What is workplace burnout and what can I do about it?

What is workplace burnout and what can I do about it?

Workplace burnout first emerged in 1970 to describe severe ongoing stress among human services workers but has been since been broadened in the last quarter century to include all occupations. Workplace burnout is considered an erosion of a positive psychological state and identified by the following key traits;

  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Cynicism or mental distance from your job
  • Overall sense of discouragement
  • Reduced work performance

It can also include feeling ineffective, feeling like you are stuck in a dead end situation and feeling depression like symptoms.

Workplace burnout can lead to family breakdowns, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, depression, insomnia, or alcohol and drug abuse. Employers should treat chronic stress that has not been successfully managed as a work health and safety issue, and they may be required to introduce preventative strategies to reduce the associated risks and assist the employee in the management of the condition, by providing targeted specific assistance to employees potentially suffering workplace burnout.

The British Medical Association has created an online burnout questionnaire which can provide some indication of the presence of workplace burnout.

What causes workplace burnout?

The modern pace of life means people are effectively unable to slow down, re-energise and recalibrate as the introduction of smartphones in the workforce has resulted in employees having access to work 24/7, making it increasingly difficult to switch off from work.

For a period of time people can work harder and longer through high periods of stress with strength of will, disciple and focus. Eventually the brain begins to fire neurochemicals including adrenalin and cortisol which keep the body in a heightened state of arousal. Blood pressure is elevated, heart rate increases, thinking processes becomes erratic, and moods become more irritable and volatile. If you’re pushed beyond your ability to cope for long periods of time, you’re likely to suffer burnout.

Workplace burnout has also been linked to workplace bullying, if you feel that you have been experiencing workplace bullying, then you should seek legal advice.

What Can I do if I Think I have workplace burnout?

Your employer can assist you to help combat workplace burnout in a number of ways including, arming you with positive psychology to counteract any negative feelings associated with workplace burnout, and helping you to achieve work-life balance. Learning to switch off, setting boundaries for your work, and developing strong supportive relationships with colleagues, are important tools that you can use to help reduce any feelings of workplace burnout.

You may have a legal claim for severe stress in the workplace. For more information please see this article.


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