Burnout due to retrenchments in the Corporate Industry

Written by: Barkie Mckrea

What is your understanding of Burnout?

Let us start by looking at what Burnout is, how it occurs and affects your basic wellness. By definition, “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.” Sounds familiar? Most of us at one point felt burnt-out and needed a break or holiday to recuperate. Burnout can affect anyone of us at any time in our lives and as with any illness, symptoms of burnout change from person to person. Burnout goes through various stages.

The Honeymoon Phase is when we start a new job or venture, we are normally very motivated and driven, full of spark and ready to impress. Like the expression says “a new broom sweeps clean”. In this first phase of burnout, you may begin to experience predicted stresses of the initiative you’re undertaking, so it’s important to start implementing positive coping strategies, such as taking practical steps to support your wellbeing alongside your professional ventures. The second stage of burnout, called Onset of Stress, begins with an awareness of some days being more difficult than others. You may find your optimism waning, as well as notice common stress symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, forgetfulness, fatigue, inability to focus, affecting you physically, mentally, or emotionally. The third stage of burnout is called Chronic Stress and is marked by changes in your stress levels, going from motivation, to experiencing stress on an incredibly frequent basis. You may also experience more intense symptoms than those of stage two. You will experience symptoms such as chronic exhaustion, physical illness, persistent tiredness, anger, aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and decreased sexual desire and need for intimacy. Stage four represents Burnout itself. The symptoms are now critical and it is very difficult to cope.  We all have different coping mechanisms and capacity to cope. At this stage it is important for you to consider seeking help if you feel that you are experiencing any of these symptoms highlighting which stage you could be in. The intervention depends on the severity of your condition and symptoms. Remember burnout can threaten your job, your relationships and your health. Bear in mind that burnout is not like the flu that just goes away after some time, unless you make some necessary changes in your life.

There are many things you can do to regain your balance and start to feel positive and hopeful again. Let us look at a few interim things you can do to cope better. Help your mind and body to recover by taking breaks in between stressful situations. Consider timeout and take a short holiday to recuperate. Live a healthier lifestyle by eating better, drink lots of water and get enough rest. Understand your capacity and learn to say NO. Focus on the positive things in your life that makes you happy and work on proper perspective of your stressful situations.

The Modern Workplace

‘Modern Workplace’ is a term used to define organizations and companies who recognize digital collaboration, technology and tools as the way of the future. Modern labour methods require less and less staff to complete tasks. The nature of work has changed. Everyone is responding to this change and companies have evolved to adjust. The big question is, are we using this change to create a better workplace? More importantly, how has it affected you personally? When you were at school you spent most of your day at school, as an adult you are spending most of your day at work. Employees expect to work securely from anywhere, on any device, and they put a value on work that enriches and fulfills them. When they have job satisfaction it enhances the quality and effectiveness of their work experience, they’re happier, more valuable, and more likely to stay. So the modern workplace is a philosophy that embraces the realities of how people want to work in today’s business environment and how technology enables that activity. It is about people and empowering them to do their best work. Technology is the best tool to enable this, but the modern workplace is about mindset, drive, communication, culture, and so much more. Office workers don’t clock-in and clock-out of work anymore. This is because work is no longer about raw output, it’s about employee empowerment.  

At this point it seems all beneficial and a much better system to follow. Productivity is still the main driving force of any employee. One of the biggest trends in the modern labour force is to minimize staff and to get one person to do as much as possible. Companies demand maximum output from their labour force, providing them with modern tools. Unfortunately, not everyone has the capacity to do 3 peoples work, consistently over long periods of time. It seems logical that companies will have to retrench large numbers of the labour force to accommodate this new system.

Effects of Retrenchment on You

Advantages of retrenchment include reduced costs, improved efficiency and easier to manage. Retrenchment increases profits for shareholders and creates a strategy to survive economic downturn. Retrenchment, also called downsizing, involves a decrease in the diversity of business activities. The disadvantages of retrenchment include growth decline, reduced profits, smaller workforce, reduced productivity and inability to meet consumer demand. Logically workers are expected to do much more than before stretching their capacity to the limit.

Retrenchment can have a traumatic and emotional impact on the still-employed as well as those who have been laid off. The remaining employees may feel demotivated and insecure which can result in lower productivity within the company. Workers are over worked and expected to function yet at optimal level. Over worked employees tend to express higher levels of stress and anxiety and eventually reach symptoms of burning out. These employees aren’t given the time they need to fully recharge and unwind from a stressful workweek. Instead, the stress will just continue to pile on. Employers who remain behind after the retrenchment process might work themselves to exhaustion out of fear that they themselves might be retrenched next.  They may feel demotivated and insecure which can result in lower productivity within the company. Some individuals suffer symptoms like Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as high levels of psychological stress and fear. The uncertainty also makes everyone anxious about their future.

