Professional Burnout (Part I)

Professional Burnout (Part I)

What is burnout?

Let’s be honest, the world of work is not always a pleasant place to be. Our professional lives are often filled with deadlines, pressure and conflict.  Sometimes we feel like hamsters, running on a wheel that never stops spinning.  No wonder we refer to it as the rat race… 🙂

If we run the race too long and too hard without taking proper care of ourselves, we run the risk of burning out.  What makes burnout so dangerous, is the fact that it tends to happen over a long period of time, and we often only realise it once it is too late.

What is the difference between normal work-related stress and burnout?

Stress is a part of life, and can be positive in the sense that it moves you to get your work done.  It can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, but once the stressful event is over or the stressor is removed, we recover and regain our energy levels.

Once we reach burnout, we are unable to recover from stress in the way that we should.  Rest periods do not help and ultimately the person feels as if they have nothing left to give. Burnout is an inactive state, meaning that we do not have the energy to get anything done.

It is important to understand that high stress levels do not necessarily mean that we are burnt out.

While stress can be compared to a burning fire, burnout can be compared to the ashes of an extinguished fire.

What are the symptoms?

Most of the theories on burnout include 3 symptoms (dimensions):

  • Exhaustion (lack of energy)
  • Depersonalisation (detachment from people and tasks)
  • Inefficacy (the belief that you cannot get anything done, and in the end, you don’t)

Schaufeli, W., Leiter, P. & Maslach, C. (2008). Burnout: 35 years of research and practice. Career Development International, 14 (3). 204 – 220.

What are the reasons for burnout?

People often burn out because of workplace demands and the nature of their jobs.  In most cases we do not really have control over our workload, our relationship with our supervisor or a lack of respect at work.  These issues can drive a person to become less and less motivated and eventually burnt out.

On the other hand, we burn out because of our own work ethic.  From the day we start working, we strive to do our best and to never quit. We forget the following:

  • We are human and require rest and balance to function optimally.
  • Knowing when to stop is just as important as knowing when to keep going.
  • Burnout does not occur because a person is weak, burnout occurs because the demands of the situation is not balanced.