People who are struggling with workplace stress may be putting themselves at risk of burnout. Burnout usually occurs when people are left feeling exhausted and unable to cope with daily life.
Burnout may be accompanied by a variety of mental and physical health symptoms. If it’s not dealt with, burnout can cause difficulty for an individual to function well in their daily life.
What is Burnout?
The term “burnout” was first described by Hertbert Freudenberger. He described the symptoms of burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic work-related stress and covers three main characteristics:
- Cynicism (less identification with the job)
- Feelings of reduced professional ability
Simply put, if you are feeling exhausted, or you no longer enjoy your job and even start to hate it, or you begin to feel less capabale at work, you are showing signs of burnout.
It is argued that personality traits and though patterns, such as pessimism and perfectionism, can contirbute to burnout in the workplace. Pessism can cause you to dread going to work, and can cause you to lose satisfaction from your job. This can take a serious toll on your life, as most people spend the majority of their lives working.
What are the signs and symptoms of burnout?
Here are some of the most common signs of burnout:
- Alienation from work-related activities: Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and their colleagues. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their job.
- Physical symptoms: Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches, stomach-aches or intestinal issues.
- Emotional exhaustion: Burnout causes people to feel drained, unable to cope. They often lack the energy to feel motivated enough to get their work done.
- Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work—or in the home when someone’s main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.
Individuals experiencing burnout also may be at a higher risk of developing depression.
What are the risk factors?
Having a high-stress job doesn’t always lead to burnout, if the levels of stress is managed well.
But some individuals (and those in certain occupations) are at a higher risk than others.
Their heavy workloads place individuals with certain personality characteristics and lifestyle features at a higher risk of burnout.
According to a 2018 report by Gallup, employee burnout has five main causes:
- Unreasonable time pressure. Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70 percent less likely to experience high burnout. Individuals who are not able to gain more time, are at a higher risk of burnout.
- Lack of communication and support from a manager. Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout regularly.
- Lack of role clarity. Only 60 percent of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
- Unmanageable workload. When a workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel hopeless. Feeling overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout.
- Unfair treatment. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favouritism, unfair compensation, and mistreatment from a colleague.
Prevention and Treatment
Although the term “burnout” suggests it may be a permanent condition, it’s reversible. An individual who is feeling burned out may need to make some changes to their work environment.
Approaching the human resource department about problems in the workplace or talking to a supervisor about the issues could be helpful.
In some cases, a change in position or a new job altogether may be necessary to put an end to burnout.
It can also be helpful to develop clear strategies that help you manage your stress. Self-care strategies, like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercises, and engaging in healthy sleep habits may help reduce some of the effects of a high-stress job.
A holiday may offer you some temporary relief too, but a week away from the office won’t be enough to help you beat burnout. Regularly scheduled breaks from work, along with daily renewal exercises, can be key to helping you combat burnout.
If you are experiencing burnout and you’re having difficulty finding your way out, or you suspect that you may also have a mental health condition such as depression, seek professional treatment.
Talking to a mental health professional may help you discover the strategies you need to overcome burnout and prevent burnout in the future.