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11.29.23 – The Journal Record

A new study ranks Oklahoma eighth among all states for worker burnout. (Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash)

Colton Coldiron of Midwest City is tired. At age 30, Coldiron works 35 hours a week in the construction and demolition field, but despite his age and non-full-time hours, he’s constantly tired, burned out and frustrated with his working conditions.

“I suffer from burnout,” he said. “It feels like I don’t have a greater purpose, and that I’ll be working these types of jobs till retirement. My soul knows I’m meant for so much more, but it feels like I work to pay bills, and I pay bills to work.”

For many workers like Coldiron, job burnout is a real problem. In addition to creating a slew of health issues, the mental strain can be just as debilitating. According to a new study, Oklahomans suffer burnout more than people do in most other states, so Coldiron isn’t alone.

The study, released this month by personal finance website Wealth of Geeks, analyzed new 2022 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to find which states were working the most hours weekly and annually. While Texas took the top spot for most hours worked, Oklahoma was ranked in the top 10. Oklahoma came in eighth with 2,552,381,000 hours worked in 1,465,302 jobs. The annual hours worked for each job averaged 1,742, with a weekly average of 33.50 hours worked.

Being overworked and suffering from job burnout isn’t just a work-life balance issue. It can be detrimental to workers’ health and to bottom lines of businesses.

Harmful hours

A recent study by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization shows that working more than 55 hours a week can have negative effects on a person’s health. The study, released in 2021, reported that in 2016, 488 million people globally were exposed to long working hours. The study showed higher risks of ischemic heart disease and stroke among people working more than 55 hours per week, compared with people working standard hours of 35 to 40 hours a week. In addition, long periods of stress and burnout can lead to an increase in cortisol levels, the primary stress hormone, which can create a host of other health problems like high blood pressure, sleep disorders, brain fog and depression.

“Some risks associated with overworking are increased health problems (like) high blood pressure, increased anxiety and high cholesterol,” said Angela Phillips, director of The Scraper Counseling Center at Mid-America Christian University. “Fatigue is another increased health problem and could lead to increased weight gain. Stress increases cortisol, and another risk associated with overwhelming stress is the problems it causes at home. Overworking leads to increased marital problems and missed events with children or other loved ones.”

The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to exacerbate the problem, as more workers transitioned to remote work and boundaries between work and home dissolved for many. A 2020 Robert Half survey found that 55% of respondents who transitioned to work-from-home arrangements worked on the weekends, while another 34% said they were working more than eight hours per day on a regular basis.

The National Bureau of Economic Research also reported that the length of the average workday increased by 48.5 minutes during the pandemic.

People may have worked more hours because they felt more responsibility and workload, Phillips said.

“During that time period, people may have even felt pressure to excel at their job because of the unknown and concerns about getting let go,” she said. “So many people were let go because of the economic position the world was facing.”

Bottom-line burnout

A stressed and overworked employee can be costly to a business. Burnout, low engagement and employee morale can lead to the loss of trained employees who have simply “had enough” or who leave due to health concerns. According to Gallup, the cost of replacing employees can range from one-half to two times an employee’s salary.

Other studies and statistics are even more dire. Corporate burnout includes $1.8 trillion in lost productivity in the U.S. alone, according to Forbes, and 63% of employees take sick days due to burnout, according to Gallup.

“One of the top things to look for is cynicism,” said Phillips. “Fatigue is one of the most common signs of burnout as well as lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, and increased anxiety. There is also possible emotional suffering, you may have a feeling of wanting to quit your job but feeling stuck or trapped. You may begin to feel withdrawn or isolated from people. Lastly, you may see a shorter fuse with your family or co-workers.”

Adena Alvis Hudson, 41, of Norman was among those who not only disengaged due to burnout but quit her state licensing job altogether. She said key supervisory positions stayed vacant for nearly a year, and she was told those supervisory tasks would be divided up amongst remaining employees. That’s when she couldn’t take it anymore.

“It was terrible,” she said. “My blood pressure was elevated, and I was having stress dreams about not getting stuff done. The job was customer facing, so I was still trying to do the best that I could for these customers while knowing I couldn’t do the job that I had been doing because of these new rules and jobs being put on us.”

Since quitting in October, Hudson said her stress levels have evened out.

“It’s a big weight off my shoulders,” she said. “When you have that stress, you feel mentally drained. Luckily, I have a husband who works so it’s not too bad, but there are others in the office who don’t have that, and they must stay.”

The same poll showed that disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability. The reasons for burnout are varied as well, though McLean & Company’s latest report showed that 44% of respondents cited requests to take on additional work as a major source of stress, while 33% said an unhealthy workplace culture was to blame.

“Assessing your employees more often and having effective communication is essential for decreased work burnout,” said Phillips. “First and foremost, actively listen to employees’ needs. Do not ignore their needs. Productivity will decrease if these things are ignored. As an employee, you must have self-care and an employer must understand this.”