Burnout at work is a pattern of psychological discomfort that a person may experience in the form of significant exhaustion at different levels: mental, emotional, and physical. Of course, this strain will also be reflected in interpersonal relationships.
Psychiatrist Herbert Freuden Berger first coined the term “burned out” in the mid-70s. He referred to characteristics present in a group of workers who shared similar symptoms: anxiety, depressive states, lack of motivation, confrontations, and loss of energy.
Originally coined to refer to health professions, such as doctors and nurses who would tire from caring for others, the term is now used to describe the feeling of over exhaustion in work environments and is expressed as “I’m burned out”.
Burnout at work refers to stress. Stress is defined as tension caused by overwhelming situations that create psychosomatic reactions or sometimes serious psychological disorders. Stress is one of the main components of burnout at work, which slowly accumulates with compounded stress over time.
In fact, a situation can be stressful and not necessarily generate the feeling of burnout if it is not prolonged or if the person has managed to channel their stress healthily. Coping with stress from day to day is not easy. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed in the work environment does not have to result in burnout if it is properly managed.
How can we overcome this situation?
People who claim to feel burnt out at work frequently complain about the situation getting out of hand not having control over it ¡. In other words, they have a strong feeling of helplessness, i.e. “I have no capacity or power to change this situation”, “Whatever I do I always end up feeling overwhelmed due to all the things I have to do.”
This sense of helplessness is exhausting and explains why people find it harder and harder to go to work. Energy is limited and if it is channeled in too many stressful situations, it can end up wearing you out.
Every morning you get out of bed and go to work, but once you are there the feeling of exhaustion is greater. It’s as if a leech has absorbed all your energy and doesn’t let you do anything else.
Burnout is not something that exclusively affects the work environment. It has an impact on other areas of life, taking away energy from things you usually did but no longer have the strength to do since all your energy is focused on work.
Suddenly you get nervous at home for no reason because you are taking home your problems from work. If the situation is tolerable and you know that the feeling is short-lived, or you are certain that you can overcome future adversities, then don’t worry about burnout. In these situations, we could refer to stress or a specific moment of crisis. However, burnout at work is like a vine that slowly matures and does not start and end in one place. It grows when we don’t address it.
Phases of burnout at work
According to psychiatrists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North, this process goes through different phases that result in exhaustion. These phases may appear on one or several occasions, overlapping one another or separated in time, and typically originating in the workplace.
1. I will show that I’m worth something
In this first phase, you feel that nobody recognizes your efforts, as if you did not do well enough to deserve positive praise. Then you begin overworking in an attempt to try to get the attention of others in hopes that they see how well you perform
2. More and more
Eight-hour workdays gradually become eight and a half hours, and soon they grow to nine. At this point, your work phone, which was completely forgotten on the weekends, begins to be present, and without even noticing it you are answering emails in your spare time. Now you have less time to enjoy your free time because you work more, and you have devoted less time to pleasant activities because you are in the office.
3. Goodbye to basic needs
Hours of sleep have also been reduced and sometimes you even skip meals to finish a PowerPoint presentation. When you eat, you are always looking at the computer to get ahead of work.
4. Personal problems are swept under the rug
When balancing priorities, personal problems are second in line to work. Everything is controlled by work life and the rest ends up on the sidelines. Choosing to separate your personal concerns in favor of work does not help to solve them. We all have problems that if left unattended, will remain and even increase.
5. You better not talk to me
At work you feel very tense and sensitive, everything colleagues say seems negative, and you seem angry and moody.
6. Live to work
Hobbies seem like a distant memory because you barely spend time with your loved ones. Work is the only thing present in your life.
People around think you are acting weird. When they bring it up, you think they are exaggerating and don’t understand why they are so concerned. It seems as if they were talking about another person, not about you.
You have been losing your social life throughout this process. You used to go out more with your partner and friends, but instead, you have unhealthy behaviors to compensate. You may use drugs or medications to numb the feeling of loneliness.
9. Few things are important
Nothing matters to you. It seems that nothing excites you, and you don’t know exactly what you need. You feel that nothing is worth your time.
The feeling of emptiness has increased and you constantly feel incomplete as if you were missing something. The likelihood of substance abuse increases.
Hopelessness floods your life, and you don’t see how things could improve. There is no “light at the end of the tunnel.”
12. Burnout syndrome
At this stage, you are in a real-life crisis that you don’t know how to get out of it. You may not even understand how you got into it in the first place. At this point, professional help is needed. You do not have to go through this alone. Get help and seek the support of a professional.
Burnout prevention and treatment
Be aware of the first steps that lead you into a rabbit hole. If you have any feeling that you are starting to face a downhill spiral, you must take action.
We must not demand from ourselves more than we can accomplish. For example, if you receive an urgent request to complete a report that usually would take a week, and it must be submitted the next day, you are destined to fail before even starting. This feeling of obligation only adds to the feeling of helplessness because it is impossible to meet such high expectations within such a short deadline.
Some other people impose obligations on themselves and can’t seem to shut off the internal voice that is constantly pushing them.
2. Work is… work
It seems obvious, but you should ask yourself: do you work to live or live to work? Understanding work as a means and not as an end will help you realize what you really need.
3. Organization and enjoyment
One of the simplest ways in which burnout at work can become a source of all your discomfort is to make work the only use of your time in life, whether positive or negative. Caring for other areas in your life will help you play down the importance of work. This is essential to living healthily, and work should not be the only source of nourishment. Good organization will balance work and pleasure.
What needs are essential?
Certain needs are essential for a healthy lifestyle. Not eating, sleeping, going to medical appointments, etc. only contributes to decreased performance in all aspects of life.
4. Face problems one by one
When the time has come to pay more attention to your personal life, don’t be surprised when you are faced with a flood of problems. If you’ve had those problems on pause for a while, it’s likely that nothing will happen if you don’t face them. Writing down the problems and looking for solutions can help you understand how to solve them. Take one problem at a time, and remember there is no rush.
5. Say goodbye to bad habits
One of the main problems to getting rid of bad habits like alcohol or other addictions is that they leave a void and unpleasant feelings.
To eliminate some of these habits, they should be replaced with healthy routines. It is very difficult to stop doing something if you do not have what psychologists call an ‘alternative behavior’ to the bad habit.
No matter what we do, the urge is so strong that it seems that there is no way to accomplish everything. We should ask ourselves if we need to stay away from those types of situations for the sake of our health. Since these types of decisions can have a big impact on life, you should reflect and take time for yourself. Take the time you need to decide what gives you peace of mind and what is best for you in the long run.
6. Ask for help
Those who are experiencing burnout at work might think they are exaggerating their concerns, and that they shouldn’t share their problems with others. Talking and sharing the situation with coworkers can help you understand that you are not the only one experiencing it. You might even be able to lend a hand to someone else during a crisis. Also, sharing your feelings with others will allow them to understand your current isolation and bad mood, allowing them to help you if you need it. Moreover, sharing it with professionals will help you reach a solution.
With ifeel’s emotional well-being program for companies, HR managers can receive personalized, data-driven advice on how to improve the work environment and prevent their teams experience burnout at work.
In addition, ifeel‘s emotional well-being program for companies offers employees a mental health care service structured at different levels depending on what they need at any given time. Employees can access a variety of mental health care tools via ifeel‘s app. On a second level, they can receive emotional support through a chat with one of our platform’s registered psychologists. If continuous help is needed, they only have to access the third level of the program: online psychological therapy with a psychologist specialized in cases like theirs.
Get in touch today and request more information on how our emotional well-being program for companies can help you take care of corporate well-being in your organization. We can help you get rid of this vicious cycle.