Stress and employee burnout are two terms that are commonly used interchangeably, but they are not the same.
Stress is a normal response to a challenging or demanding situation, whereas burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that results from prolonged or chronic stress.
In the workplace setting, stress can be a significant contributor to employee burnout, which can have detrimental effects on individual and organisational performance.
Stress in the workplace can come from a variety of sources, including workload, deadlines, interpersonal conflicts, organisational changes, and job insecurity. When employees are exposed to these stressors for extended periods without adequate support, they are at risk of experiencing burnout.
There is a growing body of research that suggests a strong relationship between stress and burnout in the workplace. Studies have shown that employees who experience high levels of stress are more likely to report symptoms of burnout, such as emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and reduced personal accomplishment. Moreover, research has found that burnout can be a significant predictor of turnover intentions, absenteeism, and reduced job performance.
The impact of stress on employee burnout can be explained through the job demands-resources (JD-R) model. According to this model, job demands refer to the physical, psychological, social, and organisational aspects of work that require sustained effort and are associated with physiological and psychological costs.
Job resources, on the other hand, are the physical, psychological, social, and organisational aspects of work that help employees achieve work goals, reduce job demands, and promote well-being.
When employees experience high job demands without sufficient resources, they are at risk of experiencing burnout. When the demands of the job outweigh the resources available to manage those demands, employees are more likely to experience burnout.
For example, an employee who has to work long hours, meet extremely tight deadlines, and deal with difficult customers may experience high job demands. If that same employee has little autonomy, receives little support from colleagues or supervisors, and has limited access to resources such as training or technology, they are at risk of experiencing burnout.
Stress and employee burnout can also be impacted by individual and organisational factors. For example, personality traits such as perfectionism, high levels of self-criticism, and low self-esteem can increase an employee's vulnerability to burnout. Additionally, organisational factors such as poor management practices, lack of recognition and rewards, and limited opportunities for career development can contribute to stress and burnout.
Organisational interventions aimed at reducing stress and preventing burnout can be effective in improving employee well-being and organisational performance. Such interventions can include individual-level interventions such as stress management training, mindfulness-based interventions, and cognitive-behavioural therapy.
Additionally, organisational -level interventions such as job redesign, job crafting, and supportive leadership can help reduce job demands, increase job resources, and promote employee well-being.
One common and popular intervention that has been found to be effective in reducing stress and preventing burnout is job crafting. Job crafting is the process by which employees proactively modify the tasks, relationships, and perceptions of their work to increase their personal resources and decrease job demands. Job crafting can involve changes in task boundaries, skill variety, task significance, autonomy, and social support.
Research has shown that job crafting can lead to improvements in employee well-being, job satisfaction, and performance.
It's critical for any business owner to manage the stress levels of their teams. Unmanageable stress levels is a golden ticket to employee burnout.