Burnout can be a career killer. It’s not a disease, but it can make you ill. It can be prevented if caught in the early stages.
What is Burnout?
There is no universally agreed definition of burnout. A commonly accepted definition of Burnout among researchers is:
The state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that results from exposure to high levels of prolonged occupational stress. Burnout results when this stress is not dealt with effectively.
Burnout is not limited to the ‘caring’ professions.
Originally, burnout was seen to be almost exclusively in the ‘caring’ professions such as nurses and social workers. Now it is increasingly recognised among workers in a multitude of stressful professions and jobs.
Occupational burnout is often characterised by:
2: Lack of enthusiasm
3: Frustration / cynicism
Burnout doesn’t happen overnight.
The good news is that you are most unlikely to go to work one day and just ‘Burn Out.’ The process can take many months or even years to develop which means that you have time to stop it. It can also take a very long time to recover.
12 Phases of burnout:
Burnout is often described as occurring in phases. (see post on the topic). Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North have suggested that the burnout process can be divided into 12 phases, which are not necessarily followed sequentially.
- The compulsion to prove oneself
- Working harder
- Neglecting their own needs
- Displacement of conflicts.
- Revision of values
- Denial of emerging problems.
- Obvious behavioural changes
- Inner emptiness
- Severe Burnout: (Ulrich Kraft, "Burned Out”, Scientific American Minds, June/July 2006 p. 28-33)
3 Phase Burnout Process
Psychologists Maslach and Jackson developed the most widely used instrument for assessing burnout, the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which views burnout as a three-dimensional syndrome characterised by.
- Physical and emotional exhaustion.
- Cynicism / detachment.
- Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment / enthusiasm or motivation.
Consequences of Burnout
However, you may view the process, the consequences of severe burnout can be life altering and in extreme cases life threatening.
- Enforced career change
- Extended time off work
- Excessive and persistent stress
- Higher vulnerability to illness
- Greater risk of infections
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Heart disease
- Diminished capacity for work
- Type II diabetes especially in women
- Incapacity to work
- Diminished capacity to maintain or sustain relationships at home or at work
- High cholesterol
- Thoughts of suicide
10 Causes of Workplace Burnout
There can be many causes of workplace burnout, and their impact will differ from one person to another.
- Unclear job expectations:
- Lack of control:
- Insufficient reward
- Severe consequences for failure.
- Mismatch in values
- Dysfunctional workplace
- Poor Job Fit (Square peg in a round hole)
- Isolation & lack of support
- Work Life Imbalance
- High Stress Time and no down time.
1: In order to deal with burnout before it does serious damage you must recognise it. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.
It is therefore important to know the warning signs before they take hold. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you care less and less about work or clients?
- Is it getting harder to stay motivated?
- Are you starting to dread work?
- Are you snapping at your colleagues?
- Do you feel disengaged from your work?
- Has your ‘get up and go’ just got up and gone?
I’m burning out! Now what?
Catching Burnout in the early stages is really important.
- Take stock
- Identify a change that you can make to reduce persistent stress.
- Avoid accepting more responsibilities.
- Learn to say NO
- Manage stressors
- Take more breaks
- Look at your options talk with your manager / supervisor
- Practice Mindfulness
- Get regular Exercise
- Get some regular sleep
- Set and maintain boundaries
- Control your technology
- Reinforce your efforts and not your outcomes