The real impact of 'burnout'

Published: 23rd August 2019

‘Burnout’… a term that has often been dismissed and ignored, and those suffering from it can be seen as simply weak minded, or unable to take the pressure.  

What was once simply considered part of standard working life, is now classed as an illness with serious repercussions. Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reclassified its definition of burnout and deemed it an ‘occupational phenomenon’ stating: “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

“It is characterised by three dimensions: 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. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Acknowledging that employees are suffering from burnout is a big, positive step forward, however the worrying truth is that the issue is still very much growing. There have been 595,000 officially documented cases of burnout in the UK alone since its classification, whilst research conducted by the UK Mental Health Foundation discovered that a massive 74% of workers can identify the signs of burnout in themselves. What’s more, the same study found that 49% of 18-24-year-olds believe that their stress levels in the workplace are intolerable.

British Psychotherapist Beverly Hill explained in a BBC report how you can identify the symptoms of burnout:

 “You can feel stress, insomnia, self-doubt, cynicism, and as though you're in a void, like, ‘How can I possibly succeed when there are not enough resources left for me?’ There will be emotional exhaustion, a feeling of dissatisfaction, inadequacy, and also anger, and maybe physical pain that could take the form of Fibromyalgia or constant feelings of ‘unwellness'."

Hill believes that for many young people, the expectation from their parents to succeed is a large part of the inability to ‘switch off’. “Burnout can be brought on by over-expectations from parents, careers, and society,” she said. “It’s exacerbated by social media because of the constant pressure to be living your best life, which leads to a fear of failure and, conversely, a fear of success: 'If I achieve all that, how can I possibly keep it up? I may as well not even try’," Hill added.

Many of the signs for burnout appear to be very similar to that of depression, and it’s important for employers to keep a keen eye out for any signs of stress, anxiety or low mood. Ensuring you keep talking to your team, and making sure employees feel comfortable and confident to open up when they start to struggle will help to mitigate the risk of burnout, and it’s important to remember that this can occur for any employee, no matter their job title.