Preventing burnout

If you are in distress, please contact your Employee Assistance Program or Crisis Services Canada. If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency department.

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Defining job burnout

Job burnout is a pressing and ongoing concern at all levels across the federal public service.

The World Health Organization classifies job burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress.”

In other words, burnout is an individual’s stress response to systemic or workplace issues. As the American Psychiatric Association aptly puts it, “burnout needs a systemic organizational response,” and while interventions at the individual level can help reduce burnout, “organization-based interventions are more effective.”

The Centre of Expertise on Mental Health in the Workplace offers the following ten tips and tools to help prevent job burnout.

Assessing and reducing your risk for burnout

To be effective, burnout prevention efforts in the workplace require interventions at the organizational level. However, system-level changes in any organization take time. Meanwhile, it’s important to focus on what is within your control. Personal lifestyle changes through self-care and resilience-building are not an antidote to chronic mental stress in the workplace, but taking action at the individual level is the first step in your workplace wellness journey.

  1. Assess your personal risk for burnout
    While not a diagnostic instrument, Am I at risk for burnout? is a useful tool to self-assess your exposure to work-related stress that may indicate a risk for burnout.
  2. Reduce your risk for burnout
    Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms and identify strategies to prevent, recover from, and stay well after burnout.
  3. Build a personalized stress management plan
    Take a problem-solving approach to managing your stress. Identify your stressors and adopt proven stress management strategies to develop and download your personalized stress management action plan.
  4. Plan for resilience
    Illness or absence from work can exacerbate stress. Plan for resilience – workplace edition is your toolkit to prepare for unwelcomed or unanticipated changes in your work situation, and proactively deal with the negative impacts to build resilience.

Protecting and supporting employees and colleagues through burnout

Most individuals facing burnout remain at work, with overachievers at higher risk for stress-induced professional exhaustion. A workplace response includes taking proactive steps to help prevent job-related burnout and putting in place the needed supports for employees and colleagues to succeed while recovering from burnout. While the tools featured in this section are aimed at organizational leaders, the tips and strategies they suggest can also help you support a work colleague through burnout.

  1. Protect and support your people
    Burnout response for leaders is your how-to guide to identifying burnout, recognizing the workplace factors at play, and taking proactive steps for prevention, with strategies to protect overachievers and support those recovering from burnout.
  2. Prepare for the conversation
    You’ve identified an employee or colleague on your team at risk for burnout. Preparation is key to effective and supportive conversations that are collaborative in nature and focused on finding solutions.
  3. Equip for success
    Supporting employee success is a practical tool offering a step-by-step process to collaboratively develop a plan related to an individual’s abilities and strategies that support their success at work while recovering from burnout or other mental health issues.

Addressing workplace factors that can lead to burnout

The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace  identifies 13 psychosocial risk factors that impact organizational health and workforce well-being. Among these factors, excessive workload is a key contributor to an organization’s risk for burnout.

  1. Assess your organization’s risk for burnout
    Is your organization at risk for burnout? is an assessment tool to help you reflect on work-related risk factors that your organization can address.
  2. Engage your team for practical solutions to managing excessive workload
    People who do the work daily are a team’s greatest resource in identifying systemic and organizational issues that contribute to excessive workload. Put workload management on the agenda at your next team meeting to facilitate a discussion and co-develop a practical, cost-effective action plan that works for your team.
  3. Implement evidence-based actions for better workload management
    Engage senior decision makers in reviewing your team’s suggestions against evidence− or practice−based actions and responses, with a view to creating or modifying workplace policies and procedures that improve workload management for your organization.

Bonus tip and tool: Dealing with a stressful boss

  1. Maintain your well-being
    You’re on top of your self-care routine and have adopted healthier coping mechanisms, but what if the main source of your work-related stress is… your boss? Dealing with a stressful boss suggests strategies and approaches you can try to make your own situation better in managing this challenging but not uncommon occurrence in the workplace.

Additional resources

Much like recovery from burnout, addressing systemic and workplace factors like excessive workload isn’t a linear process, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The tips and tools featured here offer a starting point on your journey to taking care of your own well-being, supporting your boss, employees and colleagues, and promoting mental health and psychological harm prevention in your organization.

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