Recognizing Job Burnout

Recognizing job burnout welearn learning services
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    The effect of job burnout on individuals, organizations, and workforce development programs can be vexing. Despite this, it is on the rise, especially in the United States, affecting one in four employees across all industries. It is crucial to recognize the signs of job burnout before it is too late, but what exactly is job burnout and how can it have a negative effect on your organization?

    What is Job Burnout?

    The term “(job) burnout” was coined by a German-born American psychologist named Herbert J. Freudenberger in 1974 to describe physicians and nurses who were overwhelmed with work and felt “burned out.” He used this term to refer to the exhaustion that results from excessive demands of energy, stress, or resources at work. 

    Freudenberger, in his book titled Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement, asserts that burnout is often accompanied by an extinction of motivation and incentive. Thus, a person’s never-ending loyalty will result in less than desirable results, negatively affecting not only their work, but also their ability to learn and advance their careers through learning strategies.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) classified burnout as a syndrome that results directly from an employee’s health at work when the Coronavirus became a global pandemic. A chronic form of workplace stress that has not been managed effectively was exemplified in the study.

    There are distinct indicators that indicate job burnout. The ability to recognize each of these characteristics at work is equally important.

    • An overwhelming feeling of energy depletion
    • Mental detachment from your job
    • Cynical feelings in regard to work
    • Lack of accomplishment
    • A sense of ineffectiveness

    “In a culture where people believe that working hard can overcome any obstacle, reality teaches us that we have limitations. We burnout.”
    Jay Wren, Headhunter

    Employees suffer from burnout when they find themselves involved in a power struggle to complete unpretentious, daily tasks that require a minimum amount of effort. This also affects their ability to use learning strategies on projects and tasks. They become frustrated and lash out at colleagues, employers, or anyone close to them as a result. Consequently, a number of red flags will be raised and disciplinary action will be taken. Even complete job loss, change, or displacement can result from it. 

    The majority of those who experience it admit that they are incapable of completing anything on time, proficiently, and in an acceptable manner. It is likely that this is not the case; rather, it is what job burnout feels like.

    At some point in their careers, nearly half of all employees have experienced some form of exhaustion from their work. People who have remained loyal to one organization for a considerable period of time are particularly affected by this.

    The effects of job burnout are detrimental to the workforce and the environment. A recent study conducted by Gallup, claimed that burnout is a career killer. It is estimated that people who experience work burnout are 2.6 times more likely to leave their current employer than those who do not experience burnout, 63% more likely to use a sick day even when they are not physically ill, and 13% less confident in their ability to perform their jobs well. It is important that the quantity of work is done, but the quality of the work is even more important.

    Breaking Down Burnout

    There are three categories of burnout.

    Overload – Employees are most familiar with this type of burnout, as it is the first that comes to mind when they think of burnout. This type of burnout can result from overstimulation. Employees who work long shifts without taking mental breaks can experience overload as a result of working at an unsustainable pace.

    Under-challenged – Being under-challenged can cause the same type of burnout as being overburdened. Employees require constant stimulation (but not excessive stimulation) in order to feel a sense of engagement and career satisfaction. Employees who fail to experience this type of stimulation and desire will detach themselves from their current job and are more likely to seek employment elsewhere.

    Neglect – Neglect is the last and final form of burnout. This type occurs when employees do not feel a sense of purpose at work. This results in a lack of employee engagement for the company.

    “Burnout is nature’s way of telling you [that] you’ve been going through the motions [and] your soul has departed.”
    -Sam Keen

    Phases and Symptoms Of Burnout

    Burnout does not manifest itself through feelings, but rather through different phases. In some cases, the initial phases may present themselves without the individual even being aware of them. In spite of this, as they progress, it may soon become difficult for them to complete their daily work assignments. Starting with the earliest phase of work burnout, here are the five phases of work burnout.

    Phase 1: Honeymoon

    A comparison can be made between this stage and the honeymoon phase associated with marriage, in which one feels optimistic and energetic. As employees take on new responsibilities, they experience a high level of satisfaction and energy. It is the same with new jobs, better titles, and more powerful positions. In theory, if the honeymoon phase proves successful in teaching strategies for success in the workplace, then the honeymoon phase can continue indefinitely.


    • Elevated efficiency points
    • Excessive innovation
    • Unrivaled commitment to the job
    • Optimistic approach to work

    Phase 2: Onset Of Stress

    In the second phase, optimism begins to dissolve, followed by a minor cognizance. When the onset of stress occurs, your body may begin to recognize that some days are more difficult to handle than others.


    • Heightened anxiety
    • Beginning stages and signs of depression
    • Headaches
    • Inability to focus
    • Reduced sleep
    • Depressed productivity levels
    • Disregard of personal necessities

    Phase 3: Chronic Stress

    The “hump” stage of work burnout occurs at this point. Stress and pressure are at their peak at this point. This phase is characterized by chronic stress rather than motivation. Stress is more prevalent and intense than any other symptom in previous phases. As a result, you may even withdraw from work-related conversations and functions.


    • Cynical attitude
    • Self-doubt
    • Persistent exhaustion
    • Overwhelming sense of pressure
    • Increased alcohol/drug abuse
    • Home life following suit to problems at work

    Phase 4: Burnout

    During this phase, burnout officially begins. It is at this point that symptoms become critical and a diagnosis must be made. As work has consumed all of your free time, it is impossible for you to maintain a normal lifestyle. There is no capacity for coping. Ideally, this should be the time for a clinical professional to offer consultation or to impose an intervention if this meets the standards of a colleague.


    • Chronic headaches and/or migraines
    • GI problems
    • Obsession over work
    • Total negligence of personal needs
    • Pessimistic approach to work
    • Desire to self-medicate reaches all-time high
    • Mental and emotional collapse
    • Isolation from friends, family, and colleagues

    Phase 5: Fatal Burnout

    The final phase of burnout is fatal (chronic) burnout. When you reach this point, job burnout has completely consumed your life, and you are on the verge of a mental, physical, or emotional breakdown, if you have not already experienced one. As opposed to phase 4, where you experience occasional stress, this phase consists of chronic stress that cannot be ignored.


    • Chronic fatigue – mentally, physically, or emotionally
    • Chronic depression
    • Burnout syndrome
    • Inability to be happy

    Closing Thoughts

    Burnout is a workplace manifestation that can cause chaos to ensue both professionally and personally. The first step towards preventing job burnout is recognizing it. The mental, physical, and emotional well-being of you is important. Despite the fact that work is a priority, it should always come second to your health.

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