If you’re feeling burned out at work – or in life – you’re not alone, and you’re certainly not imagining things. In fact, there is so much burnout going on in the world, it’s an official diagnosis.
Burnout is now included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) World Health Organization’s handbook, which is a guide for medical providers when diagnosing diseases. Here’s what it states:
Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
3. Reduced professional efficacy
Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.
Although the ICD-11 description limits the focus to work, those of us who coach individuals and teams know it goes much further. According to the nonprofit mental health and wellness website HelpGuide, burnout is:
A state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
When you’re suffering from burnout, productivity suffers, your energy level is low to non-existent, and you can feel hopeless, resentful, lost, and any other number of things that negatively affect all areas of your life.
Where Does Burnout Come From?
When I first entered the workforce after graduating from college in the late ‘80s, it was a given that I’d work long hours, simply because it was the corporate norm. I clearly remember the advice I received from seasoned professionals, including “Be the first one in and the last one to leave,” or, “The harder you work, the more successful you’ll be.”
Basically, the general rule of thumb was that the more hours you put in, the more you’d get noticed, whether you were being productive or not. I worked for bosses that wore overtime hours like badges of honor, and they prided themselves on creating cut-throat environments where only the strongest – and most ruthless – survived.
Today, while conventional wisdom tells us that longer hours do not equal higher productivity, and we know that well-balanced, happier employees are more productive for their companies, millions of workers still find themselves in corporate cultures where vacation days are wasted, overtime hours are applauded, and self-sacrifice is rewarded.
The good news is that corporate leaders are increasingly supporting health and wellness initiatives within the workplace that range from yoga and fitness classes, to “quiet rooms” and mindfulness practices. But if those same leaders are still burning the midnight oil and setting unrealistic goals, employees will continue to follow their lead.
In addition, there are many of us who, in spite of knowing better, continue to believe deep down that working harder and longer than our counterparts will lead to success and help gain that competitive edge in a ruthless and competitive world. Burnout is a result of both outside and internal influences and expectations.
Burnout Out Reality Check
Let’s take a look at how many hours the typical American works per year.
- According to a Pew analysis of Labor Department data, the average American in 1973 worked 1,679 hours per year.
- In 2015 (the last year for which this data is available), the average employee put in 38.7 hours a week and worked 46.8 weeks that year.
- The average employed U.S. adult works 1,811.16 hours per year.
- That equals three extra weeks of work a year.
- Today, an estimated 40% of U.S. employees regularly work more than 50 hours per week
- 20% work more than 60 hours per week.
Workers are overwhelmed, over-stressed, and overloaded, which leads straight down the path to burnout.
Signs of Burnout
If you’re suffering from burnout, you’ll probably notice symptoms in your behavior, physical well-being and emotional health.
Behavioral Signs of Burnout
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Self-medicating or coping with food, drugs or alcohol
- Calling in sick more frequently
- Coming to work late, skipping, or leaving early
- Increased procrastination
- Isolating yourself
- Avoiding groups and social interaction with colleagues
- Irritable or easily frustrated with colleagues
Physical Signs of Burnout
- Frequent headaches
- Muscle pain
- Frequent illness
- Change in appetite
- Stomach or bowel problems
- High blood pressure
Emotional Signs of Burnout
- Sense of failure
- Feeling hopeless, helpless or trapped
- Mood swings
- Feeling isolated or alone
- Lack of motivation
- Increasingly negative or cynical
- Decreased satisfaction or sense of accomplishment
Contributing Factors of Burnout
Besides working long hours, there are plenty of other factors that contribute to burnout, including:
- Work-life imbalance. All our time and energy shouldn’t be spent on work. You need time to spend with family and friends, engaging in your community and enjoying outside activities.
- Lack of control. If you lack appropriate resources to do your job, or you don’t have a say in things that affect you (like your workload, project management, schedule or assignments), this can lead to burnout.
- Unknown expectations. If you’re not sure what supervisors expect from you, or you’re unclear about the degree of authority you have, you’ll experience a high level of discomfort in the workplace.
- Dysfunctional teams. Whether it’s an office bully, an undermining colleague, a clueless boss or micromanaging team leader, dysfunction within the workplace causes immense stress and frustration.
- Extreme responsibilities. If you feel unchallenged in your role and your responsibilities are monotonous, or on the other hand, your job is full of chaos and unpredictability, the constant energy required to cope can lead to extreme fatigue.
- Lack of social support. Feeling isolated and alone at work or in your personal life can lead to stress, depression, and feelings of hopelessness.
How to Battle Burnout
If you’re suffering from burnout, there are some positive steps you can take immediately to get back on track. Here’s how to get started:
- Take back control. Speak with your boss or manager, and share your concerns. Discuss ways you can clarify expectations, and ask for more input with things that directly affect you, like assignments, priorities, deadlines, workloads, and duties.
- Ask for help. Don’t suffer in silence. Chances are your friends, colleagues or loved ones have dealt with or are dealing with the same thing. Ask for support, collaborate with others, reconnect with friends and find healthy coping mechanisms. Check with your HR department to see if you have access to an employee assistance program, and take advantage of relevant services.
- Learn how to relax. Enroll in or explore programs that can help with stress, such as yoga classes, meditation or tai chi.
- Use vacation days. Studies show that those who get away from the office and utilize vacation days are actually more productive at work and live a higher quality of life.
- Exercise. Not only does physical activity take your mind off work, it can help you to better deal with stress. Group activities, like friendly team sports or cycling classes, can promote new friendships and help you feel connected to others.
- Get more sleep. Change your nighttime routine if necessary, or go to bed at different times to improve sleep so you can feel restored, rested and better equipped to cope with work and responsibilities.
- Mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness throughout your day makes it easier to be fully engaged in daily activities. It will help you create a greater capacity to deal with stressful or tedious events, and savor the pleasures in life as they happen.
Are You Suffering From Burnout?
It’s easy to get so caught up in the business of life that you don’t pay attention to signs and symptoms when something is wrong. After learning more about it, do you think you’re suffering from burnout? If not now, have you dealt with it in the past? We’d love to hear more about your story – please share your experiences below. And if you’d like help in dealing with burnout and restoring your love and passion for your job and life, give us a call. We can get you back on track.
If you feel stressed, burned out and/or overwhelmed, read on…
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