How to help a friend or family member with work related stress and burnout

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  • 02 July 2021

Tags: Support a friend or family member with work related stress and burnout; burnout; stress

Work related stress refers to the detrimental emotional and physical effects that occur when an employee’s job requirements exceed their ability to cope. Left unaddressed, work related stress may contribute to burnout. The 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) describes burnout as characterised by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased cynicism for or mental distance from one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. These should not be caused by other stress disorders such as disorders associated with anxiety and fear.

This article covers how to support a friend or family member with work related stress and burnout. It can be challenging when a loved one goes through some of the 12 stages of burnout or complains of stress related to work. Perhaps you have noticed their symptoms of work related stress or suspect that they might be going through burnout, but are unsure of how best to navigate the situation without upsetting them further. 

Share Your Observations Respectfully

What is obvious to you may not be obvious to your loved one. It is often much easier for a family member or friend to notice their loved one’s symptoms of work related stress than it is for the affected individual to notice it themselves.

Pick a good time. Try not to raise your concerns about your loved one’s situation in the middle of a heated argument. Instead, pick a time when your loved one is available, calmer and more relaxed. You may also wish to ask your loved one if it is okay for you to bring up the topic of work related stress, before actually bringing it up.

Share how it is affecting you. If your loved one’s stress related to work is affecting you, let them know in a respectful way. “I statements” allow you to take ownership of your own feelings and can be helpful in avoiding coming across as blaming your loved one. An example could be “I feel upset and unimportant when you respond to work emails in the middle of our family dinner”.

Ask How You May Be of Help

Don’t assume that your loved one wants advice or a solution from you. Telling your loved one how they should address their work related stress or what they should do not just comes across as dismissive, it also undermines their autonomy in problem solving. Giving unsolicited advice may also indirectly suggest that you know better than them. In reality, however, there could be various underlying reasons for your loved one’s symptoms of work related stress, which you may not be aware of. Also, there are probably multiple considerations on your loved one’s mind, which they may not have told you about.

Ask them how you can help. Instead of assuming, ask them directly how they think you may be of help. Does your loved one need a solution? A listening ear? Advice? Resources? A hug? Moral support? A meal? Someone to exercise with? Let them tell you.

Help a friend or family member with work related stress or burnout

Encourage Them Not to Neglect Other Aspects of Life

Encourage them not to neglect their physical health. This includes eating well, having a good night’s sleep, and exercising, which affect their overall wellbeing. It can be easy for these aspects of life to fall to the wayside as your loved one becomes increasingly preoccupied with work related stress.

Encourage them to stay connected to others outside of work. Staying socially connected is important for your loved one’s wellbeing too. Encourage them to continue spending quality time with family and friends, so that work does not become viewed as the only important aspect of their life.

Be Patient and Understanding

Although you might have noticed your loved one’s symptoms of work related stress for quite some time, your loved one may be unaware and perhaps even unable to recognise their work related stress themselves at this point in time. It is also possible that your loved one might not be ready to acknowledge their work related stress. Don’t expect your loved one to change immediately just because you have pointed it out. Insisting that they make changes immediately may invite defensiveness, denial, and interpersonal conflict. Instead, be patient, understanding, and know that what they are doing is likely not personal towards you. If you wish to, you may let them know that you will be there to support them if and when they do feel like talking about it.

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Encourage Them to Seek Help

Encourage your loved one to seek help for their work related stress in ways that are appropriate for them, given their specific situation. Examples include speaking to a supervisor about their stress related symptoms at work, checking with the Human Resources department if the company has an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and the services provided, seeking personal therapy (or online personal therapy) for work related stress, or, depending on their country and jurisdiction, seeking legal advice on how to prepare claim for work related stress.

However, if your loved one has talked about suicide, this needs immediate attention. You or your loved one are strongly encouraged to reach out to the Samaritans of Singapore. Alternatively, accompany your loved one to their primary healthcare provider, or to an emergency department of a hospital. 

Helping a Loved One who is Facing Burnout or Stress Related to Work

Learning how to support a friend or family member with work related stress and burnout is not easy, but it does not have to be complicated either. It can be helpful to patiently and gently help your loved one to increase their awareness of their burnout or work related stress, and encourage them to seek the appropriate help. At times, though, simply being there for them can make a huge difference. However, if you notice that your loved one is being increasingly affected by their symptoms of work related stress, do your best to encourage your loved one to seek help early, for the benefit of their physical and emotional wellbeing. Remember, asking for help is not a weakness; it is a strength.

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