Burnout

cat resting on a couch

Guess which of these definitions of burnout are relevant to today’s blog!

  1. Keeping a car stationary while spinning the wheels at a high speed, resulting in massive amounts of smoke and the smell of burned rubber
  2. A fabric technique particularly popular with velvets in which the material undergoes a chemical process to dissolve some of the fibers to create a semi-transparent raised pattern
  3. A condition stemming from job-related stress that includes symptoms of exhaustion, increased cynicism, inability to concentrate, increased irritation with others, and a general feeling of disillusionment

If you guessed C, you are correct! If you guessed C while wearing B and engaging in A, you’re an overachiever.

While experts differ on what precisely causes burnout and who is at risk for it, most agree that it’s definitely a thing that thousands of workers suffer from (others argue that as it’s not a diagnosable psychological disorder, all of the symptoms stem from other issues). The term was first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger in his book Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement; where it was identified as a lack of motivation resulting from an unrewarding or high stress situation. The World Health Organization categorizes it as an occupational phenomenon stemming from mismanaged chronic workplace stress; and a study in 2015 by Deloitte found that over 90% of respondents agreed that burnout stemming from workplace stress negatively impacted the quality of their work.

“But I have a high stress job and love what I do and don’t suffer burnout, so aren’t people who say that they are just being overly dramatic and lazy?” No. Many people have high stress jobs and don’t suffer from burnout; just as there are people in low stress but repetitive and boring jobs that do (being underchallenged at work can be just as damaging as being overloaded). Inconveniently, there is no one set of factors that will cause someone to suffer from burnout at their job. So how do you recognize that it’s burnout, and not just a general need for a vacation?

Typically, burnout can be identified by the following:

  • When you started at your job you liked it or were at least neutral towards it. But lately you’ve come to truly dislike it and may even dread going in to work each morning. And hello cynicism!
  • You feel that no matter what you do, it’s never enough and you have a growing sense of disenfranchisement.
  • You are exhausted, and you just cannot bring yourself to care anymore.
  • Your concentration has gone out the window, and you are easily distracted by bumblebees and shiny things (moreso than usual, for those of us in the ‘easily distracted by shiny things’ crowd).
  • Your physical health is suffering.

Burnout is not something that happens overnight – it can creep up on you in stages. And having an occasional bout of feeling a combination of the above symptoms does not necessarily mean it’s burnout. If these feelings kick in for a week after a major deadline or period of intense activity, then a vacation can help. When these feelings are chronic, when you have more bad days than good, you’re looking at burnout and a simple vacation will not fix that – something needs to fundamentally change.

If your workplace has an HR professional, talk to them. They should be able to offer concrete ways relative to your workplace to help you deal with burnout, which may include options for professional development, or possibly getting your supervisor to change their management methods (yes yes, I know. Wishful thinking on that one). Other suggestions include connecting with your coworkers to increase a sense of belonging; and set boundaries in that work stays at work. Don’t work on the weekends, and don’t work after standard hours are over. If you’ve been doing 10-hour days and your workday is supposed to be 8 hours, leave when the 8 hours are up. Burnout means that your productivity is down, so the extra hours spent at the office aren’t doing anyone any good. While you’re at it, delete work related apps from your phone – the email can wait until morning. On the very basic level – hydrate yourself and get in at least one healthy meal a day. You’re not in college anymore and cold pizza and take out, while tasty, are not the most nutritious options out there. Focus on something that you enjoy doing outside of work – a hobby or activity that forces you to take a break. Even better is if you find one that includes a mix of quick and long term dopamine hits from successfully completing a related task.*

The above tips are a way to start managing burnout. Seeking professional counselling is also a good idea. Emphasis on professional counselling. Venting to your friends or vague posting online doesn’t count. And it may be that at the end of the day, what needs to change is your job. The same position at a different company, in a different environment, may be what you need to overcome burnout. Or maybe a new career path is needed.

Whatever the cause, and whatever the outcome – don’t just try to push through the burnout and hope that it goes away. Because it will eventually spill over into other aspects of your life and then it’s an even bigger mess. So when you start to experience the symptoms of burnout, take whatever actions you can to deal with it as quickly as possible. Because the only type of burnout we want to see is the pretty velvet kind.

*My personal favorite for that is coloring books – I have a mix that include detailed, intricate, images that take multiple sessions to complete along with simple ones that can be done in one to two hours.

Post written by Lois Baker
Virtual Proofreading & Editing Specialist
July 5, 2022

Professional photo of Lois Baker, from the Strategic Management & Logistics team.

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