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The Burnout Trap

How to overcome the burnout epidemic

The Burnout Trap
The Burnout Trap

For the first time ever, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised workplace burnout as a diagnosable condition, adding it to the  International Classification of Diseases. The burnout trap is a familiar one. If you’ve ever ever experienced burnout, you may be left wondering what took them so long. We take a look at how to overcome the burnout epidemic.

What is Burnout?

Now reported to be at epidemic levels, the WHO state that “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Serious stuff.

Burnout affects our motivation, our performance. It even bleeds into our personal lives leaving multiple casualties. Take a look around and you’ll see examples of workplace stress, but how do you know when you’ve crossed over into burnout?

The 3 Domains of Burnout

Christina Maslach and Susan E. Jackson designed the the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) to measure occupational burnout. Maslach and Jackson identified 3 components of burnout;

  • Emotional exhaustion This is when you feel tired, fatigued and exhausted at work. Maybe you can manage to get through the day but your reserves are depleted and you have no energy left for anything else.
  • Depersonalization Think of this as indifference at one end of a spectrum and a callous/uncaring attitude at the other. You might even experience hostility towards  colleagues or clients. This is about feeling so numb, that there’s nothing left in the tank for anyone else, your energy reserves are so low.
  • Reduced personal accomplishment You may feel that there’s no stretch, no challenge or that you aren’t accomplishing anything worthwhile. The result? low levels of motivation and productivity.

Still Wondering if you’re burning out?

Burnout symptoms can be varied, but if you find you can answer yes to these questions, you may be experiencing burnout;

  • You dread going to work
  • You find that your Sunday becomes poisoned by the thought of Monday
  • You feel exhausted and drained of energy
  • The prospect of work fills you with joylessness
  • There are low level, nebulous aches and pains that you can’t explain
  • You genuinely don’t have enough time in your working day to complete your tasks
  • You feel overwhelmed
  • You feel guilty
  • Sleep is difficult
  • You find yourself feeling short tempered for no reason
  • You frequently feel hopeless about life and work
  • One bad day at work merges into another
  • You frequently feel resentful towards your friends and colleagues or clients 
  • You stopped doing the things that used to renew and energise you a long time ago

Burnout Recovery

When you’re experiencing burnout, things can feel harder than usual so don’t beat yourself up. But there is a way forward. It’s important that you create the space to address the underlying causes of burnout. Ignoring burnout won’t help, it isn’t something that will just disappear.

  • Talk to someone. Sharing how you are feeling with a professional will help you to begin the process of addressing the reasons for burnout.
  • Identify what the trigger for burnout is. There might be several reasons, work related stress, taking work home, working patterns, shift work, lack of time for self care or family and friends. This can take time, try journalling or talking therapy to dig deep and discover what’s going on for you.
  • Self care. This one might sound obvious, but when we’re stressed or burning out, sometimes we stop doing the things that renew and re-energise us. Get back to basics and take stock of your nutrition, exercise and general wellbeing. Are there areas where you can be more gentle with yourself or create more opportunities for self care? Start small and build up your routine slowly, one thing at a time.
  • Audit your assertiveness. Are there times when you find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you really mean ‘no’? Brush up on your assertiveness skills and give yourself permission to say no when you need to.
  • Values. Often when we start to talk about work life balance and wellbeing in coaching, we start with values. When our values are congruent with what we do on a daily basis, we have meaning and purpose. Research around wellbeing and happiness suggest that living with purpose is key to our happiness and wellness. Doing some homework around what’s important to us and whether our working life is in alignment with those values can be an enormously useful starting point.
  • Focus on what you can control. This is the cornerstone of many resilience models. Take a look at Susan Kobasa’s 3 Cs or Martin Seligman’s PERMA model to find out how to develop resilience. Our free Resilience Toolkit is also a great place to start learning about resilience.

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