Stress is response to strain. It is an inevitable part of life – we need a certain amount of stress to enhance performance, but too much stress debilitates performance. Many people effectively manage continuing stressful events whilst others ‘cave in’ under the strain. What makes the difference is the effectiveness of the individual’s response to strain and coping mechanisms. Excessive stress is known as ‘burnout’.
Burnout is defined as physical and emotional exhaustion involving the development of negative self-concept, negative job attitudes and a loss of feeling for others.
Symptoms of burnout include tension, fatigue, inability to relax, easily startled, moved to tears easily, trembling, paranoia, feelings of omnipotence, overconfidence, stubbornness and inflexibility.
Here are some recommendations for preventing stress and burnout as part of group culture:
- Create a group culture / ethos that supports self-care, balance and sustainable work loads and patterns.
- Take a long-term perspective of planning and working for the long haul, to keep experienced / skilled group members for as long as possible
- Balance task focus with process and relationship / maintenance focus – in meetings, in daily work, in planning, and in evaluation
- Provide workshops / training in stress management and burnout prevention – can be as part of conferences, gatherings or ongoing training / orientation.
- Use regular planning and evaluation as a tool to reduce stress
- Build stress level checks into reviews and evaluations – how stressed do people feel? What is contributing? What do we need to do about these?
- Put stress prevention strategies on the agenda for meetings.
- Allow people to express feelings of distress, grief and loss and frustration – regard them as normal and healthy responses to unhealthy situations and state of the world.
- Provide individual or group debriefing after critical incidents or high stress campaigns. Keep an eye open for vulnerable individuals and see intervention as valid.
- Create support structures, eg support / affinity groups, routine debriefing, supervision, mentoring for new people, group workshops and training.
- Put value on socialising, fun, humour, relaxation time as a group.