Occupational burnout is understood as chronic workplace stress that is not efficiently managed.
Coined by the psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, burnout describes a severe stress condition that leads to severe physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.
Much worse than ordinary fatigue, burnout makes it challenging for people to cope with stress and handle day-to-day responsibilities. Burnout doesn’t go away on its own and, if left untreated, it can lead to serious physical and psychological illnesses like depression, heart disease, and diabetes.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” conceptualized from chronic and unmanaged workplace stress. People are stressed from work, stressed in life, and stressed overall—and they don’t know how to manage it.
WHO characterizes burnout with 3 dimensions:
1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
3. Reduced professional efficacy
One Harvard Business Review article outlines the 3 components of burnout, as identified by research psychologist Christina Maslach and several collaborators.
The 3 symptoms of burnout are:
1. Exhaustion is the central symptom of burnout. It involves physical, cognitive, and emotional fatigue that makes it difficult to work effectively and feel positive about the work being done. This can stem from work demands that require you to be “always on” or tasks with intense time pressure, especially if you feel like you lack control over the situation.
2. Cynicism, also called depersonalization, represents an erosion of engagement. It is basically a way of distancing yourself psychologically from your work. Instead of feeling invested in your assignments, projects, colleagues, customers, and other collaborators, you feel detached and negative.
3. Inefficacy refers to feelings of incompetence and a lack of achievement and productivity. It is usually a kind of byproduct of feeling exhausted and cynical because you are both out of fuel and have lost your connection to work.
How does one “manage” stress, though? This might seem like a difficult idea to address something with so many variables. It can be in the beginning, but once you begin investing in yourself, life looks much better. Make enjoyable hobbies a routine, and you will begin to act and think differently.
Job burnout can result from various factors, including:
•Lack of control. You may have the inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — this can lead to job burnout; in addition to the lack of the resources you need to do your work.
•Unclear job expectations. If you're unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you're not likely to feel comfortable at work.
•Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. We can all probably relate to the “The Office.” Perhaps you work with an office bully, or you feel undermined by colleagues; or your boss is so focused on their work while piling more on you without understanding you need support to get the job done. This can contribute to job stress.
•Extremes of activity. When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.
•Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.
•Work-life imbalance. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don't have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.
Here’s a quick reference on what you might be experiencing if you have job burnout:
•You identify strongly with work that you lack balance between your work life and your personal life
•You try to be everything to everyone and you have a high workload; including overtime work
•You work in a helping profession, such as health care
•You feel you have little or no control over your work
•Your job is monotonous
Ignored or unaddressed job burnout can have significant consequences, including:
•Sadness, anger or irritability
•Alcohol or substance misuse
•High blood pressure
•Type 2 diabetes
•Vulnerability to illnesses
How can you help someone experiencing burnout? While you can’t take away someone’s stress, offering support can help lighten their emotional load.
Before jumping into “fixing” mode, offer to listen to your friend or family member’s difficulties.
Having someone to talk to can make a world of difference. Often people need someone to witness their stress and suffering, and listening can go a long way. Individuals who are burnt out are often too tired to think of ways that others can help them. Instead of asking, “How can I help?” offer to drop off a meal, pick up dry cleaning, or do a load of laundry.
Sending flowers, a thoughtful text message, or a written card can remind friends and family members that they’re not alone; especially during these times of the pandemic.
Because they’re often working long hours, people with burnout can feel lonely and underappreciated. But small gestures of kindness can be nurturing.
Worried about friends and family members who may be burnt out? Listening to their concerns, validating their emotions, and offering specific types of support can help lighten the load.
Burnout can be avoided by making self-care part of your daily routine. Even if you’re working long hours, studying for exams, or taking care of young children, remember to insert some joy into each day.
Try going for a walk, talking to a friend, or watching an enjoyable program on television. Small self-care gestures like these can stop stress from turning into something more serious, like burnout.
Keep an open mind as you consider these options. Try not to let a demanding or unrewarding job undermine your health and most importantly, your life.