In our last post we defined burnout, described the causes of burnout and provided a do-it-yourself quiz to help you know whether you may be suffering from burnout.

We’ve all heard colleagues or friends talk about “feeling burned out.”  You may have felt that way yourself from time to time.  Medical researchers have studied burnout for a number of years, but the concept has always been a bit fuzzy.  But that’s changed now that the World Health Organization has officially recognized burnout as a legitimate medical disorder.  Workers and employers need to reconsider the causes and dangers of burnout.

How do you know if you’re suffering from burnout?

According to the WHO, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they meet the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

The dangers of burnout

Whether you may have a personal concern about burnout or you’re an employer with workers complaining of it, burnout should not be taken lightly.

A CNBC report last year quoted an article in the Harvard Business Review that stated burnout accounts for an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in healthcare spending each year.  A 2017 study in the journal PLoS One cited major health risks related to job burnout.  Risks include type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol, even death for those under 45.

High stress jobs don’t always lead to burnout.  Stress, if managed well doesn’t create a health hazard, and in fact can be a good thing. Stress can give you a jolt of energy, motivate you to accomplish tasks, even give you a short term memory boost.

Conversely, employees can still suffer from burnout in low stress jobs. Some individuals and certain occupations are more susceptible to burnout than others.

Man feeling burned out, holding his head in his hands

Signs of burnout

Burnout is avoidable and if you suffer from it, it is reversible. There are red flags that will pop up and warn you that you’re in burnout mode and it’s time to do something about it.  Some signs of burnout are subtle and others are easy to recognize.  Some examples you should watch for:

Become aware of unhealthy eating

When you are stressed, it is important to watch your diet. Stress uses a lot of energy; consequently, your immunity breaks down and your system may be depleted of many important nutrients.

Recognize weakening relationships

Personal relationships can be easily damaged when you are experiencing burnout at work or at home. Projects can be both emotionally and physically draining, and when all your energy is depleted, you have nothing left to contribute to a relationship.

Acknowledge any continual anger

Anger is often generated as a result of burnout. Listen to your feelings and assess if there is irritation just under the surface. Ask a trusted friend to give you feedback. You will find that it can be helpful to discuss the aggravations of your job on a regular basis with an objective person (usually a person who is not associated with your job or with the particular problem you are experiencing).

Look at your interpersonal investments

In order to minimize your stress at work and at home, you may try to protect yourself by eliminating any extra interpersonal investment. To accomplish this, you resort to limiting the expenditure of your energy, time, and emotional involvement. This is usually when you become brief and curt with people.

Notice emotional distance

Isolation becomes an easy solution when there is a lot of emotional stress involved. In this protective mode, you move away emotionally to guard against experiencing even more burnout that could be generated by helping other people.

Burnout can ignite like a flame in this match.

Photo by Yaoqi LAI on Unsplash

Handling burnout

CNBC asked a panel of experts  how employees can avoid — and even reverse — burnout.  Here’s what the experts said.

1. Learn your own strengths

If your job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged.   Look at new projects or even new positions to get energized and send burnout packing.  “Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.

2. Understand your weaknesses

In order to understand what you need to work on, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can’t even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones?  There are many online courses offering management and leadership classes.

3. Develop strong partners at work

It’s not always true, but friends at work can help boost your efficiency and performance. Having friends at work can make it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to feedback and information you might not otherwise get.  Developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout according to Harter.

Whether you’re concerned with burnout or not, numerous studies have shown that friends are truly good for your physical and mental health.  Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.

4. Communicate

If you are feeling burned out, don’t try to suck it up or hide it.  It won’t work.  A conversation with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.  A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, supporting you through a rough time, and working with you to address the stressors causing the burnout. Sharing what you’re going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation.

5. Identify a good manager

A recent Gallup study on stress and burnout at work found that employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to Gallup.

And two additional points that we would add:

6. Keep good health habits

Though not part of CNBC’s expert feedback, we would add some basic advice that will help in relieving stress and thus burnout: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.

7. Consider a change

Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place – the wrong job, a boss you don’t like, a company culture that conflicts with your personal values.  You may need a change – a new position in your company, a new company, maybe even a new career direction.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leading behavioral health company offering a portfolio of coaching, training and assistance products that span a continuum of care from restoring well-being to enhancing personal and organizational potential.  Among our many training programs, we offer our clients training for their employees and management teams on how to avoid and reverse burnout. To learn more about how Espyr can help you call us at 888-570-3479.