Work stress can manifest for many reasons – long hours, work overload, unrealistic expectations, conflict and toxic workplace cultures to name just a few. If not curtailed, this stress can lead to burnout.
Though commonly thought of as a condition of ‘emotional’ exhaustion, burnout can be considered as extreme emotional, physical and mental exhaustion.
Psychological symptoms may be the first to manifest, but fatigue, insomnia and mental impairment are also associated with work stress and burnout.
New research has now also identified specific physiological factors that “could be considered as (a) bio-clinical signature of chronic stress in the workplace.” These factors include insomnia, high levels of glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1C) and deficiency of Vitamin D. 1
This research is consistent with previous research that showed the association of insomnia, work stress and burnout. However, the other two factors indicate the extent to which other physiological markers express with continuing exposure to stress and burnout.
The illustration below shows this association. Though the first indicator of workplace stress may be emotional distress, as the exposure continues, one can expect greater risk of insomnia and physical fatigue. Eventually, the stress takes a physical toll and one is at risk of succumbing to burnout – emotional, physical and mental exhaustion.
Obviously, reducing the extent of and exposure to stressful workplace conditions is paramount in reducing the risk of burnout.
To further protect employees consider providing
- stress management training and tools
- sleep education which emphasizes prioritizing sleep
- healthy on-site food options
- adequate rest breaks at work and sufficient time away from work
Finally, given the trajectory of the path from exposure to stress to burnout, it underlines the role of occupational health and other workplace wellness professionals. Monitoring employees is critical. Noting the markers from incidental exposure to on-going exposure provides a very clear diagnosis and treatment pathway.
1 Sleep and biological parameters in professional burnout: A psychophysiological characterization, Metlaine et al. 2018.