Workplace burnout is an occurrence we can have in a particular work environment, or a feeling we can experience in relation to our career as a whole. Burnout can be identified in five stages according to the Winona State University burnout study.
- Honeymoon phase: We are invigorated about our work in this stage. We feel challenged, are open to working hard, and have lots of energy to learn & commit. With this stage, there can be an increase in responsibility and a desire to “prove” yourself in the workplace.
- Onset of stress: We start noticing the difference between stressful days and normal days. We also notice a decrease in optimism about our work or career. These stressful days affect us more than just mentally. These can include headaches, fatigue, irritability, and social isolation.
- Chronic stress: Stress has become a dominant factor in your everyday life and this is showing up as a lack of motivation and lacking the same level of passion. It can manifest in lateness, multiple absences, social withdrawal, a feeling of panic, or increased substance use.
- Burnout: Here is when symptoms feel the most intense. You are noticing apathy in many areas of your life, not just your workplace. Feelings of numbness can be present and a pessimistic outlook on life can present. Escapism or substance use may be a dominant form of coping.
- Habituation burnout: Once we hit this stage, we are almost trapped in a cycle of burnout. This can present as a clinical diagnosis such as depression or burnout syndrome. We may feel chronically fatigued and be distanced from an authentic version of ourselves.
With this information in hand, how can we recover or develop stronger tools for workplace burnout?
Boundary setting is a key variable that has been shown to be effective in managing burnout. Honouring your responsibilities and your life outside of work helps create balance. Ways we can create boundaries is having dedicated time of “logging off” of work and not doing work related tasks after that.
Utilising the Eisenhower decision matrix can also be a helpful tool. This helps label tasks that are urgent, not urgent, important and not important. By utilising this matrix, it can help with feelings of being overwhelmed with tasks and the importance we associate to them.Is there a root cause? This is the deeper question to be explored. Variables can include unrealistic expectations, feelings of guilt, or an inability to say “no”. This work can be done with a trusted therapist. Noticing if there is a misalignment in your work and what your inner self-needs can help create clarity. Working with a therapist that specialises in career counselling can help explore unmet needs and, in tandem, develop skills to handle symptoms prior to getting to burnout.