Personal Development
Signs of Burnout at Work and What to Do about It

Signs of Burnout at Work and What to Do about It

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Avoiding Job Burnout: Tips for Leaders and Employees

Burnout is a state of vital exhaustion that is caused by chronic stress at work. As defined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, burnout is characterized by lack of motivation, pleasure in one's job, and belief in one's ability to complete tasks. When left unchecked, burnout can lead to physical, mental, and emotional illness.

The prevalence of burnout is increasing; a Deloitte survey conducted in 2015 found that 77 percent of professionals have experienced burnout at their current workplace. During the COVID-19 pandemic an astonishing 41 percent of surveyed employees reported feeling burned out due to workplace stress. According to the World Health Organization, job burnout results in near 120,000 deaths and almost $190 billion in healthcare costs per year.

Job burnout is usually divided into three different categories: overload burnout, under-challenged burnout and neglect burnout.

  • Overload burnout � continuing to work at an unsustainable pace in pursuit of success, financial security, or recognition
  • Under-challenged burnout � when people don't feel stimulated and engaged to be satisfied in their careers
  • Neglect burnout � when people don't have a sense of purpose and agency at work and feel like nothing they do makes a difference

Early signs of burnout include fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, physical pain, frustration, isolation from friends and family, avoidance of tasks and interpersonal interactions, feeling unappreciated, and becoming overwhelmed by small tasks.

Tips for Preventing Burnout

Leaders have an important role to play in preventing burnout in their organizations. They should promote a sense of trust and community, set realistic expectations and goals, offer support and flexibility, provide opportunities for growth and development, and engage in constructive dialogue with employees. Organizations should also provide resources for employees to manage stress and build resilience, such as access to mental health coaching, meditation apps, employee assistance programs, flexible work schedules, and even onsite yoga classes and massages.

Burnout is an ever-growing problem in the workplace, so it is essential for both employers and employees to take prevention measures. Taking small steps to address the underlying issues can help to reduce stress and burnout, thus improving employee engagement and performance.

Invest in Employee Well-Being to Create Successful Organizations

Organizations that prioritize the well-being of their employees can experience an increase in trust, respect, and productivity, all of which contribute to a successful organization. To create a workplace that is high-performing, leadership must lead by example while providing guidance and feedback to their teams. Leaders must also ensure that employees feel connected to their work, respected, and appreciated.

Build Resilience, Well-Being and Agility

In addition to hard skills, organizations should also focus on soft skills such as resilience, well-being, and agility. These assets help employees achieve a balance between work and life and contribute to a positive team environment. To foster resilience and well-being, employers should provide resources such as mental health coaching, nutrition and fitness programs. To improve agility, employers should offer virtual learning experiences, access to online courses, and remote working options.

Transform Business with Sales Leaders

Sales performance is essential for organizational success, and providing sales leaders with the skills and resources they need is essential for driving top-line growth. Sales professionals must be adept at pivoting to meet customers' changing needs, as well as have critical thinking and problem-solving skills. To develop and retain top-performing sales leaders, employers should focus on building their skills in areas such as strategic selling, data analysis, customer relationship management, and negotiation.

Unlock Business Impact from the Top with Executive Coaching

Executive roles are very important in driving success for their organization, and executive coaching can help unlock business impact from the top. Executive coaches are experienced professionals who can provide personalized guidance in areas such as leadership, communication, decision-making, and time-management. Through executive coaching, executives can gain clarity on their goals, become better listeners, learn to handle difficult conversations, and increase their emotional intelligence.

Foster a Culture of Inclusion and Belonging

In order to build a thriving workplace, organizations should focus on diversity and inclusion. To foster an inclusive culture, employers should provide diversity and inclusion training, ensure employee voices are heard, and encourage open dialogue. Additionally, employers should also dismantle any forms of discrimination or harassment, promote equal opportunities for all, and foster a sense of belonging across the organization.

