Burnout at work – Know the symptoms

What is burnout? Who is at risk?

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long term exposure to demanding work situations. Burnout is the cumulative result of stress. Everyone has a different level of tolerance to stress, but eventually constant stress will take its toll.

You may be more prone to burnout if:

  • You try to be everything to everyone.
  • You work in the helping professions such as healthcare, counselling, teaching or law enforcement.
  • You find it difficult to establish boundaries between work and personal life.

What are the signs of burnout?

Ask yourself the following questions to see whether you are experiencing the early stages of burnout:

  • Have you lost the ability to experience joy?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
  • Have you become more irritable and less patient with co-workers or clients?
  • Are you tired of your co-workers asking if you are OK?
  • Are you self-medicating with food, alcohol, drugs to feel better?
  • Have your sleep habits or appetite changed at all?

If you answered yes to any of these, you may be experiencing burnout or you may be depressed. Talk to your supervisor or mentor, see your GP or access your EAP to talk to a counsellor. They can help you assess the situation and suggest alternatives and solutions.

Identify the Cause

Burnout can result from:

  • Lack of control – perhaps you are unable to influence decisions that affect your job such as the hours you will work or which assignments you will get. Perhaps you are unable to control the flow of work, or your job is reactive to situations or other people.
  • Unclear job expectations – examples include uncertainty over what degree of authority you have and not having necessary resources to do the job to the best of your ability.
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics– examples are working with a bully or being undermined by colleagues or having a boss that micromanages your work.
  • Mismatch in values – if your value differs from the way your company does business or handles employee concerns, it will wear you down.
  • Poor job fit – working in a job that poorly aligns with your interests and skills is certain to become increasingly stressful over time.
  • Extremes of activity – when a job is always monotonous or chaotic, you’ll need constant energy to remain focused. Over time this energy drain can lead to burnout.

Is it time to take action?

If you recognise any of the signs of burnout don’t ignore them. Like stress, burnout can result in significant negative health consequences and has the potential to put people at increased risk of developing depression, anxiety and other emotional difficulties.

Recovery from burnout is possible but it is likely to require change and will take time – there is no quick fix. Keep an open mind and consider all your options.

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