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Jacinda Ardern’s resignation shines the spotlight on worker burnout

More than half of Australian workers have felt burnt out as they face increasing pressure.

More than half of Australian workers have felt burnt out as they face increasing pressure. Photo: Getty

When making the shock announcement of her decision to step down from her role in January, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern emphasised it would be a “disservice” for her to continue as prime minister, sparking a global conversation around burnout.

“I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice,” Ms Ardern said.

Seek data released in 2022 shows 67 per cent of employees have felt burnt out, with 36 per cent having left a job due to the phenomenon.

The World Health Organisation recognises burnout as a syndrome resulting from “chronic workplace stress”.

It is characterised by feelings of exhaustion, mentally distancing from one’s job or feeling cynical about one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.

Ardern

Jacinda Ardern has called time on her tenure as New Zealand’s 40th prime minister, sparking conversation around burnout. Photo: AAP

Safeguard global workforce management expert Jonathan Perumal told The New Daily he is seeing clients reach out for help to find employees from outside of Australia. That’s because they’re facing employee burnout locally, and are struggling to find replacements because of the country’s tight labour market.

He said the tight labour market means Australian workers are being asked to do more within their jobs as employers struggle to fill extra roles.

Employees are also seeing their work encroach on private life more since the beginning of the pandemic, he said.

“Workers have gotten to a point where they’ve taken too many of these [extra] tasks, and they’ve accumulated and snowballed to a point that they’re now seeing a huge level of burnout,” Mr Perumal said.

“Work is also overlapping a lot now … with COVID, we were working from home, [and] people were working around home schedules.

“But as things have got a bit more back into routine, kids going to school, et cetera, employers still are continuing to reach out to workers after-hours … and this is all adding up as well.”

Mr Perumal said it’s important for employers to check in with employees regularly, and to foster workplace environments where employees feel comfortable coming forward if they’re struggling to keep up with their work and personal lives.

How to avoid burnout

Amantha Imber, organisational psychologist and author of Time Wise, said burnout occurs when a worker’s “bucket is empty” from the combination of working too much and pressures outside of work.

She said the key to avoiding burnout is through taking regular breaks throughout the day – and the year.

“On a micro level, during the day, research has shown that compared to taking one half an hour break, taking regular five minute breaks and using those to get out and go for a walk will help you feel more energetic and resilient come the afternoon,” Dr Imber said.

For a more substantial break, she said the ideal holiday length is three to six days; generally an easy amount of time to book off, while also giving workers enough time to feel recharged.

“Scheduling multiple shorter holidays is a really great strategy to stay energised throughout the year, as opposed to doing what a lot of people do, which is booking in the big four-week trip to Europe,” she said.

“That means hoarding annual leave and not taking a break when you probably need it because you used up all your leave on one mega-holiday.

“Mega-holidays are great, but just be aware that it might actually take a toll on you in the lead-up to that big holiday.”

If you’re struggling with feeling burnt out, she said it’s important to feel comfortable talking it out with your boss – and if you’re not comfortable doing so, it could be a sign to look for a new job and workplace environment.

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