Everything You Need to Know About Stress and Burnout in the Workplace

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Being burned out and being stressed out are not the same thing. Being burned out is not the same as dealing with depression. And being stressed out can lead to being burned out and being burned out can lead to depression

Many of us can tell when we are stressed out, but often, we cannot tell if we are burned out.

Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress.

Stress is often about too many pressures that need to be dealt with. 

Burnout is about feeling empty, lacking in motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations.

You may be moving from stress to burnout if you experience very few ‘good’ days, if you have stopped caring about your work or home life, if you are exhausted all the time, if you are overwhelmed more days than not and if you feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Stress vs Burnout

Stress

Burnout

  • Characterized by over-engagement
  • Characterized by disengagement
  • Emotions are over-reactive
  • Emotions are blunted
  • Produces urgency and hyperactivity
  • Produces helplessness and hopelessness
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
  • Leads to anxiety disorders
  • Leads to detachment and depression
  • Primary damage is physical
  • Primary damage is emotional
  • May kill you prematurely 
  • May make life seem not worth living

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a cluster of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion reactions. Researchers have categorized three main types of burnout:

  • Frenetic burnout often happens to people who are usually extremely ambitious and hardworking, to the point workaholism. Frenetic burnout is strongly correlated to the number of hours per week people work.
  • Underchallenged  burnout is likely to happen when people are not engaged, bored, lack stimulation, and have little or no room for personal growth. People suffering from this form of burnout tend to become cynical because of the dissatisfaction they feel. Studies reveal that people who work in administration and services were at higher risk for this variety.
  • Worn-out variety of burnout tends to hit people who have been in their positions for long periods of time. They may feel that their work is not acknowledged or feel a lack control over their work. Those who were in the same position for at least 16 years had times the likelihood of falling into this form of burnout.

Causes Of Burnout

Beverly Beuermann-King will be at the HR Conference & Expo in Vancouver, April 28-29. Find out more on her presentation, Depression: Creating A Culture Free Of Stigma

Burnout is brought on by long term stressors and is characterized by exhaustion, depersonalization and inefficacy.

Work-Related Causes Of Burnout:

The Maslach Burnout Inventory revolves around six categories:

  • Workload: Too much work, or not enough resources. Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment.
  • Fairness: Discrimination or favouritism. Unclear or overly demanding job expectations (Business Insider reports that 83% of employees report going to work sick because they’re afraid they’ll be punished for missing.)
  • Control: Micromanagement, lack of influence, or accountability without power.
  • Reward: Not enough pay, acknowledgment, or satisfaction.
  • Community: Isolation, conflict, or disrespect.
  • Values: Ethical conflicts or doing meaningless or monotonous tasks.

Lifestyle Causes Of Burnout:

  • Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing
  • Being expected to be too many things to too many people
  • Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Lack of close, supportive relationships

Personality Traits That Can Contribute To Burnout:

  • Perfectionistic tendencies. Nothing is ever good enough
  • Pessimistic view of yourself and the world
  • The need to be in control. Reluctance to delegate to others
  • High-achieving Type A personality

Whether burnout is due to stress, interpersonal conflict, frustration, lack of feedback or promotion, 27% of workers in 24 countries said they are not happy with the psychological aspects of their work environment.   Even working for yourself can lead to burnout.  Small business owners regularly forego free time (57%) exercise (37%) and personal priorities for their business.

Other Burnout Facts:

  • 15% of employees are Clock Watchers. HR Magazine reports that they are the most withdrawn from work and reported the highest levels of burnout. Even more than those characterized as workaholics.
  • People who don’t get deeply involved with their work are more likely to suffer burnout and have lower well-being. HR Magazine
  • 33% of Canadians receive more info on a daily basis than they can process, which can lead to burnout.  Randstad Workmonitor Global Report

Symptoms Of Burnout

Often when it comes to burnout, we picture someone who is 40 or older and has been working for many years, but someone may be experiencing the symptoms of burnout even if they are as young as 25 years of age.

Some people experience burnout as a more sudden onset, while others perceive that something is changing and it may take several years to manifest. They may notice a lack of personal achievement and satisfaction at work. Going to work may feel like drudgery and their frustration levels may increase.

Physical signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot
  • Dry mouth and throat or difficulty swallowing
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Chest pains or heart palpitations
  • Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits
  • Rashes, hives or other skin problems
  • Nervous tics

Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, frustrated, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, apathetic, feeling alone in the world
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical, disillusioned and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioural signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Needing more hours to get work done
  • Lack of focus
  • Decreased creativity and lack of new ideas
  • Lack of enthusiasm and interest in work
  • Forgetfulness
  • Substance abuse
  • Blaming, distrust of others and complaining

Treatments and Strategies For Combating Burnout

Employees who are suffering from burnout feel they are powerless to change things and often blame others or the situation, rather than taking action for change.

There are two paths to dealing with burnout: The individual path and the organizational path.

