Managing overwhelm and burnout at the workplace

Toxic workplace conduct is a significant contributor to employee burnout
Managing overwhelm and burnout at the workplace
Greg Fantham, Assistant Professor at Heriot-Watt University, Dubai

In the current work environment, many individuals lead hectic lives and feel they must juggle multiple responsibilities constantly. This accumulation of tasks and concerns can reach a tipping point, leading to exhaustion or overwhelm. Moreover, with the increasing integration of social media platforms in working life and the need for constant connectivity, employees find it difficult to switch off and maintain a healthy work-life balance. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies employee burnout as a “syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Burnout is the state of feeling fatigued or confined in a job with no prospects for advancement. It can make people feel cynical, inadequate and dissatisfied with their jobs. Not surprisingly, then, burnout is associated with depression, leading to a host of physical and mental health issues, and decreased productivity.

Women are reporting distress and burnout at concerning rates. According to Deloitte’s Women @ work 2022 survey, 53 percent of women reported higher stress levels. The survey also revealed that women were less likely to be seeking a new job compared to their current inclination.

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Burnout has emerged as the primary motivating factor for nearly 40 percent of women actively searching for a new employer. This clearly indicates that managing overwhelm and burnout at the workplace is becoming increasingly important in today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment.

Employees can alleviate the pressure by redirecting their attention from the sources of anxiety towards their coping mechanisms. It is important, however, to appreciate also that the responsibility for addressing burnout lies as much, if not, with the employer. It is often cheaper and more convenient for an employer to allocate sick leave to individuals than to address the structural changes that may be necessary to shift an organisation’s toxic culture.

According to a 2022 report by McKinsey, toxic workplace conduct is a significant contributor to employee burnout. Studies reveal that individuals who encounter a significant amount of toxic behaviour at work are eight times more likely to show signs of burnout.

burnout at the workplace

Learn to Accept and Adapt


Accepting a circumstance that is beyond our control can be challenging. One way to combat this is with positive affirmations that reinforce our self-worth. It is also crucial to recognise that investing time and energy into something achievable is more beneficial and constructive than persisting in unproductive efforts.

In certain situations where there seems to be no way out, it is best to consider exploring alternative approaches. The key is to find ways to take back control. This could involve re-evaluating your priorities and redefining your goals. It can be helpful to ask yourself questions like can you upskill or reskill to fulfil your existing responsibilities at work? Can you take on additional responsibilities or consider a change in your job role that might be worth exploring?

Embracing creative thinking and flexibility can lead to new possibilities. Moreover, a slight change in perception can open new doors of opportunity. If you can’t change the situation, you may be able to change the way you think about it.

Reduce Overwhelm by Taking Control


In any critical situation, identify the aspects or factors that are within your ability to manage. For instance, you could assign resources to address an issue or delegate tasks to others if you are juggling multiple responsibilities. Furthermore, despite challenging circumstances, you can exercise control over your emotional response and conduct. For example, you can buffer your response to an antagonistic comment by paraphrasing it back to the speaker. This way you can make sure you have not misunderstood them and buy yourself some time for a more considered response. This way, you can choose to be responsive rather than reactive, which can lead to a state of overwhelm.

Professional Support for Positive Recovery


Dealing with severe burnout on your own can be difficult. It may be beneficial to seek assistance from a mental health expert, like a therapist or counsellor, to aid in your recovery. They can help in identifying burnout triggers and fostering resilience.

Managing overwhelm and burnout at the workplace is essential to maintaining good mental and physical health and job satisfaction. Try to prioritise tasks, take breaks, and be serious about self-care and seeking support. If you are an employer, acknowledge that you or your organisation could be the reason why your employees are experiencing burnout, and do something about it. It is important to remember that burnout is a temporary state and with the right strategies, expert guidance, and organisational support, it can be overcome.

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