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Sahra works in a food processing plant. A longtime employee, she typically enjoys catching up with her coworkers and being a part of the community at the plant. But over the past few months, she’s been too tired to engage much. She always seems to have a dull headache. When she does take a minute to chat with a coworker, she often has to ask them to repeat what they’ve said. Sometimes, she just nods, having lost the ability to concentrate on what they’re telling her.
Sahra’s coworker Maxine has noticed the shift in Sahra’s behaviour, and she’s concerned. As they wait for the bus after their shift, she decides to check in.
“Sahra, is everything okay? You seem to have a lot weighing on you lately.”
Recognize the causes and signs
Burnout often happens when a person is under stress for a long period of time. It can be caused by work-related stress, or stress outside of the workplace, such as adapting to changing conditions and regulations during a pandemic. Employees affected by burnout often feel overwhelmed, listless, unable to cope, emotionally drained, anxious, tired, or indifferent. If left unaddressed, burnout can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or depression. It rarely gets better on its own.
Burnout can also be seen in other ways, such as difficulty concentrating, poor personal hygiene, or using food or substances to feel better or numb feelings. Those affected may seem to become cynical or adopt a negative outlook. Some struggle to get to work or be productive while at work.
Train managers and supervisors on how to notice these shifts in themselves and their employees. A worker who becomes withdrawn or depressed, or whose chronic health conditions get worse, may be struggling with burnout.
Create a culture of prevention
Part of creating a psychologically safe workplace is making sure employees always have clear direction on what’s expected of them, including times where public health directives and workplace safety procedures are changing regularly. Workloads should be fair and evenly distributed, deadlines should be reasonable, and employees should be encouraged to speak up if they’re struggling to meet targets.
Promote work-life balance by providing opportunities for everyone, including managers, to take their breaks and lunches away from the work environment. Maintain reasonable work hours and encourage employees to use their vacation days to make sure everyone has a chance to disconnect from work. Taking vacation can reduce the chance of employee burnout, especially after a particularly stressful time.
Encourage dialogue about stress and burnout, and demonstrate that those coming forward will be met with empathy.
Though burnout doesn’t only affect employees during a pandemic, the increased amount of long-term stress associated with wanting to stay safe and keep loved ones safe adds to their concerns. More employees may need to access to employee assistance programs and mental health supports. Employers should anticipate increased demand for these services.
Every employee should receive training on how to recognize signs of burnout, so they can check in on others who may need help before their safety – or in some cases, the safety of their coemployees – is compromised.
Recovering from burnout can take weeks, months or years. It may involve counselling, medication (as prescribed by a doctor or therapist), or lifestyle changes that include self care. It can include healthy eating, exercise, visiting green spaces regularly, or taking time away from work to recuperate.
In the workplace, managers can work with employees to prioritize the most important task, adjust the pace of work and break down assignments into more manageable parts. During personal and vacation time, they should encourage employees to fully disconnect from work.
Proactively teaching employees about the symptoms of burnout and ways to address it can prevent it from spiralling out of control. Create a culture where employees feel safe bringing their concerns to management, without fear of reprisal. Encourage them to come forward at the earliest signs of burnout.
Back at the bus stop, Sahra opens up about what’s weighing on her.
“I know so many people have it worse during the pandemic, Maxine. But I just feel tired all the time. The kids are doing remote learning again. Thankfully my mother-in-law is home with them while my partner and I are at work. But she has a heart condition, and my youngest has asthma. I’m constantly worried about what could happen if they contract the virus. What if I bring it home to them?”
Maxine nods. “Those are legitimate worries! And they can really impact a person over time. There are resources at work that can help, I’ve used them myself. Here comes the bus. If you like, I can tell you about them on the way home?”
Free CCOHS Resources
Need help with a workplace health and safety issue? Contact our Safety Infoline
CCOHS has partnered with the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) to sell International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards.
