Burnout and Stress in the Workplace occurs when a person has been stressed for a prolonged period of time and becomes emotionally and physically drained as a consequence.
The stress may be the result of a highly demanding job, poor relationships at work, or even as the result of a boring job. It is the combination of stressful events, our personality style, and our own coping strategies that determine whether the stress is manageable, or whether the stress begins to break us down, resulting in burnout.
Stress is anything that puts demands on us.
Not all stress is negative or even unwanted. It is when the demand placed on us exceeds our ability, or when we are pushed repeatedly to work at our maximum capacity, that we experience stress as overwhelming.
If we experience chronic stress for long periods of time, we may begin to withdraw and detach from the situation, caring less and less about our job. This process can be so gradual that we don’t even notice it is happening. It is during this process that we become burned out.
Stress and burnout are not the same things. Stress is about a sense of urgency and pressure, the feeling that there is not enough time in the day to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished. When we are stressed, we care very deeply, and attempt to do all that is expected of us.
Burnout on the other hand, is about feeling empty, unmotivated, and not caring anymore about getting the work done. While people are often aware of being under stress, many people do not recognize the signs of burnout.
Most of us have days when we lack motivation or energy. However, if more days than not you are feeling helpless, empty, overwhelmed, unmotivated and fatigued, you may be experiencing burnout.
Causes of burnout.
Burnout is caused by a combination of work overload and personality traits. People who have healthy strategies for dealing with stress are less likely to burnout than those who do not.
People who are perfectionists, pessimistic, and critical of self and others are vulnerable to stress overload and eventual burnout. Work environments that promote burnout are those that offer little or no control over your work, lack recognition, have unclear or overly demanding expectations, or work that is monotonous or unchallenging. Personal causes of burnout include working too much without enough downtime, taking on too many responsibilities, not getting enough sleep, lack of supportive relationships, and spreading yourself too thin.
It’s easier to prevent burnout than it is to recover from it. The first step is to recognize and address stress as you become aware of it. Learning to manage your stress is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent burnout. You may need to make lifestyle changes to reduce stress by adopting a healthier life style, setting boundaries, and by spreading out your interests so that your life is more balanced. Strategies for dealing with stress include becoming more assertive, developing a positive attitude, letting go of all or nothing thinking, being less critical of, and having more realistic expectations for self and others. Learning to overcome years of negative, pessimistic, perfectionist thinking takes time, effort, and self awareness. Many people find a counsellor is useful to helping to turn negative thinking around.
Recovering from burnout.
Once someone has burned out, it can be a slow process to recover. The first step is to slow down and give yourself a much needed break. Too often people think the cure to the apathy is just to throw themselves into a new project. This strategy often backfires as more work only exacerbates the problem.
Take time to rest, reflect, and heal. If you have a weak support system, build it up. You need people that you can talk to about your stresses and worries. Burnout is often a time to re-evaluate your priorities. A lifestyle change to heal from burnout often includes re-evaluating what’s really important to you.
If you are experiencing job burnout you need to evaluate your job. You may find that being assertive and setting boundaries helps get things back on track. Clarify your job description if you are being asked to take on too many tasks or if your job description is vague. If you can do something different at work for a while, this may be beneficial.
There’s a lot of truth in the saying that “a change is as good as a rest.” If all else fails, you may need to take a vacation or take some time off work. However, if you haven’t addressed the underlying issues at work or within yourself, you will likely end up burned out again in a very short period of time.