Creating an Inclusive Workplace to Avoid Burnout

Organizations can foster a culture of inclusion and belonging by recruiting and training a diverse workforce, offering inclusive benefits, and providing opportunities for employees to grow and advance in their careers. There should also be clear policies in place to prevent harassment and bullying, as well as a safe environment for employees to report any discrimination they may experience. Additionally, organizations should proactively engage in dialogue to address any arising issues and make sure employees feel included.

What Is Work Burnout?

Work burnout is a common workplace condition, originally identified by Freudenberger and Gail North in the 12 stages of burnout they outlined -

  • The compulsion to prove oneself
  • Working harder
  • Neglecting personal needs
  • Displacement of conflict
  • Revision of values (working to the exclusion of all else)
  • Denial of emerging problems
  • Withdrawal (typically accompanied by self-medicating)
  • Odd behavioral changes
  • Depersonalization (unable to connect with others or one's own needs)
  • Inner emptiness
  • Depression
  • Burnout syndrome

The key to managing work burnout is to recognize the signs and symptoms early to begin treatment. It is important to note that work burnout does not occur overnight, but rather through various stages.

Warning Signs of Work Burnout

The official definition of work burnout has three main criteria, and the initial warning signs can be hard to spot. Here are some of the more common subtle signs to look out for:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, such as feeling drained all the time; difficulty relaxing; sleeping pattern changes; physical aches and pains; getting ill more often; skipping meals; loss of motivation; and no enthusiasm for activities outside of work
  • Increased mental distance from one's job, like avoiding work; having a short temper; procrastinating; memory slips; arriving late or leaving work early; having a negative attitude towards colleagues; and, a lack of competence or achievement in the workplace
  • Reduced professional efficacy, such as difficulty communicating with colleagues; delays in completing important tasks; little interest in improving skills; carrying out personal activities while at work; and, feeling lost or out of touch during office meetings

The Five Stages of Work Burnout

Winona State University has simplified work burnout into five distinct stages -

  • Honeymoon Stage: At the start of a new job, a person may be highly motivated, passionate, and dedicated to their new work. They may be so engaged in their project that they may neglect their physical and emotional needs. This stage doesn't usually last long but can be extended by taking care of physical and mental needs.
  • Balancing Act: This is when the job may start to lose its appeal. The person may become exhausted and drained after performing duties, and may have difficulty managing their stress levels. They may forget simple tasks or have difficulty sleeping due to stress.
  • Chronic Stress Symptoms: The person may suffer from chronic stress symptoms, like having a nasty temper, feeling apathetic, relying on caffeine to get through the day, depression, doubts about the future, and increasing fear and anxiety on the weekends.
  • Burnout: At this stage, the person may be in full burnout, experiencing physical, mental, and emotional fatigue. They may start to think of leaving the job, and become increasingly distant from their colleagues.
  • Enmeshment: This is when the person has reached the point of no return, and burnout has become their default. They may struggle to remember a time before they were stressed and drained, and may even be diagnosed with depression or anxiety before realising that work burnout is the source of their woes.

How to Diagnose Work-Related Burnout

Everyone experiences stress at work, and it's normal to feel disenchanted at times. However, burnout is usually deeper than that. It's important to recognise the signs and symptoms early and start treatment, since it doesn't usually happen overnight.

Understanding and Diagnosing Job Burnout

Do you dread going to work? Do you feel exhausted after hours or have physical aches and pains? If so, you might be suffering from job burnout and it's important to take the necessary steps to identify the signs and make sure you're taking the right steps to stay healthy.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself

If you think you're beginning to burn out, it's important to take the time to assess your physical and mental wellbeing. Consider the following questions:

  • Are you having more bad days than good days at work?
  • Do you feel unusually low or irritable when the weekend is about to end?
  • Do you have physical aches, pains, headaches or digestive problems?
  • Has your sleeping pattern changed (either too much or too little sleep)?
  • Are you having difficulty understanding your job's expectations?
  • Are you only able to work effectivly when up against a deadline?

If you answered yes to at least three of the above questions, it's likely that you're suffering from work burnout and should consider seeking help.

