Dr Kate Owen
Burnout from Work
Updated: Feb 6, 2021
Are you experiencing “Burnout” from Work?
Burnout is a slow and sneaky process that takes a hold of you over time. You might not even realise that you are being affected until one day you reach a point whereby you feel as though you cannot cope anymore.
Most people keep these feelings to themselves. Sure they might say “Work sucks” when asked by a friend, but it is not often that they will say “I am really struggling at work. I think it is taking its toll on me. I need to do something about it”.
When I mentor teams I see that there is a stigma attached to “struggling” at work. There is often a mentality of “just keep going” and “this is just the way it is” and “I can’t let others down” and “If I don’t do it, it will never get done”. Even if it is at the expense of your own well-being.
Let’s first start by saying that not all stress is bad for you. In fact, research shows that people who believe that stress is really bad and should be avoided at all costs, usually die earlier compared to people that appreciate that a certain amount of stress is actually good for you.
Let’s also acknowledge that ‘stress’ and ‘burnout’ are two very different things.
Burnout is the term to describe the emotional and physical exhaustion experienced by people as a direct result of excessive study or work related stress. Burnout can cause significant physical, emotional, psychological and relational damage.
What Does Burnout Look Like?
Here are just a few of the key signs:
Depression or low mood
Excessive use of alcohol or drugs to cope
Appearing overly confident
Somatic complaints – nausea, insomnia, headaches, etc.
Wanting to avoid work
What Contributes to Burnout at Work?
There is lots of research on risk factors for burnout, and sometimes these are industry specific. Below are just to name a few:
Lack of personal control and autonomy
Lack of recognition
Feeling uncertain about your work role and responsibilities
Limited scope for career advancement
Poor support and leadership from management
Conflict with peers
Exposure to trauma (e.g., mental health professionals and front line medical workers)
What Can Help?
First and foremost is to recognise your own strengths and coping strategies. Below are a few more ideas:
Set clear boundaries between home and work life
Stay connected in healthy and supportive relationships inside and outside of work
Take your break and look after yourself
Setting realistic work goals
Seek support from peers
Attend professional development opportunities
Take your leave
Use stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing and meditation
Use problem solving techniques to determine what you can influence and change
Get good quality sleep
What To Do When Things Get Too Much
If you feel as though your coping strategies are not improving your experience, then consider these ideas:
Talk to your family and friends and let them know you are struggling
Talk with your workplace and problem solve the situations contributing to your stress
Consider accessing counselling – your workplace might have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
A final word. Just the mere fact that there is a term called “burnout” means that you are not alone. Although you might feel as though your workplace is affecting you (an external situation), just remember that first and foremost you will need to take control of your return to well-being (your internal resources).
Free Online Course for Counselling and Mental Health Professionals - "Self-Care and Protection from Burnout"
Sign up today at drkateowen.teachable.com to enrol into this free online course by Dr Kate Owen. A gift to the helping professionals who always put their clients needs first.
A great resource for anyone in the counselling and mental health profession is Babette Rothschild's book "Help for the Helper".
Watch my YouTube video on "Signs of Burnout in the Workplace".
The Black Dog Institute's online clinic for mental health screening and suggested recommendations.
For professionals in the counselling and mental health field, teachers, police officers, firefighters, and medical professionals you can self-rate on the Professional Quality of Life Scale and review your scores on domains of "Compassion Satisfaction", "Burnout", and "Secondary Trauma".
Please note that this is general advice and may not reflect your individual circumstances.
If you require support please contact a mental health and counselling professional.
You can also call Lifeline on 131114.