Richard Grogan: Workplace stress – the five burnout profiles
Employment law solicitor Richard Grogan takes a look at the different kinds of workplace stress.
Workplace stress and burnout has always been relevant. Increasingly it is affecting executives, particularly senior executives, managers, professionals, and those in the medical profession particularly consultants, doctors and nurses.
There are five profiles. Stages 1 and 5 are endpoint profiles. The other three are transitional. A person who is at stage 1 has nothing to worry about. Stages 2,3 and 4 should raise concerns. Stage 5 is the result of excessive workplace stress.
The five burnout profiles are:
- Engaged – a person is energetic, involved, and, effective.
- Overextended – a person is tired and overworked, but still productive.
- Disengaged – the person is cynical but productive.
- Ineffective – a person is less productive, but potentially the person still cares.
- Burnout – the person is exhausted, cynical, and, less effective.
Workplace stress which results in burnout is an actionable matter against an employer. Burnout results in either physical or psychological injuries, and, sometimes both.
Employers have a duty of care under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005. This places an obligation on an employer to take steps to ensure that workplace stress and burnout does not arise. Where an employer is aware that an employee is suffering from workplace stress and particularly burnout then appropriate remedial action must be taken by the employer and, if this is not done, any claim against the employer will be that much more significant as invariably the injury gets worse.
If a person believes that they are suffering from workplace stress or burnout it is imperative that they obtain medical assistance immediately. If an individual is an executive, manager or professional person then their GP is their first port of call. The same applies for nurses. Consultants and doctors need to get advice from a colleague who will be able to assess their symptoms. Whatever medical advice is given it must be followed. If a person is at stages 2-4 it may be as simple as scaling back, taking proper breaks and rest periods, and, reducing the workload. If a person is at stage 5 invariably there will have to be a complete break from the workplace for a period of time.
There are some excuses that we regularly hear as solicitors when acting in stress and burnout cases, these include:
- “There is nobody to replace me”
- “The team rely upon me to be there and available”
- “I need to be there in the workplace”
- “I have work on that I need to get finished”
- “I cannot take the time off now, but possibly in a month or two”
Where medical advice is obtained from a GP or consultant that a person is suffering from workplace stress that has resulted in burnout or is close to burnout, then in those circumstances it is imperative that any medical advice including taking a complete break from work is followed.
Employers equally must support the employee in those circumstances. The fact that there are deadlines, shortages of experienced individuals in the organisation, an argument that there is nobody to replace the individual, or, that we need the person to be available just do not hold water. Where a person is close to burnout and does not follow medical advice and where the employer is made aware of the medical advice and fails to act on it by ensuring the person follows that medical advice then the employer can be liable for a significant personal injury claim for the workplace stress caused. Where an employee is at burnout stage the employer may already be facing a significant personal injury claim, but to minimise the claim, whatever medical advice has been furnished is one which employers must ensure the employee follows.
Workplace burnout is becoming more prevalent due to the stress associated with Covid-19 whether it be medical professionals working longer hours in a more stressful environment with executives, managers and professionals equally working longer hours, not getting proper rest and breaks and being put under pressure to perform, often with lack of proper support.
Workplace stress and burnout are recognised by the World Health Organisation as officially a diagnosable condition.
As solicitors who regularly deal with cases of workplace stress and burnout cases our primary focus must always be that the health of out client. Because we recognise that workplace stress is increasing, it is important for both employees and employers to recognise the symptoms of stress progressing to burnout. It is important that both take action as early as possible to minimise the health risks.
The sad reality is that these claims are increasing and as the Pandemic goes on and will increase. Because the steps are progressive the claims are beginning to increase now and will increase into the future.