3 Tests to Diagnose Burnout

There are several different testing procedures that can help you diagnose burnout. These include:

  • Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI): This test was created by Dr. Christina Maslach and her research team, and it draws from their extensive research in the field. The MBI is available in several versions for students, educators, and medical personnel.
  • Job Diagnostic Scale (JDS): This isn't necessarily a burnout test; instead, it assesses the nature of work-related tasks. Based on your responses, you can gain insight into job performance, satisfaction, and motivation. If any of these areas are lacking, it could be an indicator of burnout.
  • Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES): This test assesses engagement and satisfaction at work using a self-reporting scale. It breaks engagement into three categories - vigor, dedication, and absorption - and it offers a specialized version for students.

If the results from any of these tests indicate that you may be exhibiting signs of stress, depression, anxiety, or burnout, it's important to take action. Remember it's okay to ask for help. If you don't do so, you risk exacerbating your symptoms.

Risk Factors and Causes of Job Burnout

The risk factors and causes of job burnout can differ from person to person, so it's important to be aware of the factors that may make you more prone to burnout. Noted burnout researcher Dr. Christina Maslach outlines six key organizational risk factors: workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values.

  • Workload: The amount of work you're responsible for and the access to resources and support you need to meet those goals can have a major impact on whether you experience burnout. People who tend towards isolation, people-pleasing, or perfectionism may find even a demanding workload to be overwhelming.
  • Control: Do you feel like your work is up to you? Do you have the freedom to direct and change your work? If you're constantly trying to keep up with a moving target or you don't feel able to influence your work in any way, you're more likely to experience burnout. Having the ability to set and maintain effective boundaries is also important.
  • Reward: For any job to be sustained and done well, you need to invest in your people so they continue to perform at their best. Bonuses and promotions are nice, but opportunities for growth, new challenges, visibility, and positive feedback can help too.
  • Community: A "psychologically safe" environment, one that "empowers employees to share their selves and their ideas without fear of negative consequences" is key, according to Dr. Jacinta Jimenez in her book, The Burnout Fix.

It's important to remember that burnout is a real health issue and can have a serious impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. If you think you might be suffering from burnout, take the time to assess the situation and make sure you're taking the necessary steps to stay healthy.

Understanding and Managing Burnout in the Workplace

Burnout is a workplace phenomenon that has the potential to occur in any job, regardless of the level of demand or passion. According to Jane Jackson, coach and author of Navigating Career Crossroads, the top reasons people leave their jobs are all linked to a conflict in values. It is important to be aware of the risk factors and causes of job burnout so that the necessary steps can be taken to reduce or prevent it.

Risk Factors and Personal Circumstances

A range of personal traits and lifestyle factors can contribute to the risk of burnout. This includes personality traits such as perfectionism, a type-A personality, hyper-competitiveness, difficulty asking for help, and the inability to prioritize work tasks. Additionally, lifestyle stressors like sudden illness in oneself or a loved one, serving as a primary caretaker for a family member, working multiple jobs, and a lack of involvement in activities outside of work can also increase the chances of burnout. Balancing a major life change, such as a move or a new addition to the family, with work is another important factor to consider.

Consequences of Job Burnout

The consequences of job burnout can become very serious if left unaddressed. Mild occupational burnout can cause a decrease in work satisfaction, mental and physical exhaustion, and strained work relationships. Severe burnout can even lead to chronic illnesses, quitting a job, or, in extreme cases, death. Known as ‘karoshi' or ‘death by overwork', this phenomenon has been reported in countries around the world.

It is important to remember that a person cannot be fired for feeling burnout at work. However, they can be fired for poor performance due to burnout. To protect oneself, it is wise to speak to a manager or human resources professional to explore one's options and rights. This may result in a change in working conditions, hours, or responsibilities, or even a short-term leave.

