Mental stress in the workplace or burn-out is now considered a syndrome, as recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In the UAE, stress levels at work are high, especially among women. In a recent study, most respondents expressed concerns about longer working hours and work-related relationships. Ninety-one per cent reported stress at work and 96 per cent perceived a negative impact of colleagues' stress on the workplace.
The WHO, however, has stopped short of labelling burn-out as a medical condition. Burn-out is a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, it said.
It is characterised by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life, said the health organisation.
Gail Stanley, head of organisational effectiveness at Noor Bank who has implemented wellness programmes in the workplace, said the initiatives have made a difference in productivity.
"It is important to shape an environment where employees feel free to talk about anxiety in the workplace, rather than see it as taboo. Encouraging employees to adopt healthy habits that support positive mental health, such as exercise and a balanced, nutritious diet - as well as helping them prioritise and organise their work efficiently - allows for better work-life balance," according to Stanley.
Jerome Droesch, CEO of Cigna MENA, said: "Flexible work arrangements, special paid leaves, time off for personal interests, and job security are just some of the benefits respondents feel employers should provide."
Mental health counsellor Resha Erheim said some signs that an employee is near burn-out are coming in late for work or increased illness; fatigue and low energy; lack of productivity, like missing deadlines and tasks; forgetfulness; difficulty in concentrating; and insomnia.
"Other signs are physical symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, headaches, loss of appetite," Erheim said.
Increased irritability, anxiety and depression, loss of enjoyment and being pessimistic, social withdrawal and feeling detached are other signs someone may exhibit while reaching burn-out.
According to Erheim, the best way to manage burn-out is to start early in the prevention stage before reaching intervention.
"Either way, positive lifestyle changes and healthy coping strategies can help here, like seeking the support of colleagues or a counsellor or family, having an exercise routine, regular meditation, healthy diet, and maintaining good sleep hygiene, social engagement, listening to music, and practising a hobby," she explained.
Some things employees can do to manage workplace stress are being assertive and learning to have healthy responses, speaking to their supervisor, setting boundaries, taking time to recharge, getting some support from resources, friends and family, avoiding conflict at work and negative people, staying organised with reminders and planning ahead, not multi-tasking, and remembering self-care.
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