A debilitating condition is doing the rounds of our workplaces. There's a good chance you know someone who suffers from it.
Look out for the colleague who displays a negative attitude and talks about quitting their job; complains of physical ailments such as headaches, backaches or stomach pains; is easily irritated and blames others for their own mistakes; and who seems to be pulling rapidly away from their colleagues.
It's called burnout. And, until recently, many bosses wondered if the phenomenon was real or just an excuse staff used to dodge extra work.
But for an increasing number of workers cracking under heavy workloads, burnout is very real. So real that the World Health Organisation weighed in on the matter recently by reclassifying the condition from "a problem related to life management" to an "occupational phenomenon".
The WHO says this reclassification portrays burnout more appropriately as a work-based syndrome caused by chronic stress. Its broad characteristics include feelings of depleted energy levels, increased disengagement from one's job and colleagues, and declining professional effectiveness.
Experts are now saying the condition exists in epidemic proportions in our workplaces, to the extent that we might even dub 2019 the year of the burnout. One in four employees regularly experience burnout; close to half of all workers feel it sometimes.
Given those numbers, it is generally accepted that burnout is the No.1 workplace productivity killer, costing businesses billions of dollars each year. And burnout's newly minted status opens the door for workers to legitimately take paid sick leave - on an extended basis - to fully recover from the condition, which adds more costs to this workplace epidemic.
While burnout's legitimacy as a genuine, job-related phenomenon has been cast into the spotlight, we remain in the dark about why this condition appears to be increasingly paralysing productivity in many of our workplaces. Or do we?
Some managers even allow workers to stockpile annual leave entitlements by skipping holidays.
One explanation gaining in popularity is that our bosses are to blame for the rapid rise in workplace burnout cases.
An overwhelming workload, which undermines a worker's capacity to engage in self-care activities - such as rest periods or holidays, exercising or simply getting a decent amount of sleep - is the top cause of burnout.
And workers with high workloads who need to navigate complex, contradictory and even hostile environments - and who therefore require higher levels of self-care - are particularly prone to burnout.
Yet managers typically reward employees who put in longer hours and replace those who don't.
They have created an informal expectation that workers must be switched on 24/7. In doing so, they have blurred the boundaries between work and play to the point that some employees feel guilty any time they are not working - or at very least find it nigh impossible to disengage from work.
And some bosses and managers continue to glamorise a workaholic culture. They applaud those who work 12-hour days, who extend their working spree well into the weekend and who front up during holidays, even though it's well known that workaholism is the enemy of self-care and only escalates already high levels of burnout.
Some managers even allow workers to stockpile annual leave entitlements by skipping holidays, resulting in some workers ending up on a 24/7 work cycle 52 weeks of the year.
With more and more workers crashing under pressure, bosses need to step up and explore new ways of managing workloads to break the grip that burnout holds on our workplaces.
- Professor Gary Martin is chief executive of the Australian Institute of Management in Western Australia.