Ever hear of the phrase, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” It certainly applies from a physical perspective – exercise, eat well, sleep – but it applies to mental health, too. We’ve all been caught in this time of layoffs, furloughs, and unemployment claims. For some, it may have come as a relief from a particularly demanding job; a much-needed break, perhaps. Now, as we move closer to the summer months, we expect more employees to return to work and businesses to gradually re-open. If you were having a hard time with work prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, returning to work may not be a welcome thought. Were you feeling burned out way back in February? (Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?) Chances are when you return to work, those feelings of burnout may come right back, as if you’d never left.

If this is you, you’re not alone. A simple Google search of “prevalence of workplace burnout” reveals multiple scholarly articles looking at burnout rates in China, Belgium, Iran, Canada, and the United States. While many burnout studies look at healthcare workers, you don’t have to be working on the frontlines of a pandemic to feel burnout. If your job has long hours, physically demanding work, and difficult co-workers or bosses, you can be just as susceptible.

Why are we writing about burnout, you may ask? Well, we’ve been looking into how burnout can increase the risk of safety hazards at work. I refer to the World Health Organization (WHO) for their definition of burnout. It results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Someone experiencing burned out may have these feelings:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

  • Negative feelings, mental distance from one’s job, cynicism;

  • Decreased professional efficacy.

Does any of this sound familiar? Remember that WHO defines burnout as a workplace phenomenon, so it doesn’t have to be in healthcare (even though that’s what has been widely studied). If you feel mentally distant at the job that requires you to lift 100 pounds and carry it ten feet, you may not exhibit good lifting technique and hurt yourself. If your mind wanders as you drive a forklift, you increase the risk of hurting yourself or someone else. If you’re exhausted, one task that used to take a small amount of time may take significantly longer, which can impact other employees. Employees that feel burned out have less safety awareness, which raises the risk of injury to themselves or others. No one wants to work around someone who is unsafe, and we don’t want that “someone” to be you.

As you return to work in the coming weeks and months, take a self-inventory. Are you feeling burned out, exhausted, unmotivated? If so, start with a conversation with your supervisor and determine if there is company support for you. Find out what resources may be available. Maybe there’s another position for which you’d be well-suited. But the point is: do it NOW. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so identify it early if you’re starting to feel burned out. Don’t wait until all those signs listed above turn into a safety hazard. We’d rather see you healthy and happy, and so would your employer.

If you are concerned about your physical fitness to return to work, contact us today for an assessment by one of our highly trained physical therapists who can assess your fitness and tailor a program to your specific needs.