Is preventing burnout the responsibility of the employer or the employee?

preventing burnout

As a young team leader, it was difficult for me to understand family life. Having no kids, I could spend a lot of my time and energy on work, since my evenings were free of responsibilities. Having no personal experience, I had no idea of the chaos and amount of work awaiting a parent, especially mothers, on return to home after a day at the office.  

Also, luckily enough, not everyone has experienced firsthand the mental mental burden of having to go through a divorce or a family member falling seriously ill. Big life changes always affect your work too and can take away, for a long time, the joy and satisfaction you experience in your work.

Someone in a leading position can, of course, have a family and big challenges in life too; we all know life can be really hard sometimes. This does not mean, however, that all managers understand why burnouts happen. We’re all individuals, we do not react to the same issues in the same way. To enforce the argument, I’m sure everyone can think of someone they know who seemingly navigates through life without appearing to experience significant amount of stress.

What are the consequences of having a boss who never seems to be stressed out?

It can lead to behaviour such as mine as a young leader without kids, not being empathic enough to understand how strongly and wholly stress affects both free time and work.

Whether or not a manager experiences stress themselves, s/he has the duty to actively observe employees to see if the burden is getting too big. If signs appear, the first step is have a discussion with the employee in question.

The Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act No. 738/2002, Section 8, describes the employers’ general duty to exercise care:

“Employers shall continuously monitor the working environment, the state of the working community and the safety of the work practices. Employers shall also monitor the impact of the measures put into practice on safety and health at work.”

But how do you define and measure the issues employees find stressful? Moreover, which of these can be argued to be issues the employer can control?

The employer has control over many things that can cause stress, such as company culture, salary policy or physical environment

The most important issues in this respect are equality, integrity and the sense of fairness. Equality needs to be understood broadly, consisting of gender and salary equality, equal opportunities for career advancement and raises, and fair division of tasks and responsibilities.

It is also the duty of the employer to ensure that there is a fair balance between a job description, the skills and competences of an employee, and the objectives of the employer.

Without a doubt, providing a safe and suitable physical environment for the job required is the responsibility of the employer. There are many issues to consider, but let me raise one: In the open office plans of today, is enough consideration taken to secure an environment devoid of disruption and noise for work requiring concentration?

Company culture, ways of working and organizational structure are defined and controlled by the employer, having a big impact on the well-being of an employee.

It is also the employer’s responsibility to continuously monitor the work atmosphere among the employees.

Not all factors related to well-being can be expressed as clearly set rules: The boss just needs to stay alert. Minea Ahlroth, who has studied harassment and discrimination at work, writes:

“A manager has the duty to mingle with the employees, taking the pulse of the organization   and making note of the different emerging signals.” (Ahlroth et. al. 2015, 90)

What if the employer does things by the book? All structures, salary policy, positions and ways of working are fair. The atmosphere is good, for the most part the staff seems to like both their work and the workplace. The employer can not detect shortcomings.

Being responsible for your own well-being is not a choice, it is a must

An employer has a huge responsibility for their staff. They are required to create a workplace that promotes equality and enables employees to achieve a successful work-life balance. A forward-looking employer supports an individual in many other ways too.

In turn, the employees need to tell when things are not going well.

prevent burnout

Everyone able to take part in working life has the responsibility to take care of themselves and their own well-being.

Why? Because an employer cannot know everything that is going on in one’s life. No matter how good the employer, they cannot optimize the work conditions for everyone, let alone their life outside of work. Everyone’s life has shorter or longer periods when one’s mental load is bigger than the opportunities for recovery.

How do we tackle stress at Moodmetric

At Moodmetric the mental well-being is the responsibility of both the employer and employee. But what are the concrete actions?

Naturally the method of measuring stress levels is something available for everyone. This is not obligatory, but it can be done all the time or when the person so desires. Some of us have been wearing the Moodmetric ring continuously for over 4 years now.

The greatest value from the Moodmetric measurement can be derived when the mental load is high. When the stress levels creep up, the person is like a crab in a kettle set to boil – a person does not recognize the heat build up over time.

What can the employee do?

When the Moodmetric levels get higher than recommended, the first thing an employer would need to do is to take action to lower the levels. What are these actions?

We are all individuals, which means that we need to find our own individual ways to lower our stress levels. This is where the Moodmetric real-time measurement proves to be a helpful tool: An individual learns the things which raise and lower their stress levels. Employing some commonly known ways to alleviate stress, such as getting more sleep and enjoying open air activities and nature is a good way to start one’s journey of self-discovery.

And what is the role of the employer?

What are the responsibilities of an employer to support an individual’s search for balance? The best results can be achieved by the employer supporting the individual in the measures s/he has chosen. If there is a need for some days off or shorter workdays or weeks, there should be a way to try and find an optimum solution for all. Personalized options are the key: Even longer breaks during workdays can have a significant effect on productivity.

