Burnout; are you ignoring the signs?

Employment isn’t just a way of making money. It’s also a significant part of man’s social identity as well as a field of expressing one’s creativity, qualities or talents. The term “burnout” is used to signify a state of emotional and physical exhaustion related to work. It’s rather a modern phenomenon, observed mainly in western societies and Japan, yet it poses a negative impact on employees themselves as well as on the work culture in general. The percentage of people who suffer from burnout can’t be precisely estimated, since it depends on several factors, such as type of profession, country and its legislation, employment status, working environment and age.

Work burnout
How to recognize a job burnout

Burnout is a psychological effect related -yet not identical- to occupational stress. It occurs when the workplace is so stressful that doesn’t promote an employee’s wellbeing, joy and pleasure. As a result, the worker loses any kind of loyalty or respect for the object and the content of his job as well as for the workplace, colleagues, clients, patients and his own professional status. In particular, burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion, caused by exposure to high-intensity and long-lasting stressful conditions, characterized by:

  • emotional exhaustion
  • disorientation
  • reduced efficiency
  • lack of motivation
  • dysfunction at work
Causes that lead to burnout

The level of stress experienced at work depends on a variety of factors, not only relevant to the nature and the specific characteristics of a job position, but also to the personality and the general conditions of workers’ lives. For example, individual characteristics, such as age, gender and marital status, intra-individual factors, such as personality, motivations, desires as well as the existence or absence of interpersonal, supportive factors are among the main reasons that lead to burnout. Finally, social factors (e.g., social expectations for an employee’s role or work philosophy) along with workplace conditions (e.g., stressful and adverse working conditions, lack of staff, exhausting, demanding and continuous working hours, ambiguity of employee’s role, rigid, authoritarian or indifferent management, lack of psychological support in the workplace) play a significant role.

Therefore, the main causes of burnout are:

  • high workload
  • unsupportive working environment
  • absence of opportunities for personal development
  • lack of satisfaction
  • dearth of team spirit, competitive climate
  • feeling of injustice (regarding salary, job position, evaluation)
  • conflict of values
Burnout symptoms

Occupational burnout affects both mental and physical health of individuals as well as their interpersonal relationships (family, colleagues). Among the most common symptoms is the feeling of exhaustion that entails low work performance, lack of satisfaction and indifference that often leads to complete apathy. Lack of interest and negative mood may even lead to depression, while -when negative emotions accumulate and become physical- they are expressed as insomnia or excessive sleepiness, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, ulcers, weight fluctuations and frequent illnesses or colds. Finally, the lack of patience and irritability may lead to conflicts, threatening the interpersonal relationships of individuals.

Tips for dealing with burnout

Burnout imposes a serious social and economic impact, since – according to research – a significant number of workers quit or retire earlier due to burnout. Furthermore, they tend to use health services even more frequently. The long-term effects of burnout on both mental and physical health of employees are also significant, thus measures need to be taken by all sides:

Individual measures: Avoidance of assuming more responsibilities or increasing the working rates, redefinition of expectations and goals, use of short breaks or leaves of absence, abstention from emotional dependence on patients, clients, or colleagues and -for sure- willingness to communicate and to find a solution.

Administrative measures: Participation of employees in decision-making, improvement of the workplace and working conditions, recruitments, observance of working hours, distinct roles, etc.

Social support: Help and support from colleagues, family, friends or from self-help support groups and specialists.

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