x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

How to extinguish workplace burnout

The Life: Fatigue, anxiety and depression, and sleeping difficulties. These are typical symptoms of burnout and they're common in the UAE - and moreso in Abu Dhabi than Dubai.

Illustration by Lee McGorie / The National
Illustration by Lee McGorie / The National

Fatigue, anxiety, depression, and sleeping difficulties. These are typical symptoms of burnout and 41 per cent of UAE HR directors recently surveyed by the recruitment specialist Robert Half UAE said the condition was common in their organisation.

The survey asked HR directors which three factors contribute most to burnout. Their top answers were workload, overtime and long hours, money worries and lack of work-life balance.

"Companies are having to do more with less," says James Sayer, Robert Half UAE's director. "Inadequate staffing levels may result in a decrease in employee motivation and productivity, and in some cases increased attrition rates, as employees seek greater work-life balance with competing organisations."

David Robert, the chief executive of A Great Place to Work in the UAE, an organisation that studies workplaces, says that in our globalised world there is increased pressure on employers to deliver results with fewer resources.

"That is a perfect recipe for burnout," he says.

Employees who are "running on empty" may frequently arrive late for work, squabble with managers, have emotional outbursts and take an increasing number of sick days, the survey said. The employee's productivity may also slump.

Burnout is "going beyond stress", says Dr Raymond Hamden, a clinical and forensic psychologist at the Human Relations Institute in Dubai. "In the past we called "burnout a nervous breakdown."

In his book Balanced-4-Life: Before Burn Out, due to be published later this year, Dr Hamden says there are four areas people need to focus on every day to avoid burnout and to be able to handle stress more effectively. These are: work, play, family and worship.

"There needs to be boundaries for time spent at work," he advises. "There needs to be time for relaxation and fun, to connect intimately with loved ones and some sort of worship. This can be organised religion or a spiritual understanding of the universe or some form of meditation, regardless of beliefs."

Mr Robert, however, believes the potential for burnout can be mitigated by building a "high-trust environment".

"There may be days when you have a tonne of stuff going on outside work," he says. "If you have a solid team and a manager who really understands who you are and gives you the support you need, you are less likely to feel all that weight on your shoulders."

Interestingly, the Robert Half survey suggested that burnout is more prevalent in Abu Dhabi than in Dubai. In the capital, almost half of HR directors say burnout is common. That figure drops to 34 per cent in Dubai.

(The survey was conducted by an independent research firm in December and included responses from 75 HR directors from Abu Dhabi and Dubai.)

Dr Hamden puts the difference between employee burnout in the two cities down to the capital's vision to make itself into a great city.

"From my experience in different parts of the county and the region, Abu Dhabi is very, very busily making itself known as progressive and productive city," he says. "Everyone who wants to be part of that has to run to be number one."

Another factor may be that many people who work in Abu Dhabi live in Dubai, and the daily commute in heavy traffic adds to stress levels while eating into relaxation time.

The survey also inquired if any initiatives had been put in place to prevent employee burnout. A total of 47 per cent of the HR directors said they were reviewing or restructuring job functions; 47 per cent also said they were encouraging employees to take time off and 28 per cent said they encouraged team-building activities.

The Human Relations Institute encourages workplaces to adopt a different time management format: working fewer hours but being more productive.

Dr Hamden says his client companies have had sharp rises in productivity after adopting this approach.

"It doesn't mean working less," he says. "It's about working smart."

In the end, employees can take steps to avoid burnout - but employers can help by offering a flexible working schedule and encouraging workers to take their holidays.