According to Stats Canada, 27% of Canadian workers claim to experience extreme levels of stress daily with 62% claiming that their jobs are the primary cause of their stress. Stress is not always a bad thing. In fact, positive stress and adrenaline (under the right circumstances) can lead to happier, healthier, and even stronger lifestyles. However, chronic stress can develop nasty side effects. This includes detachment, anxiety, and fatigue that often leads to mental burnout. This chronic stress is more common in workplace environments where employees are growing more isolated from one another due to technology.
Technology is not evil; there is a lot to be gained from it. Unfortunately, the issue of burnout stems from an inability to shut down and live in the present moment—where we physically are. As a result, we grow less inclined to perform our best, dread reading and replying to emails (that never seem to stop coming), and, understandably, desire a nap… all the time. We are mentally drained and in need of a break that we don’t get because technology keeps us up-to-date with work.
Findings link mental burnout to the overuse of technology. Online connectivity is great for many things (i.e. keeping teams informed and efficient), but it creates a dysfunctional work outlook. Being this connected means we feel obligated to always be on. Emails come in that are difficult to ignore, especially if it’s from our boss. Therefore, employees are constantly working, even when they leave their office for the day. This sort of lifestyle takes its toll.
In 2019, the World Health Organization recognized workplace burnout as a genuine “occupational phenomenon”. WHO defined it as a syndrome arising from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” However, it’s difficult to manage stress if you’re swimming in work during your so-called downtime. When you’re constantly on (even outside of the office) that means there is no off switch. It feels like you have no opportunity to pause and take a deep breath without worrying about the next task. That can lead to bigger health issues and, more likely, burnout. Not to mention that 500,000 Canadians miss work each week due to a psychological health issue (Mental Health Commission of Canada).
Common symptoms of workplace burnout include feelings of exhaustion, reduced professional efficacy, and increased mental distance from our job.
Part of the issue of always being on means answering emails as they hit our inbox. This small act happens multiple times a day, which can deter employees from taking on big overarching tasks that are weighing on them. Additionally, these big tasks could be something an employee is passionate about but can’t finish because of the influx of emails and messages they feel obligated to respond to immediately. This also lengthens the amount of time required to complete the big task.
Although flexible hours are great, sometimes technology just doesn’t cut it. Remote workers understand this issue best. Firstly, employees who work remotely tend to give more of their time and effort to compensate for the fact that they’re working from home. They want to prove that they’re valuable, so they work hard until they burn out. They also don’t have distractions: no commute, no coffee or lunch breaks with coworkers, no office gossip, and no human interaction regularly. Secondly, feelings of loneliness and isolation can appear in employees who work remotely because they’re missing that human connection.
In the end, technology offers its pros and cons. Our dependence on technology can leave us feeling like we’re always reachable and, therefore, constantly on. As demonstrated, this can have serious health implications and negative side effects. So, prevent workplace burnout before it sneaks up on you. Monitor your stress levels, the hours of work you’re comfortable maintaining, and provide legitimate breaks so you don’t overdo it.
For more information, check out What’s Causing Employee Burnout?