Earlier this year, burnout was officially recognised as a medical condition by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Defined as a specific workplace issue it was described as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
And whilst this step is positive – hopefully sparking employees to feel less guilty for taking time off because they are quite literally exhausted – tactics for managing burnout have not quite caught up.
Can holidays save burnt out staff?
In a recent Quartz article, writer Sarah Todd cited a 2018 study by the American Psychological Association – with responses from over 1,500 US workers – which found that two-thirds believed that the mental benefits of a vacation disappeared within a few days.
Additionally, a late-nineties study found that many workers self-reported feelings of burnout reached pre-vacation levels within three weeks of taking a break.
Burnout officially recognised as an illness
Speaking to Quartz, Liane Davey, Author of The Good Fight, a book about conflict in the modern workplace, explained that the average break isn’t long enough for employees to decompress – plus, she added, work still stacks up.
“Unfortunately, the duration of most vacations, one or maybe two weeks at best, is insufficient time to decompress and counter the effects of real burnout.
“As most people realise, taking vacation can be punishing, with a frenetic week of lead up as you try to tie up loose ends and another weeks of double duty while you catch up on the work you missed while still processing the incoming barrage.”
How to counter burnout
Organisational experts recommend taking proper breaks – including lunch.
“The research shows that you have to build in small (they can be very small) breaks during your day and then after work hours,” Paula Davis-Laack, an organisational consultant who focuses on stress, burnout, and resilience, told Quartz. She recommends a break every 90 to 120 minutes.
However, it’s not always because an individual has got too much work on that they’re feeling burnout.
Previous writers on the subject have cited differences in values, between the employer and employee, or being undervalued, or lacking autonomy, as reasons for burnout.
“In fact, taking a holiday can even exacerbate these. If the job is truly burning you out, more time for reflection might only create more stress as you get out of day-to-day or minute-to-minute survival mode and have enough distance to fully comprehend the problem (but not to solve it),” Davey told Quartz.