Burnout is now officially an 'occupational phenomenon', here's how Ireland is coping

Some of Ireland’s top recruitment specialists give their insights into “burnout”.

By Laura Roddy Reporter, Fora

AS WORKING HOURS are becoming less fixed in a world of remote access and flexi-time – not to mention the constant distraction of technology – the issue of “burnout” is getting greater attention.  

The World Health Organization recently classified the term as an “occupational phenomenon” in its classification of diseases.

Though not classified as a medical condition, WHO said burnout results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and is characterized by lack of energy, increased mental distance from one’s job and a reduced interest in achieving an end goal. 

The organisation said it was linked only to work and shouldn’t be applied to describe experiences in other parts of life. 

This seems to be a contentious issue for recruiters as Jennifer Ward, associate director at Sigmar, told Fora it’s difficult to separate people’s home life from their working life.

From what she has seen, burnout results from people leading busier lives and trying to juggle work alongside home life.

Ward recruits human resource professionals for clients and says multinationals and tech companies in Ireland are upping their game when it comes to supports for employees. 

“A lot of tech companies have directors of culture now – they rank it at that level of importance – who are responsible for ensuring employee engagement that has to do with productivity and the company’s effectiveness,” she said. 

Middle management feels the brunt

According to Ward, HR professionals are receiving extra leadership training to ensure managers on the ground are able to identify burnout as soon as it starts appearing and to take a preventative approach. 

She said they are very aware of creating that channel of communication and keeping it open with everyone on the team. 

Trayc Keevans, who is global FDI director at Morgan McKinley in Ireland, said she sees stress as a symptom of burnout and it is most prevalent at levels of middle-management. 

At the moment she is noticing an increase in employees leaving companies – which generally occurs in a buoyant economy with an an unemployment rate of 5% – and the first to be impacted by this is middle management. 

“They are the ones that are leading the team and delivering the projects or the solution for the company. On top of this they need to deal with the gap of resource when someone leaves. They are managing the team that is already under stress,” she said. 

According to Keevans burnout and stress are also common at executive level for sales companies and for employees of companies that support different time zones.

Long working hours

Keevans made the reference to a 2016 Morgan McKinley report, that surveyed employee working hours, which found nearly three-quarters of Irish employees, 73%, work longer than their contracted hours.

She is of the opinion that technology is a big factor in why people are expected to work longer hours, as it has made processes faster and as a result expectations and responses are faster. 

Áine Brolley, founder of CPL’s executive search brand Ardlinn, said that with an increased focus on wellness programmes from employers, one would expect it to counter exhaustion, stress and negativity toward one’s job. 

She raises the question of whether the influx of millennials into the workplace has also had an effect. 

“The disruption to the workplace by the millennial generation has been extensive. We know they do not like to be closely managed, they want to have more flexibility, they want to progress very quickly and so on,” she told Fora

Brolly also found it interesting that WHO classified burnout as an occupational syndrome as it makes it specific to the workplace.   

Wellness programmes

Speaking about employee assisted programmes, Keevan said Ireland is at a point where there are more supports in place for staff, but she thinks a lot of these supports are not fit for purpose. 

Again, she said McKinley carried out another employee survey and discovered that for indigenous Irish companies only one in three offer an employee assisted programme while among the multi-national companies two in one did. 

She said there were a lot of employees that have these programmes in place but don’t promote them within the workforce. 

“On the flip side, of that we see employees that may be distrustful of these programmes and question can they speak to somebody that’s part of a company-led programme in confidence,” she added. 

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