Niamh Delmar is a Chartered Registered Counselling Psychologist and provides Psychological Support Workshops to work environments. Here she writes about workplace stress and overcoming burnout.

The job you are in matters significantly to your physical and mental well-being. A favourable workplace facilitates interactional engagement, hones social skills, boosts confidence, and provides stimulation. It offers a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

Friendships are often formed and colleagues can find their tribe on the job. Research has found that employees who have a best friend at work are seven more times to be highly engaged. For people with mental health conditions, a positive working environment contributes to recovery, connection and inclusion. The stability, routine and structure of work can provide a sense of security, especially when faced with life's stresses.

Your job can contribute to a positive sense of identity and self- esteem. Having a sense of purpose and meaning surfaces repeatedly as being a feature of happiness in studies conducted. Work provides the opportunity to flourish.

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Earning an income helps people to feel independent and autonomous, from the student with a part-time job, to those self-employed, to a full-time employee. For some, salaries provide an opportunity to save, pay towards University, access a place to live, go on holidays or enjoy activities.

Work is educational with ongoing learning about the job, people, and challenges. It is a rich environment to learn about healthy boundaries, balance, coping, and it can tap into potential. Working healthily as an adult acts as a role model for children.

As we are becoming more globally interconnected, we depend more on others to work. Farmers depend on the manufacturer of tractors and we depend on farmers for food as well as transportation workers for import and export, teachers to educate and those in healthcare to heal us.

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However, there is a dark side to work that can damage your health. I come across many coming to me for therapy in crisis from work-related stress or burnout.

Stress remains one of the highest reasons for absenteeism. The workplace has changed dramatically with a digital ball and chain resulting in unpaid working hours and interrupted holidays. So many workers have to return from leave faced with a backlog.

Remote or hybrid now features for many. While there are advantages to being self-employed, it comes with high levels of responsibility and insecurity. Choosing the right fit can be tricky.

For many, work is meaningless and monotonous. According to a major international study by Gallop, only 13 % of workers reported being engaged in their jobs. The rest are not connected with, bored, or actually hate their work. This is a significant time spent living this way, and it has a detrimental effect on physical and psychological health.

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Having an unhealthy relationship with work or working in an unhealthy environment are the main contributing factors to feeling mentally overwhelmed. It is not always about the job itself.

People in the same job with the same roles may have different experiences due to individual differences such as histories, personalities, and coping resources.

Researchers at University College Dublin identified "obsessive" passion as not having much control over our relationship with work. The job becomes central to the person’s life and it can be difficult to disengage from it. Burn-out and feeling trapped may result, and it becomes hard to see the wood from the trees with this tunnel vision.

The researchers found that certain personality types and jobs are more susceptible. Work addiction is a mental health condition causing a compulsive need to work, and impacts negatively on other aspects of life. It is insidious as it is often perceived as positive, and the person gets praised and rewarded for their overwork.

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Job burnout arises when a person feels physically or emotionally exhausted. The accompanying inefficacy adds to the distress. The individual becomes cynical or critical, irritable, and has difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and may resort to unhealthy habits or have physical ailments.

Research has linked it to depression, anxiety, increased alcohol or drug use, hypertension, and coronary heart disease. Poor working environments pose a risk to mental health. Bullying, overload, unrealistic expectations, discrimination, job insecurity, and inadequate feedback and communication undermine psychological safety in the workplace.

Psychosocial risks can be associated with roles, schedules, opportunities, and workplace dynamics. More and more people are switching organisations to get more satisfaction. The "great resignation" refers to the trend that emerged in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic when vast numbers resigned from their jobs. People are seeking more fulfillment at work.

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What you can do
If you feel trapped, afraid to make a move, or are not feeling engaged or satisfied at work, there are options.

You can explore modifications or role changes within your organisation, look around and see what is on offer elsewhere or stay and change your relationship with work.

Dreading work and ongoing complaining about it will damage your health. Assess the internal and external contributing factors.

Internals include perfectionism, taking it too seriously, being overly dedicated, not being assertive, taking on too much, or work addiction. It’s not about working hard anymore. It’s about working smart.

Externals include workload, colleagues, management, a lack of opportunities or an unhealthy setup. Ask yourself what changes could make it better?

Identify your organisational needs. Write out your reasons for staying and your reasons for leaving. Are they the right reasons, and what is best for your overall mental and physical health?

According to Greg Dalton, Career Coach at the Greystones Health and Well-being Centre, change can be daunting, but it is possible. He recommends taking time out to explore options, and look at your capabilities, your personality traits, skills, and interests. Where possible, seek independent guidance to identify other possibilities which will work for you.

If symptoms are spiraling, you need to stop and check in with your GP and or mental health professional.

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What businesses can do:
Work environments need to listen to the needs of individual employees. Identify those at risk before it turns into a crisis. Psychological safety boosts productivity and aids retention. Boxes can’t just be ticked.

People are tired of lip service paid to wellness at work. Implementation needs to be tangible. Flexible working conditions are attractive and fewer hours do not mean less output, as is evident with remote working or four-day weeks.

It is wise to regularly test the temperature of the workplace by gathering feedback with surveys and meetings. Work has positive benefits for individuals, society, and globally. However, unhealthy environments are damaging to health. Absenteeism or personal injury claims are a consequence.

Policy needs to ensure workplace practices contribute to a psychologically safe experience. Certain sectors are at risk of being work abused, and others who may want to work don’t want to lose benefits. A job has to be far more than a salary.

In my opinion, other types of work need to be paid fully, such as stay at home parents and carers. These are the people who facilitate others to work.

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The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.