Burnout takes its toll on local workers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am

IF WORK IS making you tired, restless, playing havoc with your weight or turning you into a cynic, you are not alone.

According to a recent employment survey of 525 local companies conducted by recruitment firm Hudson, Hong Kong has the highest incidence of staff burnout among all the markets surveyed in Asia. It has overtaken Japan for the number one spot.

The number of local companies reporting increased burnout has jumped to 43 per cent, from 34 per cent last year. Sixty-seven per cent of respondents said they worked more than 50 hours a week. Forty-one per cent said they were working longer hours now than they were two years ago, and their bosses still expected them to stay even longer.

By far the greatest increase was seen in the legal sector, at 45 per cent, up from 20 per cent in the second quarter of 2005. A lot of this is due to a shortage of lawyers in hot areas such as initial public offerings and mergers and acquisitions.

The burnout rate had jumped because most companies were increasing the workload but not hiring the extra staff needed to take on the additional burden, the survey said.

But steps to combat burnout are increasingly being seen on HR agendas nowadays. These include workflow re-engineering, a review of job descriptions and greater use of technology.

So how do you know whether you are suffering from work burnout? Here are the early warning signs from Henry Neils, president and founder of Assessment.com, an online career assessment company:

Chronic fatigue - exhaustion, tiredness, feeling physically run down

Frequent headaches and gastrointestinal problems

Weight loss or gain

Sleeplessness and depression

Shortness of breath


Feelings of helplessness

Increased degree of risk-taking

Anger at those making demands

Self-criticism for putting up with the demands

Cynicism, negativity and irritability

A sense of being besieged

Exploding easily at seemingly inconsequential things

Recognising burnout is the first step to reducing it. Here are some tips on tackling burnout:

Ask your HR department whether you can shift to another department or try to take some career enhancement courses to keep you motivated and your mind moving.

If you are a manager, encourage employees to talk freely with one another. Discussing issues, big or small, is a major release.

Try to gain control over how your work is done.

Micromanagement is an additional stress for employees, but it is usually brought on when bosses do not have a clear picture of your progress. Therefore, point it out to them to gain control.

Ensure your expense budgets are adequate for your projects. Often staff are asked to cut corners and make impossible ends meet. If you know that you cannot guarantee a fine product with the amount allotted, it is all right to say no to the project.

Make sure you schedule enough time to relax on personal leave.

Recognise and reward yourself for your accomplishments and contributions.