Why Job Burnout Shouldn't Be Ignored


Why Job Burnout Shouldn’t Be Ignored

By Jennifer Benjamin

We all go through work-related stress, but there is a line in terms of what is acceptable and expected in the work environment. When a worker experiences job stress that includes ongoing physical or emotional exhaustion, as well as an overwhelming sense of negative impact on their feelings of accomplishment and personal identity, it crosses the line into a more serious and concerning state. This phenomenon of severe work-related stress is a common one, and it is called burnout. In the past few months, job burnout has been gaining traction and interest by many, so much so that the World Health Organization has deemed it as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ to be included in the revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). For many years, people who experienced such symptoms were left feeling isolated in their experiences, and most assumed self-blame, attributing their symptoms due to poor effort, lack of sleep, or extending full blame towards other external situations. But burnout is much more complex than that and can happen independently from how the person feels about their coworkers or workplace.

What is Burnout? 

The World Health Organization (WHO) characterizes burnout as "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". For example, burnout can happen in a nurse who has not been able to take regular and much-needed breaks in their work schedule. A nurse who persists in taking on too many tasks or responsibilities at hand, has poor work/life balance, and is unable to self-monitor their overall functioning and effectiveness in their job may be at an elevated risk for burnout. This nurse may then experience elevated stress and impairment in their job, and as a result, may begin to engage in behaviors such as being more abrupt and emotionless when dealing with coworkers or patients, or neglecting some of their job responsibilities.

Who is Affected by Burnout? 

It is important to know that burnout is being labeled as a syndrome because it is common among all workers regardless of race, sex, age, socioeconomic status, location, occupation, etc. Anyone can experience burnout in their careers or life stages. Students can feel burnout from a heavy academic schedule or workload. Medical and health professionals, service workers, and others may experience  burnout. Burnout is caused by a dramatic imbalance in that particular person’s life. 

Reasons for Burnout

Burnout can be caused by a combination of factors. According to the Mayo Clinic, some common reasons for job burnout may be due to:

  • Lack of control or sense of accomplishment at work

  • Unclear job expectations

  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics

  • Extremes of activity

  • Lack of social support

  • Work-life imbalance

It is important to become aware of the early signs and symptoms so that individuals can receive support.

Why Is Addressing Burnout Important?

Burnout does not happen overnight;  it is a syndrome that manifests gradually over time. Majority of burnout is caused by an imbalance in the pillars of health in a person’s life, such as poor physical health or social functioning. For example, a college graduate who begins a new job at a fast-paced tech company who becomes increasingly bombarded with long days at work, multiple and last-minute projects, poor job satisfaction, minimal peer support at the workplace, and has been told to have limited career advancement prospects in their company may be at elevated risk for experiencing symptoms of job burnout. If gone unnoticed, burnout can lead to insomnia, fatigue, irritability, or can escalate to even heart disease, and alcohol/medication abuse. Unfortunately, burnout also goes beyond affecting just individual workers, and  can affect workers’ families, social groups, or workplace. High-stress jobs contribute to 120,000 deaths a year and companies pay out $190 billion in healthcare alone. 

How to Address Burnout

The symptoms of burnout are manageable and preventable. Some examples of helpful interventions include mindfulness, exercise, rest and psychotherapy. If your burnout is due to work, it may be helpful to speak to your supervisor to receive clarity on job description, goals or workload. Find time to engage in more restorative and relaxation based activities to balance out the hard work you have been able to put in at school or work. We seem to live in a world where we are praised for working tirelessly and shamed for taking a break. People spend 40% of their day at work (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and ,55% of American workers reported feelings of daily stress (2018 Gallup poll). The best way to avoid burnout is to create balance in your life with your family, job demands, your  friends, and personal interests. 

There are many different solutions to burnout because every person is different. If working through it on your own does not seem to be enough, it may be helpful to consider seeking formal ways of intervention such as individual therapy. This is not something you have to go through on your own. Don’t hesitate to reach out to mental health clinicians for support and treatment. Therapy has helped many individuals cope better with their symptoms of job burnout, and it may well be the emotional support you need to move forward.