Over the past decade, burn-out has become increasingly common in the workplace. In 2019, a survey from Accountemps found that 95% of Canadian workers said they are at least somewhat burned out at work. When respondents were asked to report the level of burn-out among employees on a scale of one (not at all burned out) to 10 (completely burned out), the average was 5.7. But what exactly is burn-out and how to spot it?

What is burn-out?

In 2019, the World Health Organization has legitimized burn-out as an occupational phenomenon in the International Classification of Diseases. It is defined as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by profound emotional exhaustion and negativity. It is important to note that burn-out is related to chronic workplace stress and shouldn’t be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.

Signs of occupational burn-out

According to the same survey, the main burn-out factors for Canadian workers are constant interruptions, unmanageable workload, career stagnation, a toxic culture and dated technology. Signs of chronic workplace stress-causing burn-out syndrome are:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion: Difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep secondary to anxiety over work. Experiencing a lack of productivity, mood swings and low energy interfering with the ability to function at work;
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job: You are feeling numb, cynical and resentful which can interfere with opportunities to shine at work;
  • Reduced professional efficacy: You may think that what you do doesn’t matter or find completing tasks to be more difficult than usual

 Additionally, if you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, you might be experiencing job burn-out:

  1. Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  2. Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  3. Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  4. Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  5. Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  6. Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  7. Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  8. Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  9. Have your sleep habits changed?
  10. Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?

 Consequences of job burn-out

When job burn-out is ignored or unaddressed, there are some significant consequences on your body, including:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness, anger or irritability
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Vulnerability to illnesses

Fighting burn-out

Employers have a big role in addressing burnout by paying attention to whether employees have a sense of community at work, strong social relationships, a collegial environment, a workload that’s not too burdensome, a sense of agency at work, and a healthy work-life balance. When these conditions aren’t met, burn-out can have negative effects on your life, including your home, work, and social life. This is why it’s important to deal with burn-out as soon as you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. It’s never too late.

There are different steps you can take to fight burn-out at work:

  • Evaluate your options: discuss concerns with your manager and try to re-evaluate goals that can be set for later;
  • Seek support: reach out to colleagues, friends or family to help you cope. Do you have access to an employee assistance program? Take advantage of it;
  • Try new activities: start walking or biking to work, explore yoga, meditation or tai chi. Regular activities can help you better deal with stress and take your mind off work;
  • Sleep: sleep restores your well-being. Try to turn your phone off at least one hour before bed so you don’t feel tempted to stay up late reading work emails;
  • Remember why you chose this job in the first place: ask yourself if it is still the right fit. Would you be more fulfilled at another company? Maybe even pursuing another career?
  • Focus on the smaller picture: make your work matter again by being positive, caring and better for your co-workers, customers or clients.

Seeking help when burn-out has become unmanageable

It is important to distinguish burn-out, a syndrome, from medical diagnoses such as depression and anxiety. Your health care provider is trained to assess and diagnose various conditions and offer the necessary treatment and referrals. If you think workplace burn-out is affecting your mental or physical health and would like help learning how to overcome burn-out and feel healthy and positive again consider speaking with a doctor or mental health provider.

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