All jobs come with an element of pressure. It could be satisfying customer expectations, meeting tight deadlines, managing a large team or overcoming creativity blocks. Whilst this pressure can help push us outside our comfort zones and develop skills to grow and succeed, it can easily cross a line and become chronic stress if managed incorrectly. When this happens, burnout is inevitably just around the corner.
The term burnout was first introduced in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He defined burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
To put it simply, if you feel exhausted, lack enthusiasm and motivation for your job, feel apathetic or less capable, you’re probably showing signs of burnout.
In this blog, I’d like to discuss the causes of burnout, signs and symptoms to watch out for and teach you a few ways to prevent it. I really hope that you find it useful!
Causes of burnout
It’s natural to assume that a high-stress job is the leading cause of burnout, but if stress is well managed, then burnout isn’t a foregone conclusion. It’s also important to realise that workers in any industry and at all levels can experience burnout at any time.
The main causes tend to be:
Workload and deadlines. I think many of us can relate to that feeling of having too much on our plates, with absolutely no idea where to start to try and tackle everything. An unrealistic workload or, conversely, too little stimulating work are both causes of burnout. Having work dropped on us at the last moment with unhealthy deadlines will also intensify feelings of stress.
Role clarity. Shifting goalposts or trying to understand what’s expected of us is another major cause of burnout. How can we feel content and secure in our role if we’re constantly trying to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing?
Unsupportive and unfair management. Everyone wants to feel like they’re treated equally in the workplace and supported by their management. Favouritism, unrealistic expectations, lack of empathy and an unsupportive atmosphere can all be contributory factors to burnout.
Recognising the signs of burnout
It’s important to recognise the signs of burnout approaching in yourself, loved ones and co-workers.
- Physical symptoms. Chronic stress can manifest itself in physical symptoms, such as jaw ache, headaches, stomach pains or nausea.
- Emotional exhaustion. Burnout tends to make people feel drained, lacking in energy to complete their work, tired or unable to cope with everyday tasks.
- Frustration. Individuals will tend to feel increasingly downbeat about their role if burnout has set in. They may also begin to feel frustrated with co-workers and start to distance themselves from their team or loved ones.
- Performance. Burnout can affect concentration and creativity, causing us to produce work to a lower standard than usual.
There are several ways you can keep chronic stress at bay, including identifying ways to manage your stress levels. This may involve practicing regular self-care, eating well, getting plenty of fresh air and exercise, or developing healthy sleep routines to ensure you’re getting plenty of restorative sleep.
A week or two away from work is a great way to relax and unwind, but if, when you return, the causes of stress are still there, you’ll never achieve a healthy working environment. Ensure you take regular breaks from work and create boundaries for yourself to create a sustainable work-life balance. This could include not checking your work emails first thing in the morning or late at night, or being open and honest with clients or co-workers when agreeing to deadlines.
Changes to your personal circumstances may impact your ability to manage the pressures of your role. For example, a new baby, changes to your health or moving to a new area. If this is the case, perhaps it’s time to re-assess your priorities and look into flexible working arrangements, adjusting your role or even pursuing new challenges in a different role.
Last but certainly not least, don’t go through this alone. Reach out to your partner, friends, family, line manager, your HR department or a mental health charity such as Mental Health UK or Mind to discuss your concerns and identify solutions.
Would you like some help to avoid burnout?
For more information about how I can support you, contact me to book a free, no-obligation 30-minute consultation.