The goal is common

The employer and employee should work together to prevent chronic stress and often long absences due to burnout. A single burnout is a grave symptom and requires immediate actions in the workplace. The reputation of a company can be severely impacted by its employees going public about their stress and lack of well-being.

Both employees and companies have the common goal of preserving health, attaining a positive mindset and longevity of life. Employees with a healthy work-life balance help companies and organizations to prosper. A happy and healthy employee spreads positive attitude around him or her. In the end, it is, for example, our families who emerge as the ultimate beneficiaries if our well-being at work is taken care of.

Ask us about the Moodmetric-measurement

Moodmetric technology shows great promise in identifying stress levels in a work environment

The detrimental effects of chronic stress are gaining increasing attention. In addition to human suffering, stress has economic impact and long-term consequences on society and people in general.

Moodmetric is a company which helps individuals to understand how their bodies react to different cognitive and emotional stimuli. The Moodmetric measurement enables early recognition and prevention of chronic stress.

The Moodmetric smart ring is a device for measuring with ease and accuracy electrodermal activity (EDA), as the following clinical research confirms.

Research at Tampere University: Moodmetric technology shows great promise in identifying stress levels in a work environment

The Personal Health Informatics research group at Tampere University, Finland, has studied the effects of cognitive stress on the body in a simulated research environment.

In the research setting individuals were exposed to three different levels of emotional and cognitive stress: calm, active, and intense. The impact of the different simulated situations on the individuals was analysed by measuring electrodermal activity (EDA) and a questionnaire. The purpose of the research was to find out how accurate the Moodmetric smart ring is at measuring EDA in comparison to the traditional laboratory methods. In addition, the aim was also to study how well the self-assessments of the individuals correlated with the test results. Machine learning was used to analyse the test results.

Hannu Nieminen, D.ScThe preliminary results are encouraging: ‘The initial conclusions appear to support the hypothesis that the Moodmetric smart ring can provide information on the stressfulness of work-related situations almost as accurately as respective laboratory equipment designed to measure EDA’, says Hannu Nieminen, D.Sc. and head of the research.

Overall the research has brought about some very interesting information, including the observation that individuals are less able to recognize and interpret the level of stress they are experiencing in a particular situation than the measuring devices reading their EDA.

The results of the research will be published at the conference for Engineering in Medicine and Biology in Berlin in July 2019.

Research at University of Jyväskylä: The Moodmetric index correlates with the stress hormone cortisol

There is another research ongoing in Finland by Jyväskylä University, in collaboration with a private health clinic called Pihlajanlinna, which appears to confirm the accurateness of the Moodmetric index in clinical research.

A cognitive stress test, Trier Mental Challenge, was used to measure the ability of the participants to do arithmetic calculations, which grew more difficult over a period of ten minutes. The participants’ cortisol levels were measured from saliva before and after taking the cognitive test, and the Moodmetric smart ring was worn throughout the test. On average, the MM level variated between 61±15 and the changes in cortisol were 12±71%. The relative change in cortisol levels correlated positively with the MM level (r=.71, p=0.005, see picture). The more the level of cortisol rose during the test, the higher the MM levels were.

cortisole correlation
Picture: The correlation between the Moodmetric level (MM level) and the relative change in cortisol levels (N=14) (r=.71, p=0.005). The more the level of cortisol rose during the test, the higher the MM levels were.

The full research results by the team from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä will become available later in the year.

Find our more about what a stress reaction means. How does is affect our bodies, how can it be measured and what is the connection with the cortisol level?

The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight-or-flight response before we consciously make any decision on how to act. Many things happen very fast. First the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline) are released into our system. We notice the effects: Rapid pulse and respiration increase oxygen intake for fast action. Blood pressure goes up and extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness. Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper.

Blood sugar (glucose) and fats from energy stores are released into the bloodstream to give us the extra power we need. Skin temperature goes up and the increased sweat on the palms of our hands improves our grip– should we need to climb a tree to flee.

All these reactions are caused by some very fast chemical processes in our body. Our preparedness for the fight is automatic and we flee away from threat without conscious cognitive processing.

What happens next? If a fight is unavoidable, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis or HTPA axis) is activated after the first surge of adrenaline subsides. The HPA axis keeps the sympathetic nervous system up and running as long as needed, until the fight is over.

This adrenal cortex produces hormones that contribute to the release of cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that has several functions, including the controlling of the blood sugar level during stress reaction. The hormonal effects induced by the adrenal cortex are called indirect stress responses as they work through the bloodstream. The effects of these responses take place within 20-30 seconds.

 

Find out more about Moodmetric in research

Contact: Niina Venho ([email protected]) +358 40 710 0487