When the term “burnout” is heard, most people say it is caused by working long hours or taking on too many responsibilities.
Certainly, extended hours and an excess of duties both play a role in burnout, but the causes and effects are a bit more complex.
Burnout encompasses not only long working days but also negatively affects your feelings toward your job, which can then cause adverse physical and mental problems.
Everyone experiences the “burned out” feelings from time to time, but not everyone encounters true burnout. However, it is still pretty common.
Recent research shows that 77% of professionals report feeling work-related burnout.
Herbert Freudenberger, a German-born American Psychologist, first defined the term “burnout” in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement (1974).
In his book, Freudenberger defined burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
To illustrate, Freudenberger compared job burnout to a burned-out building:
According to one analysis, throughout a lifetime, the average person will spend 13 years and two months at work.
While over 13 years of someone’s life seems like an alarming amount of work time, burnout has more to do with your feelings and abilities about work rather than the number of hours worked.
According to recent research, burnout holds three main characteristics:
- Overwhelming exhaustion
- Feelings of cynicism and detachment
- A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
If you already feel exhausted before you go to work, lack the motivation to work, or strongly dislike your job, you are showing signs of burnout.
While burnout typically refers to the workplace, overall stress from other areas of your life, such as parenting or romantic relationships, can also contribute to burnout.
Symptoms of Burnout
Here are some common symptoms of burnout:
- Physical and Mental Exhaustion: Burnout can lead to both physical and mental symptoms of exhaustion, including headaches, stomachaches, lethargy, and increased potential for alcohol or drug abuse.
- Feelings of Cynicism and Detachment: Individuals with burnout may feel cynical and negative about their workplace and coworkers and may emotionally detach from both.
- Reduced Motivation: Burnout often causes a lack of motivation to go to work and complete tasks.
- Reduced Performance: Those with burnout may have difficulty focusing, lack creativity, and experience an overall reduced work performance.
Likewise, depression and anxiety may be symptoms of burnout.
Someone can already experience depression or anxiety (or both) and then realise that the burnout magnifies these conditions.
American Psychologist Christina Maslach has studied burnout since the early 1980s and created the commonly used Maslach Burnout Inventory. She refers to burnout as a “slow-creeping syndrome,” so it’s essential to know the warning signs.
You probably already know whether or not you are experiencing work burnout, but these questions can be helpful to ask yourself:
- Are you starting not to care about work anymore?
- Is it hard to stay motivated?
- Do you feel your workplace is a dreaded place to be?
- Are you snapping at your colleagues?
- Do you feel disengaged from your work?
- Have you lost your passion for your things?
Risk Factors of Burnout
Some people are at higher risk than others for burnout, and some high-stress occupations, like physicians, pose a higher risk. However, anyone in any job setting can experience burnout.
A 2018 report by Gallup shows five main causes of burnout:
Unfair treatment at work
Employees who say they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to suffer from burnout.
Examples of unfair treatment include bias, favouritism, mistreatment, and unfair condensation.
An unmanageable workload is overwhelming and can shift the employee’s mindset from optimistic to hopeless.
Lack of role clarity
Employees who don’t understand what is expected of them in the workplace can experience burnout.
Lack of communication and support from the manager
Employees who feel supported by their managers are about 70% less likely to experience burnout.
A manager who does not provide communication and support leaves employees feeling uninformed and confused.
Unreasonable time pressure
Employees who have enough time to do their work are 70% less likely to experience burnout. Unreasonable deadlines and pressure can cause employees to fall behind in their work tasks and become completely overwhelmed.
How to Deal with Burnout
Burnout can be dealt with, but even better, it can be prevented. If you are already on the brink of burnout with your job, you may need to make some changes. Here are some actions you can take:
Evaluate your options
Know that you have options, and there is freedom in that. First, reach out to your supervisor or manager and express your concerns.
If possible, see if you can develop a plan to either change expectations or to reach solutions realistically. If you have access to an employee assistance program, take advantage of relevant services.
One of the characteristics of burnout is a detachment from anything related to your work, including coworkers. However, if you can reach out to coworkers, friends, or loved ones, you can create a support group that can help. Part of burnout is feeling unsupported, so combat that with support from those you trust.
Self-care is usually minimal to nonexistent for those experiencing burnout.
Getting enough sleep, healthy nutrition, and exercise are good places to start.
These three factors are vital to overall health, and they should be prioritised.
Look for another job if needed.
You will know if the burnout you are experiencing is something that can be reversed or not.
There are some situations where it won’t improve, and in these cases, it’s best to look for another job.
Yes, this is easier said than done sometimes, but if you experience long-term burnout, your physical and mental health continues to suffer, and a change is vital.