Between altered work environments, balancing work-from-home expectations and juggling the COVID-19 pandemic over the last few years, many people are becoming mentally and physically exhausted with their jobs. This prolonged period of fatigue known as burnout isn’t just a state of mind, it’s a real syndrome that affects countless workers across the country and the impact of burnout can affect your mental, physical and emotional state.

What is burnout?

Burnout syndrome originated in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. It was first used to describe medical professionals, such as doctors and nurses, who felt “burned out” from their tireless work. The term later evolved to include any working professional experiencing exhaustion and an inability to cope with daily tasks.

The 5 stages of burnout

Research has found that there are five stages of burnout, including:

1. The honeymoon stage

When we undertake a new task, we often start by experiencing high job satisfaction, commitment, energy, and creativity. This is especially true of a new job role, or the beginnings of a business venture. In this first phase of burnout, you may begin to experience predicted stresses of the initiative you’re undertaking, so it’s important to start implementing positive coping strategies form the onset, with the aim that this honeymoon phase can continue indefinitely.

2. The balancing act

You have survived the early stages of your job, avoiding any hiccups. However, your energy is starting to wane, and you are beginning to notice some aspects of the job you dislike and although you are more competent, some days are more stressful than others, and you cope variably. You may also be neglecting some of your personal needs to stay on top of things, further exacerbating existing problems.

3. Chronic symptoms

If you’re constantly under stress, you’ll slip into a stage of chronic stress. Chronic stress will make you unable to concentrate, severely decreasing your productivity and performance. In turn, you’ll start feeling powerless and unworthy, losing control of everything that you do. You’ll also feel the pressure of meeting daily tasks much harder, to the point you feel like you need to run away from your commitments. All of this can lead to feelings of failure and incompetence, however, unlike in the second stage, you won’t be able to manage emotions as well as you did, which can lead to sadness, resentment and aggressiveness.

4. The crisis stage of burnout

When burnout itself really hits, you may have abandoned your  self-care and personal needs, leaving you socially isolated with heightened escapist activities. Headaches and fatigue may worsen, alongside other physical symptoms. If your work-related stress levels are sky high, you feel a general sense of intense dread when you think about work. You may be taking regular sick days in order to avoid your stress.

This phase is usually where your results take the biggest hit. Your employer might notice that your work isn’t up to scratch in this phase as you hit your limit, leading to even more stress and pressure on your plate, causing a vicious cycle.

5. Habitual burnout

The final stage of burnout is habitual burnout. This means that the symptoms of burnout are so embedded in your life that you are likely to experience a significant ongoing mental, physical or emotional problem, as opposed to occasionally experiencing stress or burnout. Habitual burnout takes a toll on one’s career, relationships, health – on every aspect of life. Usually, habitual burnout requires medical assistance, as it is oftentimes hard to cope with it alone.

These stages have distinct characteristics, which progressively worsen as burnout advances. Early intervention is key when dealing with each level- though later stages may be more tricky to overcome.

Strategies to cope

Ask for help – This is often the first step. Burnout is often the result of demanding workloads, conflicting priorities, and unfulfilled values – but just as often, it arises from unexpressed needs. Ask your family, coaches, colleagues, and leaders for help. You may find you have more support than you think.

Examine your boundaries – Often, a too-busy workload is the result of saying “yes” to commitments without being present to the work, time, or energy they’ll take to complete. If we feel like we have control over our time and resources, we’re less likely to feel fatigued and overwhelmed.

Keep work at work – Try to set, and stick to, a work schedule that allows you to handle other important priorities in your personal life in a way that feels balanced to you.

Make Time for Self-Care – Schedule time for yourself. How you spend that dedicated time may change according to your needs of the day, but prioritising adequate amounts of sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise are good places to start.

While burnout is damaging to the employee, it is also expensive for the business, resulting in reduced productivity, and staff turnover. Putting in effective workplace wellness practices can help. For them to be effective, they must be at an organizational level, reducing stress at work, fostering employee wellbeing, and upping employee engagement.

For further advice on the impact of burnout, please contact us here.