Burnout has risen to the forefront in the media since the arrival of COVID-19. As office buildings emptied and workers transformed their homes to include their primary office space as well as a daycare, school, and isolation central, burnout has become the topic de jour. Burnout, however, existed long before we ever heard of the novel Coronavirus.
Simply put, the factors that generate burnout became amplified, causing a domino effect that soon became obvious to the masses. As stresses increased dramatically for the entire population as a whole, burnout came out of the darkness as we finally felt free to speak about it. No longer was it a taboo topic left for after-work conversations in hushed tones. It now sits at the forefront of business owners, managers, and employees across sectors ranging from front-line workers to restaurant owners to multinational corporate organizations.
In this article:
- Why Everyone Is Talking About Stress, Mental Health And Burnout
- What Is Burnout?
- What Are The Symptoms of Burnout? 11 Signs Of Burnout Based On The Latest Scientific Research
- The Cost Of Burnout To Businesses
- 3 Steps To Create An Organizational Culture Of Wellness
- Video: My Story Of Burnout And Recovery And How You Can Prevent Burnout
- Next Steps
What Is Burnout?
With all of this talk, what is burnout exactly? According to the World Health Organization,
Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life. 1
What are some of the symptoms of burnout? Below I will chronicle a few of the many possible signs. It can be challenging to spot as its insidious nature often goes overlooked and unchecked until severe enough not to be ignored. Chronic stress continues to be an important research topic across multiple fields, including psychology, sociology and physiology. 2,3
What Are The Symptoms of Burnout? 11 Signs Of Burnout Based On The Latest Scientific Research
1. Exhaustion. Over time, the effects of burnout drain the body’s reserves. At first, people bounce back quickly, but the cumulative impact of unsuccessfully managed stress results in tiredness, expanding toward overwhelming exhaustion.
2. Decreased Immunity. One sign of trouble is an increased susceptibility to illness. The body’s reserves become taxed due to maintaining the intricate balancing act necessary for healthy functioning in the presence of chronic stress hormones. Allocated resources become overstretched, and immune cells present in the blood decrease, setting the stage for recurring infections and illnesses. 4, 5
3. Endocrine System Changes. One of the reasons this goes undetected through routine bloodwork is that a typical test used for determining adrenal function measures morning cortisol levels, often unaffected by burnout. Researchers continue to search for burnout markers, although results remain inconclusive. 6, 7, 8
4. Sleep Disturbances. Impaired sleep is a classic symptom of burnout. The ramifications of diminished natural repair from good quality sleep extenuate exhaustion and create an environment for mood changes, including depression and anxiety. Burnout significantly predicts the development of insomnia. 9, 10
5. Anxiety and Depression. Both mental health concerns may be present in burnout, although neither may present themselves in various individuals. However, the bearing of either may indeed be a symptom. Overlooking burnout because one or neither of these exist, leads to considerable confusion. 11
6. Decreased Self-confidence. As burnout worsens, pessimism eclipses a naturally positive view and may lead to reduced self-worth, self-confidence and induce hopelessness. 12
7. Hypervigilance. Defined as a state of extreme alertness, hypervigilance can undermine the quality of life. It is an overly dramatic preoccupation with hidden dangers, both real and perceived and also a classic sign of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). 13
8. Brain Fog. “Brain fog is a term that describes problems with focus, memory, logic, and problem solving.” Mental exhaustion and insomnia created by chronic stress lead to this state of decreased capacity and inability to think clearly. 14
9. Emotional Exhaustion. The presence of chronic stress in burnout often makes people feel thoroughly worn out. Feelings of being trapped, stuck or having little autonomy often accompany burnout, causing decreased motivation and a sense of dread. 15
10. Shame And Guilt. Shame and guilt typically accompany burnout, effectively diminishing the one suffering from sharing concerns for fear of rejection. Feeling inadequate to handle stress leads to an unwillingness to express issues related to burnout, which simply perpetuates the problem. Without adequate training, managers lack the knowledge, empathy and sensitivity to address the stealthy nature of burnout. 16
11. Sense Of Failure. Self-doubt, feeling isolated, and a decreased perception of accomplishment lead to a sense of failure, further exacerbating the emotional load of burnout. 17
The Cost Of Burnout To Businesses
- Lost productivity.