Treating and Handling Burnout at Work

Although burnout may seem overwhelming, it does not have to be a permanent state. By building habits to better manage burnout, it is possible to recover without necessarily having to quit one's job. Here are 10 ways to treat and handle burnout at work:

  • Pay attention to your feelings: burnout is closely related to emotion, and emotions can provide powerful insights into what matters to us. Noticing feelings before they become burnout can help manage resentment, frustration and disillusionment.
  • Set healthy boundaries: taking on commitments without understanding the effort they require can lead to a too-busy workload. Setting healthy boundaries can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by giving us control over our time and resources.
  • Practice self-care: self-care involves nurturing oneself in order to be able to give and receive in other areas of life. It is important to take the time to prioritize self-care, which can involve activities such as exercise, a healthy diet, sleep, meditation, or reading.
  • Prioritize: burnout is often created by having too many competing demands. It is important to effectively manage workloads by prioritizing tasks, in order to boost productivity.
  • Focus on the positives: instead of getting lost in the negative aspects of a situation, focus on what is going well. This can help to ease the sense of being overwhelmed and may even inspire further creativity.
  • Communicate: communicating is key to avoiding burnout. This can help reduce the risk of burnout significantly.

Understanding and Overcoming Burnout

Burnout can be a major problem in today's workplace. It is often caused by demanding workloads, conflicting priorities, and unfulfilled values. It can have serious, debilitating effects, not only on our work lives, but our personal and home lives as well. It is important to recognize and take action to protect one's job, health, and wellbeing.

The Signs of Burnout

Some signs of burnout to look out for include feelings of frustration, exhaustion, or confusion. If these feelings become too much to ignore, it is important to be honest with oneself, and to reach out for help if necessary.

Tips for Overcoming Burnout

  • Express feelings of frustration, exhaustion, or confusion to colleagues in order to better understand expectations and to create an atmosphere of understanding and support.
  • Schedule short breaks throughout the day to reset focus and recharge.
  • Explore other roles or responsibilities in the workplace to freshen up outlook and provide a boost.
  • Take the time to reflect and reset to avoid burnout in the long-term.
  • Seek outside help, like therapy, counseling, or talking to a qualified professional, to better manage stress.

Organizational Support

Organizations have a vested interest in helping employees thrive at work. Developing relationships at work can provide a sense of belonging and access to shared resources. It is also important to be able to handle other important priorities in one's personal life. Setting physical boundaries, like locking the office at the end of the day, and deleting work email from personal devices, can help. Finally, management can make a critical difference in how you experience your workplace and the support that you have access to.

The Benefits of Self-Care

If burnout has reached a critical point, it is important to prioritize self-care. Make time for basic needs, such as food, water, exercise, and time with others. Take a break from the to-do list, and check in with yourself routinely. Setting a reminder on your phone, or scheduling a couple of minutes to take a breath between back-to-back meetings, can make a positive difference. Taking a workshop, reading a book, or completing a small project can also help build up efficacy. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and with commitment, it is possible to effectively manage burnout and protect one's wellbeing.

Burnout & Millennials - How to Avoid, Spot Symptoms, & Build a Positive Relationship with Work

Millennials and burnout have become almost synonymous, particularly with the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. The psychological and physical effects of overworking ourselves can be vast. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to reduce our vulnerability to burnout and maintain a healthy relationship with work. It is important to be informed of common burnout symptoms, potential causes, and how to address the issue.

Caregiver Burnout & Fatigue

Burnout is an increasingly prevalent problem in the US, with over 50 million people providing unpaid care for their loved ones. In the Federal government, for example, leaders are often driven by their mission, which can lead to burnout for the entire team. It's critical to be aware of caretaker burnout, possible risk factors, and how to proactively prevent it. Burnout, though relatively new, poses a familiar challenge to the modern workforce. Unfortunately, traditional 'fixes' are frequently ineffective against it.

Preventing & Treating Burnout

When left unchecked, burnout can have a serious impact on performance and wellbeing, reducing resilience and leading to poor results. To deal successfully with the symptoms of burnout, it is important to have access to the right support system. Shiken provides the tools, coaching, and leadership training necessary to effectively manage burnout. Our experts are available to help you get the most out of your efforts and provide evidence-based best practices and vital resources to ultimately conquer burnout.

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