These standards can help you develop your organization’s health and safety requirements, processes, and programs. Choose from hundreds of international standards for quality management, environmental management, health and safety, energy management, food safety, and IT security.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Silica Control in the Workplace
Workers in mining, construction, masonry, and glass and ceramic production are at higher risk of silica exposure, which can cause lung cancer. We discuss how employers can reduce these exposures, including a new silica control tool pilot program in Ontario, with Kimberly O’Connell from the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers.
Podcast runs: 8:30. Listen Now.
Encore Podcast: Staying a Step Ahead of Cold Feet Trouble
With all the walking, standing, and working we do on our feet, we expose them to potential injury. In winter, there are cold weather afflictions that can have painful and sometimes serious consequences. Learn more about the harm that working in cold weather can cause your feet.
The podcast runs 6:24 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Stigma can be a powerful barrier in the workplace and have a negative effect on employees. CCOHS has developed two free online courses to help you support workers who use substances or are struggling with their mental health.
Substance Use in the Workplace: Addressing Stigma
The opioid crisis affects individuals and families all over Canada. It may also impact the workplace. The impact of stigma towards substance use is a critical factor in how we talk to individuals, the policies we develop, and the approaches we take to provide care.
Learn how to define stigma and discrimination, how stigma can affect the care a person receives, and how to respond to concerns without using stigmatizing language or behaviours.
Reducing Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace
When it comes to mental health in the workplace, language matters. Are you or your colleagues unintentionally reinforcing a harmful stigma that affects the mental health of others? This course will give you tools to recognize where that is happening and to help support your colleagues who may be struggling with mental health.
Learn how stigmas are established, how to avoid perpetuating them, and how to support your colleagues through active listening and offering resources.
Falling from heights is a leading cause of workplace injuries and deaths. Having a plan in place to help prevent falls from happening, including thorough training for workers on the use of protective equipment, is key. Should a fall happen, workers need to know who to alert to initiate a rescue, and how to ensure emergency services are dispatched in a timely manner.
Share this infographic on fall protection plans for working at heights, including components of the plan and important considerations prior to working.
For additional information, see the tip sheet on fall protection planning.
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month’s highlights include two new Alberta regulations, amendments to Occupational Health and Safety Regulations in British Columbia, and an amendment to Quebec regulations respecting occupational health and safety in mines.
Two new Alberta regulations – the Occupational Health and Safety Code (Alta. Reg. 191/2021) and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (Alta. Reg. 183/2021) – came into force 01/12/21 and repeal the Occupational Health and Safety Code (Alta. Reg. 87/2009) and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (Alta. Reg. 62/2003).
Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (Workers Compensation Act): Two amendments, B.C. Reg. 207/2021 and B.C. Reg. 222/2021, are applied and came into force 01/12/21. Extensive amendments are made in various Parts and Sections including Part 5 - Chemical Agents and Biological Agents; Part 7 – Radiation; Part 14 Cranes and Hoists; Part 18 Traffic Control; Part 21 Blasting Operations; Part 24 Diving, Fishing and Other Marine Operations; and, Part 26 Forestry Operations and Similar Activities.
Regulation respecting occupational health and safety in mines (Act respecting occupational health and safety): O.C. 1431-2021 amends the regulation to provide clarification regarding the use of full body harnesses and requirements for tubular ladder emergency exits and makes other small adjustments.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety, and environmental legislation you need in one location.
It’s not too late. If you’re a student enrolled in an occupational health and safety course or program at an accredited Canadian college or university, you still have time to apply for the Dick Martin Scholarship award.
Two scholarships worth $3,000 each will be awarded to one university student and one college student pursuing their education in a field related to occupational health and safety. CCOHS will also award $500 to each of the winning students’ academic institutions.
To apply, students need to complete an online application, submit a cover letter outlining their aspirations of obtaining a career in the health and safety industry, and write a 1,000-to-1,200-word essay on one of two topics related to occupational health and safety:
Applications are open until 11:59 p.m. EST, January 31, 2022. Scholarship rules, criteria, and other guidelines are available on the CCOHS website.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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