Not being able to get the work done, not meeting deadlines, and constantly having to multi task can all lead to  increased stress levels and thus, make you burn out quickly. Although it has been proven that some amount of stress can boost productivity, toxic stress is harmful. Thus, don’t give your employees too many tasks at once or work they can’t cope with. Instead, give them more autonomy, flexible schedules and encourage single tasking. This way, they won’t live in constant stress and they’ll be less likely to burn out. Which brings me to question, “Is work balance a myth?” You have heard the expression “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” Without time off from work, a person becomes exhausted, bored, depressed and so, burned out. Everybody needs some alone time, time for their families and time for the things they love or passionate about. So, make sure you work when you’re at work and rest when you’re out of work. There are also situations when employee burnout isn’t the fault of his or her manager or the company, but the employee him or herself. Being extremely over committed to the job, an employee can decide to work around the clock seven days a week. Be mindful that your commitment and inability to strike a balance between work and family is unhealthy. On the one hand it is admirable to be so dedicated but on the other hand you could be prejudicing your family life and commitments to your personal health and life.

Covid-19 Effect

Since the pandemic everything has also changed. Most people were caught off guard and unprepared to deal with the consequences. Huge numbers of people were laid off, leaving the current labour force to keep things going. Even though you happy and grateful to have kept your job, you find yourself doing more people’s work and your capacity stretched to the limit. You find yourself between a rock and a hard place as you could be the sole bread winner in the family. You convince yourself that this could be a temporary arrangement and things will get better. Your colleagues have been retrenched and you are part of the group that is still standing.

Recent studies conducted on the Mental Health of individuals experiencing this shows that people have been experiencing burnout at work and half of the people contribute it to Covid. Some even predict that we could have a mental health crisis within the next 3 to 4 years. People feel over worked all the time and it is easy to understand why they blame the pandemic generally. Their pay has been reduced but they are expected to equal and at times do better than last year. People are doing their best but the pressure is wearing most of them down. Emotionally it is also very difficult for most people top remain enthusiastic and upbeat about work and at times about life.

Another interesting study highlighted that females struggled a bit more than males with the pandemic. One reason is women’s caretaking nature. With COVID-19, more women are homeschooling and taking care of their kids at home while also working remotely. But additionally, women are traditionally more empathetic and try to help out family, friends or coworkers during the pandemic, which in turn can burn them out faster. Overall it seems like most research show that mental health, stress and burnout have all skyrocketed due to COVID-19, as have concerns over getting sick, economic worries, taking care of family members and suffering from isolation, loneliness and unhealthy boundaries between work and home life. “All of this has been a huge burden on people. Retrenching people and making a few people over work to keep production going is not the answer. The pandemic gives companies the indemnity and carte blanch to do this to ensure the company still survives. During this pandemic so many companies and organizations closed down as well. Sadly, it also gives companies the opportunity to get rid of “dead wood” without proper justification. We have high unemployment rates already and the pandemic has increased the amount. Families are dependent on the sole bread winner putting added pressure on that person. Eventually it will take its toll on everyone and without some relief or coping strategies they will burnout. People have put their life on hold during this pandemic. There is no time and finances for short breaks and holidays. Survival seems to be the order of the day.

Burnout has officially been defined as a “workplace hazard” for several years now, and the pandemic has only made it worse. People are more stressed out about their job security, taking on more responsibilities, working longer hours and having trouble finding meaning in anything in the months of the pandemic. For some people their whole life now revolves around work and financial security.

With so many being told to socially distance themselves in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, many companies have shifted employees to remote work arrangements. At first glance, that seems like a good thing. Workers can continue doing their jobs and getting paid without dealing with the hassle of commuting. And with all the time saved not sitting in traffic or riding a bus, it stands to reason that workers should have more time on their hands for household maintenance, exercise, and hobbies. But most are working longer hours now than ever before. Prior to COVID-19, it was easier to pack up and unplug at the end of a long workday. Back then, people had dinner plans, appointments, or other obligations.

Let us Conclude

You should have an idea by now if you are busy burning out or already burnt-out. Then you should also consider doing something about it. Hopefully this article gave you enough information to consider a life change that would be healthier especially during these tough and challenging times. Our career and work is important for us to have a sustained life and it is the foundation for us to build on and evolve to a better standard of life. However, at the same time it must not be at the expense of your physical and mental health. Hopefully you can find a balance between the two and allow yourself to enjoy life parallel to your responsibilities. Always respect and understand your capacity in relation to what you can and cannot manage. It is always healthy to push your boundaries in order to discover your true abilities but remember your body talks to you and it is the best indicator to also highlight your inefficiency.

The pandemic has been a test of times in all departments, from relationships, security, health and work. Now more than ever you need to understand the true authenticity of yourself, your abilities and to work towards the tools to cope with it. The demands of this pandemic require you to be strong and smart to navigate through its challenges. Make sure that you deal with it affectively with proper perspective and not let it overwhelm you. The pandemic has ruined business and lives in this short period of time. It has put people off course and their balance and equilibrium is stirred. Make the change now to adapt to it and fight to make it work for you on your terms too. Prioritize your life and know what is most important to you and the people you love……

Psychological Performance Coach

Barkie Mckrea

B.A. Social Science

Honours Psychology

Masters Citation Performance


Contact +27 82 346 5974


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