Burnout is a widely recognised occupational hazard which can be prevented with early identification of the signs and symptoms. Occupational burnout can happen to anyone. A definition is “an experience of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, caused by long-term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding”.
In May 2019, WHO defined burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Initial stage of burnout
The initial stage of burnout is that you may have a heavy workload with a high level of job stress, with high job expectations. Job demands can exceed job resources and the job does not fulfil your expectations. You may find that you do not have the skills for the job. You could be excellent technically but not a manager or a leader and therefore finding it very difficult or impossible to admit this.
Signs and Symptoms
Burnout is a chronic state of stress which can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, Depersonalisation and Cynicism and lack of personal accomplishment.
Physical and emotional exhaustion
This can be when there is little or no interaction within the workplace and being unable to engage with colleagues. Some signs can include: –
- Insomnia – difficulty getting to sleep with little or no sleep pattern. Unable to switch off so cannot get to sleep
- Poor concentration and memory – forgetting what to do next and can’t remember people’s names or issues at work
- Fatigue – due to lack to sleep, feeling fatigued most of the time which then can impact on the immune system and being totally exhausted
- Increase in colds, flu – due to the immune system being weakened more prone to infections which last longer than usual and recur
- Physical symptoms – headaches, stomach upset, non-cardiac chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, bowel upset, dizziness
- Uncontrolled eating with little or no ability to make changes in eating habits resulting in a risk of being overweight and obesity
- Emotional exhaustion – feelings of guilt, denial, depression, loss of libido and anxiety.
Depersonalisation and Cynicism
This can be impersonal attitudes and reactions towards others and this is especially with people you may be dealing with on a regular basis. This type of behaviour can be seen as a way to create a distance between yourself and anyone who may be causing any discomfort to you. Some signs can include: –
- Resistant to change and becoming uncooperative towards any change within the workplace as well as being negative
- Resentment of others who appear to be successful and happier which can lead to cynicism of the job and colleagues
- Frustrated and bored – frustrated at not being able to do what you used to do effectively and within a particular timeframe. Becoming bored as unable to focus on the job in hand and constant clock watching
Lack of personal accomplishment
Can feel little sense of achievement in relation to your job, even although you may be doing better than you think. Some signs can include: –
- Poor productivity and more mistakes – unable to focus and get on with the job in hand. May work long hours but doesn’t make any difference to productivity.
- Irritable – can appear to be on a ‘short fuse’ and very easily get irritable with colleagues and family. It can make you feel frustrated or upset at small things.
- Apathy – lack of interest or concern in what is going on around you.
- Indecision – unable to make decisions effectively and often let others make decisions
Despair, helplessness, aversion – last stage of burnout with some or all of these feelings. Aversion to oneself, to others and to everything.
The factors which can lead to burnout relating to your job can be excessive work demands, a lack of resources, workload, time pressure, role conflict and role ambiguity, lack of support from management or peers are the main “triggers” of burnout. Lack of organisational support when expectations are high and giving little to the employee in return.
What to do next
If you are suffering from burnout or think that you are heading that way, then identify the causes of the stressors which have led to occupational burnout. These could be lack of support from management and/or your peers, change, job demands.
It is always good to talk to someone who is a good listener – a friend, relative. Seek professional help if necessary. Do not be afraid to approach someone to ask for help. They will not see you as being unable to carry out your job or as weak but listen to them, as they may be able to offer help and advice as well as moral support which is vital at this stage.
The next blog will focus on the next steps.