workplace stresses’, some common risk factors for burnout can be:

  • environmental/external risk factors, such as
    • mental strain,
    • high workload,
    • forced overtime,
    • fear of unemployment, and
    • lack of appropriate resources and support.
  • individual/internal risk factors, such as
    • perfectionism,
    • Type A personality,
    • work-family conflict,
    • low core self-evaluation, and
    • lack of appropriate coping strategies.

Please note: These risk factors can often present in conjunction with each other.

Preventing and managing burnout can often fall into the domain of an employer – and, health care professionals (if required). However, there are things that an employee can do as well.

For example, notifying an employer of the present workplace stresses, as well as practising self-care. In terms of self-care, this refers to caring for our interconnected physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Although, self-care strategies should be individualised (specific to our personal circumstances, so that workplace stresses are not further enhanced), some common self-care strategies can be:

  • getting adequate sleep,
  • moderating alcohol intake,
  • following dietary guidelines,
  • participating in regular exercise,
  • engaging with friends and family,
  • taking annual leave entitlements,
  • practising mindfulness and meditation,
  • detaching from work in non-work hours, and
  • maintaining an appropriate work/life balance.

Interestingly, when looking at annual leave entitlements, a recent survey found that on average we are only taking 14 of our 20 days of annual leave each year; this is a decrease from previous years.

Taking annual leave entitlements is an important self-care strategy, as it provides us with time to relax, rejuvenate and reflect, which in turn acts as a circuit breaker to workplace stresses that have built up over time.

 

Moving forward

Work has the potential to make a positive impact on our wellbeing (financial, physical, mental, and emotional). However, where there are chronic workplace stresses, and they are not managed, the reverse can occur.

As approximately one-third of our adult life can be spent at work, if you are feeling burnout, or if one or more of the listed risk factors resonate with you, consider practising self-care over the Summer (and beyond).

 

*Zurich. (2018). The cost of care: The missing link in strategic financial advice equation. Health Research Whitepaper.

^Actuaries Institute. (2017). Mental health and insurance. Green Paper.

#Australian Government, Comcare. (2011). Benefits to business: The evidence for investing in worker health and wellbeing.