What is burnout?

Published by MAXSolutions on November 23, 2020

Burnout is a chronic stress syndrome which develops gradually as a consequence of a prolonged stress situation.[1] People experiencing burnout often feel exhausted, overstrain, tiredness and fatigue as a result of an over-demanding work situation.

Sometimes people become cynical, indifferent and distant towards work. They may feel disengaged and they may lack enthusiasm.

In fact, burnout is made up of three dimensions:[2]

  • Emotional exhaustion, which refers to the draining of emotional resources.

  • Depersonalization, a callous and cynical attitude towards the recipients of one's care.

  • Sense of reduced personal accomplishment, or work-related competence. This third factor may develop independently from the first two and may be more related to self-efficacy than to burnout.

Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to perform a specific task; so, this aspect may be related to a person’s belief in their ability to perform specific aspects of their work more closely than to burnout.


How can I identify burnout?

Burnout can take a long time to develop so it can be difficult to identify it.[3] The difference between stress and burnout is a matter of degree, which means that the earlier you recognize the signs, the better able you will be to avoid burnout (provided you do something to address the symptoms when you recognize them).

Burnout is rarely a simple result of long hours. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy of burnout can occur when people are not in control of how they carry out their job, when they’re working toward goals that don't align with their personal values and when they lack social support.[1]

Burnout is associated in declines in physical health and a person’s satisfaction with their occupation. A decline in Mental Health can be a cause of and a result of burnout.[4]


What can organisations do?

One study[5] looked at the changes in work caused by new technologies. As employees used new technologies they experienced greater accessibility and efficiency in their communications; but also they noticed more interruptions and unpredictability in their work patterns.

Researchers suggested that to in order to minimize employee burnout, organizations should focus on sustaining leadership and business culture that supports accessibility and efficient communication through technology. They also suggest an emphasis on protecting employees from constant interruptions and excessively unpredictable work schedules.


What can individuals do?

Having a long break is not always possible. One study found that active coping[2] can help in some situations.  Active coping involves analysis of the stressful situation and attempting to solve or overcome problems by taking concrete action.  This also is not always possible and it was found that this strategy is only effective when a person perceives they have some control over their situation at work.

If you are experiencing burnout at work, your EAP can help. Our counsellors can help you develop a plan that will work to help your unique situation and improve your self-care.  To make an appointment you can call 1800 629 277 in Australia or email support@maxsolutions.com.au


References and further reading:

[1]Ahola, K., Honkonen, T., Isometsä, E., Kalimo, R., Nykyri, E., Koskinen, S., . . . Lönnqvist, J. (2006). Burnout in the general population. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 41(1), 11-7. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00127-005-0011-5

[2]de Rijk, A.,E., Le Blanc, P.,M., Schaufeli, W. B., & de Jonge, J. (1998). Active coping and need for control as moderators of the job demand-control model: Effects on burnout. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 71, 1-18. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/199341525?accountid=178506


[4]Lancaster, P. G. (2013). Predictors and outcomes of occupational burnout: A five-wave longitudinal study (Order No. 3593400). Available from Psychology Database. (1438896784). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1438896784?accountid=178506

[5]Ter Hoeven, C. L., van Zoonen, W., & Fonner, K. L. (2016). The practical paradox of technology: The influence of communication technology use on employee burnout and engagement. Communication Monographs, 83(2), 239-263. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2015.1133920


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