The Definition of Burnout — and How to Prevent It

by Chris Rhatigan on Nov 9, 2016 8:00:00 AM

burnout

Every professional feels stressed and stretched thin from time to time, especially when you’re up against tight deadlines or simply have too much work. But burnout is significantly different — and it can become a major problem if it’s not properly addressed.

Burnout is characterized by long-term feelings of fatigue, disinterest in work, and cynicism about change. It’s correlated with a variety of negative mental and physical health outcomes, such as heart disease, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It’s also associated with poor productivity and inefficiency. When employees burn out, it’s bad news for everyone.

The statistics on burnout vary widely because it’s difficult to diagnose. According to Harvard Business Review, one study found that only 7% of professionals suffer from burnout. However, studies have found that 50% of medical residents and 85% of financial professionals are burned out.  

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Demanding Work Conditions

Every job comes with some level of stress and will have its ups and downs. However, there’s a direct relationship between the number of hours you work and your likelihood of burning out. Sometimes those demanding work conditions are imposed by a supervisor who puts unreasonable demands on their employees.

But it’s also employees who want to go above and beyond. They start out with good intentions — they want to create positive change and they’re willing to work hard to do it. They come in early, they leave late, and their weekends are hardly a break from work. This might be OK at first, but over the long run it becomes a problem as their energy is drained. This is a common issue with young school teachers in challenging school districts who are always on call to help students and often deal with emotionally charged situations.

 

Providing Support

That employee who’s always going to another cup of coffee or who looks tired all the time — they’re a prime candidate for burnout. Having regular conversations with employees will help you identify who’s under too much pressure. Granting employees the ability to occasionally work from home or offering them a couple of days off can make the difference in preventing burnout. Flexibility in assigning roles and projects will help too.

overworkedSOURCE: giphy.com

 

Providing Clarity

Sometimes it’s the quantity of work that causes burnout, but other time it’s the quality of work. One study found that issues such as role confusion and lack of feedback are associated with burnout. Employees who don’t understand how they fit into their organizations will be less motivated. This leads to a lack of engagement and, eventually, burnout.

Burnout is a reality no matter what industry you’re a part of. Knowing how to identify and prevent it is critical for leaders who want to maintain an engaged workforce.

 

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This post was written by Chris Rhatigan

Chris Rhatigan is a freelance writer and editor. He is a former newspaper reporter for The New Haven Register and The Iowa City Press-Citizen. He enjoys playing old video games, studying (and trying to speak) Hindi, and walking his dog on the local trails. He lives in India.