A friend of mine who works in an HR managerial capacity was told last year at her performance review that she was doing amazingly well but they were a bit worried that she did not look stressed enough. Just what does that tell us about what is happening nowadays in the corporate world?  We may be talking about wellbeing at work but in reality, we still think that if someone is not buzzing around round the clock, they must be faking it.  Where are the times gone when if you were around after 5pm you were not considered efficient enough?  That is something the French used to be jealous about. In the French world, nobody has ever been finished by 5pm except civil servants. So could we be saying that nowadays the English are behaving just as badly as the French? Mince alors.

But seriously now, why is working long hours not such a good idea and definitely not efficient?  I could repeat until I turn blue in the face that all studies show that working more than 40 hours a week actually decreases productivity and if you keep doing it for more than three or four weeks, your productivity then turns negative. But what I want to focus on today is something even more worrying: potential burnout.

A survey of HR directors conducted in 2013 showed that 80 percent said they were afraid of losing top employees to burnout. Official statistics are hard to find as burnout itself is not officially labelled in the UK but the latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey show that the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 represented 39 percent of all work-related illnesses. In the Netherlands, official statistics show that roughly 10 percent of the workforce is burned out at any given time, which confirms what most doctors are seeing in the whole of Europe.

But what is burnout exactly?  It is not feeling tired for some time, there is no such thing as a ‘little burnout’.  Burnout is not depression (although it may lead you to it if left untreated), it is not mid-life crisis, it is not a nervous breakdown. Burnout is a long-term extreme physical, mental and emotional fatigue caused by excessive and prolonged overload. You have been through too much for too long. One day, your body switches the ‘off’ button.  In most cases, you collapse in a heap or find you are physically unable to get up in the morning. All those who go through burnout have one thing in common: they have been doing too much for too long, usually under a large amount of stress.

This is not just worrying on a personal level, the whole company can be affected: once you collapse and go into burnout, you need about 12 months before you are able to go back to work. In the first months, you can barely get out of bed.  Think about the disruption to work, the loss of expertise, the cost of replacing and training and if we are talking about a key manager, then the company could suffer just as much as the person.

So information, prevention and training before it happens are essential. Learning to detect the signs of potential burnout is another one.  But how do we do that?  Well I do enjoy a little bit of suspense, so this, my friends, will be for you to discover next time! Until then, stop pushing yourself beyond your limits and take good care of your teams.