Burnout is a rapidly evolving workplace phenomenon affecting millions around the globe. Many workers suffer from chronic stress and mental health problems due to burnout, and traditional wellness initiatives in the workplace are falling short.
The culture around work in the modern day is incredibly unhealthy. People are encouraged to work hard constantly to achieve their goals, and people who take more time and go at a slower pace are labelled as lazy employees. This constant pressure contributes to the high rates of burnout experienced by many workers.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion. Workers suffer from burnout due to long term stress in their jobs or when they work in a physically or mentally demanding role.
Symptoms of burnout can include:
- Feeling increasingly overwhelmed
- Feeling drained
- Feeling helpless and trapped
- Experiencing self-doubt
- Procrastinating with work
- Using drugs or alcohol to cope with pressure
- Feeling detached from work and other colleagues
Burnout is not a condition that goes away on its own. Employee burnout can lead to a chronic stress cycle that can further damage physical and mental health if people do not seek treatment.
People who are burned out at work often feel constant dread and consider every day a bad day. It can take them a long time to complete tasks that may have only taken them minutes in the past, and they feel as though work has drained them dry and they have nothing left to give.
Who Gets Burnout?
The burnout epidemic is rising, with 46% of UK workers feeling more prone to extreme stress than in 2020. People with high-stress jobs, such as doctors, bankers, and executive, can more frequently suffer from burnout than others. One provocative and engaging analysis found that over half of all paramedics suffer from burnout.
However, this rapidly evolving workplace phenomenon is not limited to high-stress jobs. People can feel burned out no matter what type of job they have or how many hours they work.
People can also feel burned out from dealing with trauma and the emotions it brings. If people are unaware that they are burned out, no matter the reason, they can often try to push through and deal with the exhaustion they are experiencing. However, this can make the burnout epidemic much worse and more people than ever will experience the rise of chronic stress in their lives.
What Is the Difference Between Stress and Burnout?
The burnout epidemic explains the rise of chronic stress, but burnout is not the same as stress. Stress involves too much: many people are over-engaged and feel a sense of urgency. On the other hand, burnout involves too little: having no motivation and feeling detached from work.
Some of the symptoms of chronic stress include:
- Rapid but disorganised thoughts
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Changes in appetite
- Low self-esteem
Stress often leads to burnout, but when people suffer from burnout, they often do not feel stressed.
What Contributes to Burnout?
Many factors contribute to the burnout epidemic, including:
- Money worries
- Physical health struggles
- Sleep issues
- Caring for others
- Working from home
- Working too much
- Working in a high-pressure environment
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many people struggled with balancing work, homeschooling children, and caring for others while also caring for themselves. These factors contribute to the rise of chronic stress, and workers can struggle to manage their symptoms.
What Are the Stages of Burnout?
Burnout comes on slowly, in several stages. Fascinating research from psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North outlines the twelve stages that burnout takes to set in:
- Drive and ambition – you begin with the drive to do well in your job and aim for success.
- Pushing yourself – your ambition drives you to work harder.
- Neglecting your needs – you sacrifice self-care, exercise and other needs in the name of work.
- Displacing conflict – you blame others for your actions rather than acknowledging how you are pushing yourself to the limit.
- No time for fun – you deny yourself enjoyable activities as work becomes all-consuming.
- Denial – you blame others for your behaviour, labelling them as lazy or incompetent.
- Withdrawal – you withdraw from your loved ones, and social events become burdens.
- Behavioural changes – your normal behaviour changes, and you may lash out for no reason.
- Depersonalisation – you feel detached from your life.
- Emptiness and anxiety – you feel anxious and empty and may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with your emotions.
- Depression – you begin to feel hopeless.
- Collapse – your mental and physical health suffers, and you feel unable to cope. Professional help may be necessary.
Although it is difficult to measure burnout precisely, these steps can show how close someone is to total burnout.
Although the workplace has changed, employee wellness programmes have not. Only approximately 23% of workers know the plans their employer has in place to support their well-being, and one in five people feel unable to manage their stress in the workplace.
Employers have been advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to act now to support staff and reduce the risk of burnout. An alarming number of working days are lost to mental health problems every year, at a cost of around £34.9bn per year. Without mental health support, employee engagement suffers and they often take more time to complete tasks.
One 2019 research paper also found that productive workplaces make an effort to ensure employees are satisfied with their company.
As an employee, you do not need to suffer in silence if you feel burned out. Speak to your line manager and set out a plan of what you may be able to do together. Business leaders have a duty of care to each of their employees, and they will be able to help you manage your stress and workload. Managers will be able to help employees to streamline their workload and make specific changes that will help to reduce the risk of burnout.
How to Manage Burnout
Having an anti-burnout strategy at work or home can help manage chronic stress and target the root causes of burnout.
- Practice self-care – self-care can be a great way to manage burnout. This can be anything from taking a hot bath to cleaning the kitchen or silencing your work phone after your working day ends. Don’t search for solace in maladaptive coping mechanisms.
- Reach out to friends – open up to your loved ones about your feelings about work and life. Talking about your problems can help relieve stress, and social events can give you a good outlet for relaxing.
- Prioritise exercise – exercise is a great self-care technique that can help you feel good and reduce chronic stress. Even a ten or twenty-minute walk at lunch can improve your mood and help you to feel more positive for the rest of the day.
- Set firm boundaries – for many, applying personal boundaries can help mitigate burnout. Boundaries can be work-related, which may mean turning off your phone after a specific time to focus on your family, or personal, which may mean making time for you.
- Practice mindfulness – yoga, better breathing techniques, and meditation can help to reduce stress and give people an opportunity to relax. Breathing techniques are also straightforward to do at work, which can help to combat work-related burnout.
Taking time off is also an excellent way to combat burnout and make time to relax. Even a small break can help employees feel more refreshed when they return to work.
Many books also focus on the burnout epidemic and how to combat it. One book by Jennifer Moss titled The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It, covers how traditional wellness initiatives fall short and how companies can prevent burnout.
However, these may be band-aid solutions for burnout. Sometimes, more extreme measures are needed to truly combat the chronic stress cycle that people can get stuck in. In severe cases, people can consider quitting their jobs to escape the vicious cycle of burnout.
If you feel burned out, the most important thing you can do is be honest with yourself. Take a step back and evaluate what you might need to deal with your burnout and where the source of your burnout is coming from – whether it is work, home, or somewhere else. You can then consider a plan of action to help with your symptoms. If you are suffering from severe burnout, talk to a mental healthcare professional at The Revoke Programme today.
There is no cure-all for the burnout epidemic. Although it is vital to create healthier workplace cultures and cultivate greater emotional intelligence to recognise burnout, this is not easy for everybody to do.
Companies have a duty of care to their employees, and band-aid solutions are not enough. Although people may think they simply need more resilience to deal with stress and burnout, this is not the case – burnout requires extensive self-care and even professional intervention to treat it effectively.
A healthier culture around work is necessary to improve employee engagement and well-being and prevent burnout. Managing stress and reducing the risk of burnout is not just about doing more yoga and practising mindfulness but also about making significant lifestyle changes to handle negative feelings.