Burnout – a modern employee disease


Burnout – a modern employee disease

Too high expectations, short deadlines and consequently high pressure are more than ever part of our business everyday life in the 21st century, and at the same time, those are the most common causes of the burnout syndrome. If you have a job where you are chronically under stress and you do not have adequate mechanisms to manage stress levels, unfortunately you can easily experience a burnout.

This expression was first used by a psychologist Herbert Freudenberger more than forty years ago, and he described it as a condition of mental and physical exhaustion caused by professional life. The subject of Freudenberger’s analysis were ‘helping’ professions – such as nurses and doctors because they directly work with people where those relationships can sometimes be extremely difficult and often emotionally demanding (the spiritual suffering of a patient or death).  Models by which we live today and do business, as well as challenges that are placed before employees are harder than ever, so the burnout syndrome is carried over to all other professions.

Recently burnout was recognized as a syndrome from the medical point of view (by the World Health Organization) since a growing number of employees, especially young people, suffer from it. Burnout is accompanied by physical and psychological symptoms, and it differs from simple fatigue and exhaustion.

Burnout is a body’s reaction to a long-term exposure to stress that can be caused by work tasks (more precisely by the amount of work that is almost impossible to complete within the predetermined deadlines and overtime as its result), but also relations between colleagues and neglecting our own needs. The culture ‘24/7 availability’ to our colleagues and clients, as well as the habit of eating lunch at the working desk while we fill in tables or respond to emails, contributed to the feeling of burnout that majority of employees claim to have experienced at least once during their working life. Gallup study shows that two-thirds of currently full-time employed Americans have experienced burnout, mostly by people in their twenties and thirties.

Due to swift pace of life in big cities that are more and more numerous each day and due to different values than fifty years ago, a growing number of people are participating in the race where we push ourselves to achieve better results, which resulted in this modern-day disease being more and more frequent.

The symptoms of burnout seem to be easily noticeable – it is characterized by a lack of enthusiasm and motivation for work. Activities that you once performed devotedly and with ease, can become strenuous both mentally (tension, feeling helpless, irritation) and physical (fatigue, malaise, pain) as a result of burnout. However, similar symptoms can occur in some other mental conditions (e.g. depression), so you should be careful and seek professional help and support.

Frustration and exhaustion caused by the burnout can severely endanger your work, personal relationships, as well as your health. This condition leads to a decrease in immunity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

It may sound trivial, but experts say that taking a break from work is the key to overcoming this syndrome. Besides, you need to change your life and business habits, so here are some ways to prevent burnout:

  1. Identify and set your physical and mental boundaries and learn to say ‘no’. Assertively set realistic goals that will be satisfactory for both you and your employer. Be free to express your opinion even in stressful situations and thus take a stand for yourself. Avoid multitasking, practice completing task by task instead (‘to-do’ lists can be of great help to you) – that way, work quality will be much higher, and stress will be lower.
  2. Restore the work-life balance – Make sure you do not check emails and make business calls outside of business hours and fill your out-of-office hours with people and activities you like.
  3. In your free time, as well as during your working hours, set aside some time for some exercises (a little stretching in the fresh air has a beneficial effect on reducing stress) and non-work-related mental activities (like reading novels). Five-minute breaks for chatting with colleagues or taking a short walk to the store can reduce stress and improve your work performance. Spend your lunch break in the canteen, instead of in front of your computer, and make sure you create a meaningful relationship with your colleagues.
  4. Do not work in a toxic work environment – make a positive impact on the relationships with coworkers as much as possible.
  5. Do not skip vacation – our body and mind need at least two weeks off at once, or longer if you can, to take a break from everyday tasks and obligations in order to return refreshed and achieve results more efficiently later.
  6. Work on yourself and develop your stress defense mechanisms.

However, if you feel burned out by overwork, it is best to seek professional help, and remember that even people who love their job a lot and enjoy it immensely experience burnout.

Throughout life, our priorities change, but to be successful in all fields and to be generally satisfied in life, our physical and mental health must always come first.

Some companies apply the Employees Assistance Program through which the burnout theme can be covered through professional support. See here which kinds of counseling such a program can support.