Do what you love, and you will never have to work a day. This quote, earlier attributed to Chinese philosopher Confucius, is inspiring and true. But on the flip side of the coin, it can pose false expectations. The work dynamic centuries ago is far different from what we have today, and simply doing what you are passionate about is not enough consideration when weighing employment options.

We spend around eight hours at work. Add another hour for preparation, plus two hours for commute to and from work, depending on several factors that can increase travel time like traffic. And these only form part of the physical preparations for work. What is more tolling than physical fatigue is work-related stress, a factor often overlooked but is one of the workplace challenges cited by employees in the American Psychologists Association’s 2021 Work and Well-Being survey. Doing what you love is clearly not enough, especially when too much stress at work leads to burnout.

Work burnout is classified as an occupational phenomenon. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) defines it as a syndrome which occurs as a product of chronic workplace stress that has not been adequately managed and addressed. It is characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job, and reduced professional efficacy”.

Effects of employee burnout

Mental health matters. Because we spend so much of our time at work, it has a direct and profound effect on our overall health. The effects of work burnout not only impact work productivity; they likewise affect the overall personal well-being of staff. McKinsey research discussed that one in four employees reported experiencing work burnout, a factor that make them much more likely to quit their jobs. This is already apparent in many workplaces today, with companies reporting higher attrition rates. One of the factors driving the higher employee turnover rate? Factors correlated with burnout like toxic workplace behavior and culture.  

More companies today are putting in extra effort to manage and address employee burnout. Another McKinsey article emphasized that HR teams now offer health and wellness perks to staff like yoga subscriptions and training on time management. However, offering such perks should not be the be-all and end-all when it comes to ensuring the welfare of staff.

Consider enforcing “well-being days”

Many organizations today are implementing what they call well-being or wellness days, periods during which staff get to enjoy a mandatory day-off from their work duties to recharge. While often considered part of work-life balance, wellness days offer so much more. During these days, employers get to engage staff in exercises that put a premium on developing employees’ psychological and physical welfare. These may come in the form of mentoring and sessions with professionals that offer guidance on areas like proper nutrition and even the benefits of practicing the principle of “mindfulness”. Implementing designated wellness days every month provides a host of benefits like increased work productivity and affords staff the opportunity to learn new skills.

Improve workplace productivity metrics

A Gallup study cited in an article reveals that when employees feel that they have control over their performance metrics, they are “55% less likely to experience burnout frequently”. Companies should strive to adopt metrics that are free from external factors that influence overall rating of staff. It should be emphasized that it is extra difficult to work diligently when you know that factors aside from your own performance at work can influence your job rating, thereby increasing chances that employees will feel anxious and stressed.

Embed employee engagement in office culture

A toxic workplace is more detrimental than we think. Taking steps to improve organizational culture, the sum of workplace norms, enable a company to avoid toxic situations that may lead to stress buildup and subsequently, burnout. HR teams should be at the fore of ensuring and, more importantly, showing that the company cares for its staff and is concerned about their welfare. When long work hours are tolerated and worse, practiced and praised over completing job deliverables more efficiently though at a shorter time, this will become a habit difficult to break.

In the end, the power to dictate work practices that promote employee well-being is at the hands of the company and team leaders. Fostering a positive environment where employees can thrive and excel, improving performance indicators, and adopting employee engagement strategies will not only leave a rosy impact on staff members’ overall mental health; it will lead to improved work productivity as well.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 30 November 2022