Occupational Burnout: Is Your Job Becoming Detrimental To Your Well- Being?
Consider this: When you go to work you spend a huge chunk of your time on tasks that you either find overwhelming or too dull and you are unable to concentrate. You sit at your desk and think to yourself how nothing you do makes a difference. You notice a mental disengagement with your work and caring about it makes you feel like you are wasting your energy. You leave work feeling mentally and physically exhausted day after day. Every day is a bad day and you never feel like you are meeting the demands of your job. You think this is just a phase and wait for it to pass, but the more you wait the higher your distress seems to get. Does this sound familiar? It can possibly be burnout.
Everyone has days when we feel like there is too much on our plate and doubt the abilities to complete all of it. There are also days when we feel dissatisfied and helpless and even going to work seems like a task. However, perpetually feeling this way is a sign of burnout.
The term ‘burnout’ was first used in Herbert Freudenberger’s book “Burnout: The High Cost of Achievement” (1974) where it was defined as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
In a nutshell, if you are constantly exhausted, mentally disengage with your job and feel inadequate at work you are struggling with burnout.
In today’s industrialised world, burnout is a common phenomenon. With employees around the globe trying to meet deadlines, deal with work overload with lack of proper resources, and struggling to develop a work- life balance, it is no surprise that workers are feeling overwhelmed. In addition to this, working from home during the COVID- 19 pandemic has had its own implications on employee well- being. A survey in the U.S. found that two- thirds or 69% of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home, and in spite of this a majority of them are taking less time off than they normally would. They are unable to take time off because of the building anxiety that if they don’t work hard enough, they could be in the next lay- off. Risk factors while working from home such as loss of social connection, disappearance of boundaries between home and work life, juggling a number of responsibilities and the fear of being jobless contribute to burnout while working from home.
Even though occupational burnout originates from your job, it is caused by various factors apart from simply heavy workload or excessive stress at work. Unfair treatment and discrimination in the workplace, lack of role clarity and long working hours also have a significant part to play. Apart from this, unhealthy lifestyle choices like irregular sleeping patterns or not getting enough sleep, lack of supportive relationships, not enough time spent off work for leisure, etc. also promote burnout. Moreover, personality traits and self-image such as a pessimistic view of yourself, type A personality, and perfectionistic tendencies, to name a few, can be factors responsible for advancing burnout. Major life changes such as death of a loved one, divorce, or even shifting cities can reduce coping and have a role to play in increasing stress.
Occupational burnout can affect every area of your life and even have drastic consequences on your body. Despite its staggering implications, a comforting prospect is that if the signs and symptoms of burnout are addressed early on, complete malfunction and disintegration can be prevented. There are a host of symptoms to be on the lookout for- Physical symptoms include headaches, tiredness and exhaustion, issues with sleep, changes in appetite, lowered immunity, etc. Emotional symptoms are loss of motivation, cynicism and negative outlook, indifference and detachment, sense of failure and self- doubt and decreased satisfaction. Behavioural symptoms would comprise of breaking down easily, isolating yourself and social withdrawal, procrastination, skipping work and absenteeism, and even substance abuse. The signs and symptoms of burnout do not develop overnight. They are often very subtle at first and eventually build up. In all likelihood, people do not even realise that they are experiencing burnout until they are completely saturated and reach their crisis point, at which stage undertaking any activity is massively distressing. On the bright side, even though burnout sounds like a permanent state of being from which escape seems difficult, experts have found many ways of coping with its consequences. Although recovery does not happen in a day, and some have even reported their recovery time from burnout to be close to a year, there are many strategies that can be employed to return to a healthy space of mind and body.
Whether you are already at your crisis point or just becoming aware of the warning signs of burnout, here are some techniques you can put to use:
Improving self- care: Changes at the grassroot level of taking care of yourself can have a tremendous impact on your well- being. Developing a healthy sleep and diet regimen, building an exercise routine, minimising the use of caffeine and alcohol, picking up a hobby, discovering a creative outlet and even employing spiritually grounding techniques like mindfulness and meditation can aid in the restoration of physical and mental health.
Bringing reforms to your work environment: As a first step, communication with the human resource department in your organisation or to a supervisor and discussing your problems at work is key. Consequently, alterations in your work habits such as focusing on a single project at a time instead of multitasking, taking regular breaks, delegating larger tasks, dividing overwhelming tasks into smaller parts, building friendships with co-workers, and resisting working overtime can improve your state of mind in your workplace.
Social reconnection: When you are experiencing burnout, everything seems impossible to overcome. At this time, reaching out to others can be particularly encouraging and effective. Having someone to listen and validate your feelings without providing secular judgement will help to get your life back to balance. Engaging with colleagues during your breaks and attending social events will not only strengthen your bond with others but also change your outlook. Connecting with like- minded people involved in a cause that is consequential to you will also help to cope with the workplace demands.
Focus on what is important to you: Re-evaluate your priorities and set boundaries for yourself. Learning to be comfortable with saying “no” when you do not want to attend something, taking a break from social media and limiting contact with toxic people will prevent you from being easily overwhelmed and will help you stay aligned with what matters to you.
Be gentle with yourself: A major consequence of burnout is feeling a sense of failure in your own capabilities. Recognising this and modifying self- talk to be more compassionate and accommodating for yourself is indispensable while you are on the path of recovering from burnout. This can happen when you celebrate small accomplishments, avoid criticising yourself unnecessary, make room for perceived failure, and learn to verbalise your feelings.
Occupational burnout is a universal problem and makes you feel as though you have nothing left to give. Optimizing your work life while simultaneously checking in with yourself can help you to create a supportive and flourishing environment in which you can thrive while living your best social, emotional and personal life.