Burnout is a chronic stress syndrome which develops gradually as a consequence of a prolonged stressful situation.1 People experiencing burnout often feel exhausted, overstrain, tiredness and fatigue as a result of an over-demanding work situation. Sometimes people become cynical, indifferent and distant towards work. They may feel disengaged and they may lack enthusiasm.
Burnout is made up of three dimensions2:
- Emotional exhaustion, which refers to the draining of emotional resources;
- Depersonalisation, a callous and cynical attitude towards the recipients of one's care; and
- Sense of reduced personal accomplishment, or work-related competence.
This third factor may develop independently from the first two and may be more related to self-efficacy than to burnout. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to perform a specific task; so this aspect may be related to that, more closely than it is to burnout.
Burnout can take a long time to develop so it can be difficult to identify3. The difference between stress and burnout is a matter of degree, which means that the earlier you recognise the signs, the better you will be able to avoid burnout (provided you do something to address the symptoms when you recognise them).
Burnout is rarely a simple result of long hours. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy of burnout can occur when people are not in control of how they carry out their job, when they’re not working toward goals that align with personal values and when they lack social support.1
Burnout is associated in declines in physical health and a person’s satisfaction with their occupation. A decline in mental health can be a cause of and a result of burnout.4
What can organisations do?
One study5 looked at the changes in work caused by new technologies. As employees used new technologies they experienced greater accessibility and efficiency in their communications; but also they noticed more interruptions and unpredictability in their work patterns. To mitigate employee burnout, researchers suggest organisations focus on sustaining leadership and cultural expectations that support accessibility and efficient communication through technology, and protect employees from constant interruptions and an excessively unpredictable work schedules. Organisations focusing on increasing employee engagement should do the same, with a particular emphasis on supporting technologies that enable accessibility and efficiency.
What can individuals do?
Having a long break is not always possible. One study found that active coping2 can help in some situations. Active coping involves analysis of the stressful situation and attempting to solve or overcome problems by taking concrete action. This also is not always possible and it was found that this strategy is only effective when a person perceives they have some control over their situation at work.
If you are experiencing burnout at work, your EAP can help. Our counsellors can help you develop a plan that will work to help your unique situation and improve your self-care. To make an appointment you can call 1800 629 277 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Source Ahola, K., Honkonen, T., Isometsä, E., Kalimo, R., Nykyri, E., Koskinen, S., . . . Lönnqvist, J. (2006). Burnout in the general population. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 41(1), 11-7. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00127-005-0011-5
2. de Rijk, A.,E., Le Blanc, P.,M., Schaufeli, W. B., & de Jonge, J. (1998). Active coping and need for control as moderators of the job demand-control model: Effects on burnout. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 71, 1-18. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/199341525?accountid=178506
4. Lancaster, P. G. (2013). Predictors and outcomes of occupational burnout: A five-wave longitudinal study (Order No. 3593400). Available from Psychology Database. (1438896784). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1438896784?accountid=178506
5. Ter Hoeven, C. L., van Zoonen, W., & Fonner, K. L. (2016). The practical paradox of technology: The influence of communication technology use on employee burnout and engagement. Communication Monographs, 83(2), 239-263. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2015.1133920