How do you know if you’re in burnout?

This is the first in a series of articles about how we can rise above these crazy busy times we find ourselves in. What it is, how we got here, and what to do about it – for ourselves and our workplaces. 

Let’s make this super simple to start with. When we are stressed it causes our adrenal glands to release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. When we overuse these, things get messy. It means your body is setting itself up to manage threats. And when you are under long periods of stress, this response doesn’t always turn off. 

No matter how many yoga classes your workplace offers, or ‘resilience workshops’ you attend.

Since early studies of workplace burnout in the 1970s, there has been an explosion of research on burnout. The results have been definitive — burnout has become far too normative in many workplaces. 

When Deloitte recently surveyed 1,000 full-time employees 77% had experienced burnout at their current jobs. More than half said they’d felt it more than once. This was true even though 87% of respondents said they “have passion for their job.” 

Burnout is the next epidemic. Recognising, and admitting, that this has become a permanent workplace situation is the first step. 

So how can we see if we, or the people around us, are in burnout? 

Christina Maslach is a Professor of Psychology and researcher at the ‘Healthy Workplaces Center’ at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work formed the basis of the World Health Organisation including burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ in 2019. Now that’s before COVID. That’s before we pivoted all over ourselves. 

According to Dr Maslach, burnout has 3 critical dimensions. 

  1. The exhaustion dimension: Wearing out, loss of energy, depletion, and fatigue
  2. The cynicism dimension: Negative attitudes towards colleagues and customers, irritability, withdrawal from professional obligations
  3. The inefficiency dimension: Reduced productivity, low morale, inability to cope

These are all signs. In saying that, if someone is being rude, irritable and just not coping at work, it might have nothing to do with burnout. But no matter what, it is always a sign that there is a conversation that needs to be had. Either with yourself or the other person. 

Burnout is a shared responsibility between workers and their employers. It takes two right? And the salt in the wound is we get told to take a day off or ‘just say no’. And then another initiative is thrown at you.

Are you feeling overwhelmed right now with too much work? Join me for my free online session ‘Managing overwhelm at work’. Check it out here.