What is burnout and how does it affect us?

What is burnout and how does it affect us? Google has shown an increase in burnout related searches. The general theme of these questions are full of worry, with some even asking if it can kill you!
 
A 2018 Gallup study showed that 23% of employees often feel burned out at work. The World Health Organisation has also officially classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon. With the increased global stress put on by Covid, burnout and mental health issues are on the rise. This is why it is important to understand the signs of job burnout and do something about it.

How to recognise the signs of burnout

How do you know if you are burnt out or are, at the very least, experiencing some of the symptoms? The main characteristics of burnout are physical and emotional exhaustion. It’s the feeling of detachment, ineffectiveness, overwhelm and depression. Tasks and jobs that used to be engaging, fun or routine, are now difficult, dull and scattered. This causes people to become more pessimistic, cynical, less creative and dread work.
 
Physical symptoms can mimic depression and anxiety, like; fatigue, dizziness, loss of appetite. Heart palpitations, shortness of breath can also occur when getting ready for work. If you start to show these signs, then it’s a good indicator that your lifestyle is not sustainable.
 
People often have headaches, sleepless nights and will take on bad unhealthy habits. People would take coffee to wake up and drink in the evening to wind down. This then made it difficult to sleep and wake up and is a vicious cycle.
 
 

Burnout symptoms, according to the World Health Organization.

 
Exhaustion, emotional & physical: Chronic fatigue, insomnia, memory loss, trouble concentrating, anxiety, depression, anger.
 
Increased mental distance from one’s job: Loss of enjoyment, pessimism, cynicism, isolation
 
Reduced professional efficacy: Apathy, lack of productivity, poor performance, irritability, feelings of uselessness.
 
Physical symptoms: Chest/stomach pains, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headaches, fainting/dizziness, loss of appetite, increased illness.
 
Source: World Health Organization, 2019; Dr Sherrie Bourg Carter, 2013.

What causes job burnout?

 
There are many factors to consider that contribute to burnout. It is often caused by a buildup of workplace stresses or unreasonable pressures. These pressures can be from not enough time, to heavy workloads. Couple this with a poor support systems from managers or workplace culture and its a recipe for disaster. It can also be caused by lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities and unfair treatment.
 
The workplace culture from some businesses can have a huge impact on ones health. Some workplace cultures work through lunch, stay late and never turn off. This can influence employees as they see this cue as the expected thing to do. It can be very difficult to stop this if you are struggling due to the social pressures. This also makes it difficult for people to ask for help when they are struggling.
 
Rich Pierson, co-founder & CEO of Headspace says; “all of these factors are exacerbated by the destructive work habit of being always on”. Rich believes that technology has erased many of our workplace boundaries, leaving us vulnerable to longer hours with no opportunity to switch off.
 
“Technology isn’t inherently bad, but our relationship with it can make us feel overwhelmed. We’re moving away from a binary view of our lives – it’s no longer work life versus personal life. So as we allow for more fluidity (for better or worse), we can’t ignore the need to be healthy and happy both at home and at work.”

How to fix job burnout

 
The first step in dealing with burnout is knowing; it can be fixed! With the correct stress management and dedication, you can break free of burnout. One of the best ways to change is to change the environment around you. This would be the workplace in the case of job burnout.
 
First steps should be talking to managers, supervisors or HR. While there may be a level of stigma attached, it is important to overcome this to seek support. Mental Health is not something to take lightly, and opening up your organisation is the start. Taking leave can also be helpful, but it’s important to note that a week’s holiday will never be enough on its own.
 
Ask yourself whether or not there is scope to change in your current work environment. Is the pressure inherent to the role? Is it the company culture? If yes, then perhaps a new role or company would improve the situation. Taking the time to stop, reflect and make an important decision is crucial here.
 
If not then perhaps the situation can be turned around with good stress management and self love. Coping methods for this are to eat healthy, exercise and get enough proper sleep. Prioritise yourself and know when to take a break and relax, so you can keep your head in the game. See if there are options to change your work schedule, or do some work remotely. This can often help you feel at ease and improve productivity.
 

There are 5 great ways to avoid burnout.

 
Switch off, properly. Set limits around your technology use. Often working overtime is unavoidable, but understand your own boundaries. Communicate in your set hours and do not feel pressured to email, message or call back if in your set hours.
 
Embrace structure. A key symptom of job burnout is the sensation that work is piling up, and this can be combined with mild memory loss. Consistent little steps taken each day can stop the pile up, and organizational software is available to make it easier.
 
Make time to relax. Creating time to unwind properly can help you better cope with periods of stress. Whether you prefer reading, walking, knitting, or practising mindfulness, find the thing which helps you de-stress and carve out time for it religiously.
 
Tune in to how you feel. Job burnout progresses slowly, but there are often signs along the way and learning to recognise these can help you stop it in its tracks. Keep an eye out for symptoms such as frequent headaches, stomach upsets and trouble focusing.
 
Get enough sleep. Often the hardest to accomplish (since burnout brings insomnia with it) prioritising a good night’s rest is nevertheless crucial. If necessary, talk to your manager about changing your hours to fit around your sleep schedule until you feel better.
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