Individual Strategies

  • Slow Down.You need to force yourself to take a break. Cut back whatever commitments and activities you can. Give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.
  • Change What You Can.  Talking to your superiors about taking on more responsibilities if you’re under-challenged or restructuring your current ones if you’re overburdened might be a good idea. Take a proactive approach – rather than a passive one – to issues in your workplace.
  • Maintain Balance. Having interests outside work can make your job stress feel less overwhelming. 37% of Canadians manage stress with music, 36% talk to friends and family, 36% read, and 33% exercise or work out.
  • Talk to a Professional. If you’re still feeling lost, talk to someone – a psychologist, career counselor, consultant, or life coach – to help you get out of the rut and make a plan for change.
  • Boost your skills. Some examples include: stress management, relaxation and meditation, assertiveness, time management and social skills training.
  • Take time off.If burnout seems inevitable, take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence—anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and get perspective.
  • Talk to Your Supporters. Reaching out to friends, family, and peers can de-isolate you from your burnout. Simply sharing your feelings with another person can relieve some of the burden.
  • Make a Plan. Part of the problem with burnout is the lack of control that’s associated with it. Re-evaluate your goals and priorities. Burnout can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to change course accordingly.

Organizational Strategies

A study by Gallup’s James Harter that found that lower job satisfaction foreshadowed poorer bottom-line performance, and that billions of dollars are lost annually due to “employee disengagement.”  Happy employees thrive for two basic reasons: They believe what they do at work makes a difference, and they are continually learning and gaining new knowledge and skills.

Organization-directed interventions take into consideration the impact that work environment has on employees. Burnout is not necessarily the consequence of an overly demanding workload. It can result from a variety of workplace situations such as employees viewing their work environment as unfair or from employees lacking control over their work. Organization-directed interventions typically have longer lasting effects than person-directed interventions when carried out alone. Each organization will have unique stressors and areas of improvement in which to target to improve psychological conditions. Common areas that are targeted in an effort to reduce or prevent burnout are:

  • Employee Autonomy: Increasing control and decision making over work schedules, work load and work processes.
  • Management style: Altering management styles to reduce micro-managing and top-down hierarchies and increase visibility, open communication, employee trust and collaboration.
  • Training: Increasing employee competencies and providing opportunities for professional development.
  • Social Culture/Environment: This can include reducing interpersonal conflict, increasing social support and team work, supporting work-life balance and aligning employee and company values.
  • Acknowledgement: This includes instilling a fair effort and rewards system.

A study of employees with burnout found that they are less likely to participate in work-based interventions – such as stress reduction or occupational therapy/education – than their co-workers, but are more likely to be treated medically with antidepressants or anxiety drugs. In fact, the study found, workers with severe burnout were more than five times as likely to receive individual interventions, compared to those not suffering burnout.

Managers & HR Professionals Can Help Manage Burnout By:

  • Using employees to their full potential. Employees feel less withdrawn from work when they derive meaning from their work and their skills, knowledge and experience are fully utilized.
  • Giving positive feedback and recognizing their achievements.
  • Encouraging your employees to share their feelings and concerns. Talking with co-workers can help put an issue into perspective.
  • Striving for success. Work groups that are constantly trying new ideas and taking risks seldom burn out.

“It is a shame that many people quit a job that they use to love without realizing that they may have been able to prevent burnout from occurring in the first place.” Beverly Beuermann-King

Burnout can be a serious consequence of an unbalanced life and of an environment where the individual experiences little control and high demands. Leaders can help by ensuring a clearer understanding of what their job is and is not, providing as much control as possible, ensuring that demands are realistic and by recognizing the employee’s contributions and achievements.


For over 20 years, Beverly has used her S-O-S Principle™ with people and organizations who want to control their reactions to stress, build resiliency against life’s challenges and live healthy, successful lives. Since 1995, she has spearheaded her own company, Work Smart Live Smart, and has helped teams from a wide range of industries (including healthcare, education, government agencies, finance, and not-for-profit) shift from stressed out to resilient, enabling them to be more engaged, productive and healthy.

Beverly’s psychology, sociology, management, and adult education background combine to create presentations, which are soundly based in research, and are enlightening and inspirational. Audiences discover the right strategies to improve their health, manage their challenges and enhance their life’s satisfaction, using 3 simple questions.

Beverly is an author and a sought-after media spokesperson who has made over 500 television and radio appearances on shows such as Breakfast Television and CFRB and in national publications from the Toronto Star to Chatelaine. She is a highly respected speaker and is one of less than 70 Canadians to have earned their Certified Speaking Professional designation.

Additional Postings:

Workplace Wellness: Management Practices That Can Lead To A Toxic Workplace

Increase Productivity And Reduce Stress With The S-O-S Principle

Stress Still The #1 Lifestyle Risk

The Psychosocial Risk Factors and Employee Mental Health

Workplace Wellness: Help Your Teams Picture The Future

Do You Know Your Stress Number?

Mental Health In The Workplace

Handling Job Stress 

For the latest HR and business articles, check out our main page

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