10 Facts about Job Burnout
In this article we will touch on a topic that in the modern world is unfortunately becoming an increasingly common problem of professional work of people of different age groups, in different positions, and with different seniority. Moreover — it can even be said that job burnout is one of the most significant individual and social problems associated with professional work.
Here we will go through the definition of the term and pick out the 10 most important facts about this phenomenon, among which will also be information on the causes and symptoms of this problem. We will also mention how to effectively prevent burnout and realize in time that the problem may also affect us.
What is work burnout?
In the scientific community, job burnout is defined as a condition that develops slowly as a result of experiencing prolonged stress and engaging all of one’s life energy in work, and which ultimately has a significant — negative impact on beliefs, motivation and behavior. For the first time, the phenomenon in discussion was described in this way by an American psychiatrist — Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, who took a group of charitable people as his research group. He observed that in a fairly narrow group of participants, significant decreases in motivation for action and loss of original enthusiasm became noticeable, accompanied by various psychosomatic pains. The reason for these was over-commitment to the goal of work.
Another — also similar — definition of the term, authored by Christina Maslach, says that job burnout is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a reduced sense of personal achievement that can occur in people who work with other people in a certain way.
Summarizing the definitions, however, what comes to the front is the notion that chronic stress, coupled with so-called productivity paranoia, leads to the phenomenon in discussion, which, despite appearances, is not easily diagnosed, as the symptoms can often be extremely similar to many other disorders, including depression. But let’s move on to 10 facts about burnout, which will dispel many doubts and summarize the essence of the problem.
#1 Stressors at work can be divided into 3 categories in the most synthetic way
The division of stressors proposed by Jeremy Stranks goes as follows:
- environmental factors (an individual’s working conditions)
- occupational factors (these relate to the job itself, the scope of responsibilities, the demands, the amount of work, as well as control over the tasks undertaken)
- social factors (here one can mention primarily contacts with other employees, but also with friends and close people outside the workplace)
#2 Any job can be a source of stress
It used to be thought that the groups most at risk of experiencing burnout were those employed as teachers, doctors, psychologists, nurses, social workers, managers, emergency workers or police officers — that is, those who, in theory, bear the greatest psychological costs in the way of doing their jobs and those whose daily activities are directed at helping others. This belief, however, has changed over the years and under the influence of economic changes that have made it clear that any job can be a source of stress, any job level and any organizational level within a company.
Thus, it is now accepted that any employee who at the beginning of his work was characterized by increased motivation, commitment and energy in his/her work, is a strong foundation for gradually moving closer to the burnout process.
#3 It is possible to distinguish 3 meanings of the phenomenon of stress at work, which lead to the deepening of ill-being
American psychologist — Richard Lazarus, who studied the phenomenon of stress in his scientific works, singled out 3 key meanings of this condition.
Among them can be mentioned:
- load (external stimulus)
- pressure (internal reaction triggered by a specific stimulus)
- tension (disruption of the subject)
At the same time, it should also be mentioned that stress is an extremely subjective feeling, as the process of its occurrence consists of an individual’s approach to and evaluation of events, as well as his or her ability to cope with them.
#4 Personal features that most strongly influence the possibility of professional burnout
Among the characteristics that result in a higher chance of experiencing burnout are: high expectations of oneself, commitment to working beyond the norm, willingly assuming someone else’s responsibilities or obligations, denying one’s limits to one’s abilities, and relegating one’s needs to the background.
#5 Job burnout can be prevented
There are a number of proven principles and actions that help significantly minimize the risk of burnout. Avoiding perfectionism at work, setting realistic goals or carefully assessing your needs in a particular company are just a few examples. You can expand this list to include many other actions, taking into account your psychological and physical well-being. It is also worth noting that an important role is also played by refusing to carry out certain tasks that in our view are not appropriate to our competence.
#6 Setting boundaries at work provides the necessary space for action
This may be a rather stark example, but setting yourself a daily schedule that includes time to function completely offline is always a good idea to maintain some balance. Boundaries can also include sticking to one’s values and not bending them to employers’ expectations, realistically assessing one’s workload in given tasks, and not setting too high a bar for oneself in achieving goals (such actions may be the reason for wanting to impress co-workers and boost one’s ego, but they can often only end up building up stress and a sense of losing control over one’s tasks).
#7 The effects of employee burnout are also felt by the company
Stress at work contributing to burnout also means higher rates of sick leave-related absenteeism, as well as inability to work caused by prolonged stress. The costs of burnout are therefore also paid by employers, who, with increasing levels of burnout, may see significant declines in the productivity of individuals, making it necessary to recruit new employees or even spend on medical treatment for ailing employees.
An employee affected by burnout, adopting a minimalist attitude, only undertakes activities that he or she can perform with the lowest possible energy resources, and treats any innovations aimed at improving work with reluctance, so you can only imagine that the company’s productivity significantly decreases with each such employee, although at first glance and at the beginning this may not be so significantly apparent.
#8 5 stages of job burnout
A classification of the stages of burnout can be presented as follows:
- physiological stage (pains of all kinds — including psychosomatic pains, loss of appetite, exhaustion, trouble sleeping, etc.);
- social stage (a stage in which irritability, isolation, resentment and grudges against others and uncertainty about relationships can be observed);
- intellectual stage (making logistical errors due to cognitive impairment, as well as problems in communicating and receiving information);
- psycho-emotional stage (behavioral changes can be observed here — use of all kinds of stimulants, disregard for one’s duties, a decrease in responsibility and feelings of risk);
- spiritual stage (this stage is characterized by a loss of one’s belief in values and principles previously applied, and is also manifested by an inner emptiness, a sense of meaninglessness and an aversion to interpersonal contacts).
#9 Personality attributes are less important in the process of burnout progression than social factors
The researcher mentioned earlier — Christina Maslach points out that in the process of dealing with burnout, any individual differences are significantly less important than social factors.
She thus attributes an extremely important role to situational factors, and points to the way the company operates as the most important source of burnout.
#10 Examples of burnout symptoms and their phases
Examples of symptoms include, but are not limited to: any psychosomatic pains (stomach, headaches — such as migraines and others), outbursts of anger, impatience, mood swings and decreases, high muscle tension resulting in pains, problems with sleep and appetite, distraction, negative attitude towards clients or co-workers, lack of motivation and satisfaction with achievements, lack of efficiency, lowered self-esteem, etc.
According to C. Maslach, the classic burnout syndrome consists of 3 phases:
- emotional exhaustion
- subjective lowering of the assessment of one’s achievements
As the researcher of the phenomenon in discussion — J. Schmidt — said, “You can’t burn out if you’ve never been on fire.”
So, with such a statement, one can realize that those who at the beginning of their work were not characterized by increased commitment or motivation most often can only experience stress as a result of specific factors occurring in the area of their work environment, relationships at work, etc.
It is also known that some kind of stress and exhaustion can be experienced by all employees, but job burnout requires a condition — it mostly affects those who take their work as the meaning of their life and it is the pillar of their self-esteem.
Words by Kinga Kuśnierz, Content Writer