- Decreased energy and concentration.
- Increased conflict with co-workers.
- Decreased motivation and performance.
- Increased use of sick days and leaves of absence.
Often, the significant costs associated with these indicators are what bring burnout to the forefront, however, by noticing the potential for burnout early, organizations can implement measures that benefit both the individual and the enterprise.
3 Steps To Create An Organizational Culture Of Wellness
1. Create an open dialogue between managers and those they oversee. By fostering trust and a safe place to share concerns, companies can spot burnout early enough to prevent a downward decline. With the right supports in place, the causes and symptoms of burnout can be reversed, thereby preserving the health of both the employee and the company.
2. Create questionnaires to learn about employee needs. Ask your staff what their challenges are and where they need support. Listen well and respond with action.
3. Plan your organization’s professional development around burnout prevention this year. On a monthly or quarterly basis, plan training and development to equip your team.
With proper training, employers, HR managers and supervisors can provide adequate support to employees to stop burnout in the early stages and eliminate it entirely, saving organizations thousands of dollars each year.
Burnout has become ubiquitous to our times, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right personal and professional development, burnout can become a thing of the past.
1. Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. (2019, May 28). Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/
2. Jonsdottir, Ingibjörg & Sjörs Dahlman, Anna. (2018). Endocrine and immunological aspects of burnout: a narrative review. European Journal of Endocrinology. 180. 10.1530/EJE-18-0741.
3. Burnout Prevention and Treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm
4. Bargellini, A., Barbieri, A., Rovesti, S., Vivoli, R., Roncaglia, R., & Borella, P. (2000, July). Relation between immune variables and burnout in a sample of physicians. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1739992/
5. Mommersteeg,, P. M., PhD, Heijnen, C. J., PhD, Kavelaars, A., PhD, & Van Doornen, L. J., PhD. (2006). Immune and Endocrine Function in Burnout Syndrome : Psychosomatic Medicine. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2006/11000/Immune_and_Endocrine_Function_in_Burnout_Syndrome.10.aspx
6. Mommersteeg PM;Heijnen CJ;Kavelaars A;van Doornen LJ;. (n.d.). Immune and Endocrine Function in Burnout Syndrome. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17079708/
7. Mommersteeg PM; Heijnen CJ; Verbraak MJ; van Doornen LJ;. (n.d.). Clinical Burnout Is Not Reflected in the Cortisol Awakening Response, the Day-Curve or the Response to a Low-Dose Dexamethasone Suppression Test. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16150550/
8. MECHANISMS IN ENDOCRINOLOGY: Endocrine and Immunological Aspects of Burnout: A Narrative Review. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30576285/
9. Sonnenschein, M., Sorbi, M. J., Van Doornen, L. J., Schaufeli, W. B., & Maas, C. J. (2006).Â Evidence that impaired sleep recovery may complicate burnout improvement independently of depressive mood. Utrecht: Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
10. Armon, G., Shirom, A., Shapira, I., & Melamed, S. (2008, June 24). On the nature of burnoutâ€“insomnia relationships: A prospective study of employed adults. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022399908000470
11. Where Do You Fall on the Burnout Continuum? (2012, May 06). Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/high-octane-women/201205/where-do-you-fall-the-burnout-continuum
12. Where Do You Fall on the Burnout Continuum? (2012, May 06). Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/high-octane-women/201205/where-do-you-fall-the-burnout-continuum
13. Matthew Tull, P. (2020, March 23). Exaggerated Fear of Danger May Be Hypervigilance in PTSD. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/Burnouthypervigilance-2797363
14. Brain Fog: 9 Causes (Plus Symptoms for Each). (2019, November 11). Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.medicinenet.com/brain_fog/article.htm
15. Cafasso, J. (2040, October 07). What Is Emotional Exhaustion and How Do You Fix It? Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/emotional-exhaustion
16. Klemm, K. (2020, March 05). Stress & Burnout Treatment – Edmonton. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.boostpsych.com/stress-burnout-edmonton
17. Smith, M., M.A., Segal, J., Ph.D., & Robinson, L. (2019). Burnout Prevention and Treatment. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm