Philly Has an Employee Burnout Problem. Here’s How To Beat It.

Learn the symptoms of job burnout — and how to treat them — from three Philly specialists.

Worker burnout.
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If you’re harboring negative feelings toward your job, experiencing a mental distance from it, and noticing that your professional efficacy has decreased, there’s a big chance you’re burnt out. And we don’t mean that in the cliché sense of the phrase. There’s now some real weight behind those words.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released an expanded definition of burnout in the 11th Revision of its diagnostic guidebook the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). WHO classified burnout as a syndrome, listing the workplace malady as an “occupational phenomenon,” although not a medical condition.

Regardless of its official category, burnout’s physical and mental effects hold real consequences for both workers and employers. In Philadelphia, experts say the phenomenon is real.

In April, human resource firm Robert Half conducted a survey, classifying worker burnout levels from 1 (none) to 10 (total burnout). U.S. workers on average reported a burnout level of 5.6, with Philadelphians ranking slightly lower at 5.5.

Christine Endres, regional vice president of Robert Half in Philadelphia, said, “When we asked the Philadelphia workers [why they were burnt out] they cited two things. They cited constant interruptions—fires to put out. And the other big one was feeling that their career was stagnated and there was no room for growth,” which was consistent with national results.
“Work overload is something that we commonly talk about, but there are other factors that contribute to burnout. It could be not feeling valued in the workplace or problematic relationships in the workplace,” added psychiatrist Deanna Nobleza.

Nobleza, assistant professor of psychiatry at Jefferson University and director of the university’s student counseling center, spoke to Philadelphia magazine about the health effects of the syndrome.

“Burnout can lead to depression. Burnout can result in other psychiatric symptoms. But it’s not just psychological,” she cautioned. “It’s not just emotional fatigue. It can be physical fatigue. People have other physical manifestations of burnout including decreased immunity or muscle aches and pains.

Carrie Bucci, founder of Mixtape Talent and HR specialist on workplace burnout, noted individual responsibility for burnout. “People have bought into the myth that busy is better. If they’re not always working, it means that they’re not important or they’re not a highly valued employee,” Bucci said. “Hopefully, we can get away from this concept of busy as a status symbol.”

These experts provided the following five tips for professionals who want to beat burnout:

1. Build your passions.

“The identity of a lot of people is so wrapped up in their job. When your identity is your job, burnout is the result. There’s really no way to avoid that.” –Bucci

“There’s this schematic called the Exhaustion Funnel from this researcher [Marie Åsberg] at Stockholm University. She talks about burnout being like an exhaustion funnel; at the top of the funnel, you include all of those aspects in your life that make it feel fulfilled, but when people get busy, they begin to omit those things that actually make them feel nourished. The scope of our life narrows to the point where at the bottom of this funnel, we only have work and sleep, maybe.” –Nobleza

2. Protect your time.

“Employees can protect their time. It’s fair for them to know these are my tasks. If someone comes to them to add another task, [they should say], ‘Here’s what I’m working on. I have time-blocked this out, and this is my day.’ Other managers don’t necessarily know what’s on your to-do list. Letting someone know, ‘Hey, this is everything that I have going on. I don’t know if I can take that on,’ I don’t think that’s a sign of weakness.” –Endres

3. Reset.

“When people are already experiencing burnout, the best thing they can do is reset. Sometimes resetting might mean finding a different job. Sometimes that means having difficult conversations with their managers about what needs to change. I’m a big fan of people taking a change of scenery. And it doesn’t have to take a trip to Bali. It could just mean you go and sit in the park for lunch. That means stepping away from your phone too. If we’re tethered to email, are we stepping away from work?” –Bucci

4. Determine what matters.

“I think that’s something that is often underestimated, reminding oneself why they’re doing this in the first place. I had someone who came in to see me recently who had switched jobs. They said to me, ‘Last time I was here, you told me, have you thought about leaving that position? Ultimately, she ended up in a different position. She said, ‘I’m so happy now. I was working such long hours.’ That’s the value piece, what matters to you?” –Nobleza

5. Managers: Set an example.

Managers should encourage their staff to participate in different wellness offerings, but you also have to participate yourself in order to make sure that employees realize that they can. Companies design their vacation days with the idea that you’re going to take those vacation days. As managers, we need to encourage it. Then, our employees will [take a break] and have a better work life balance. –Endres