Two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job. While our typical image of a worker suffering burnout might be a doctor, nurse, or therapist, this is a big problem in the corporate world as well. As it turns out, mismanaged corporations are a huge cause behind workplace burnout, and there is little the professional working for them can do if they choose to stay.
What is workplace burnout?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
The World Health Organization calls it a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.”
Burnout is not considered a medical diagnosis, but an “occupational phenomenon.” Meaning, while certain people may be more likely to become burnt out, the fault does not lie inherently with the person, but is connected to their work.
The opposite of burnout is engagement.
UC Berkeley psychologist and the world’s foremost burnout expert, Dr. Christina Maslach, describes the antithesis of burnout as ‘work engagement’ or “a persistent, positive affective‐motivational state of fulfillment…”
Think of a job you’ve loved in the past. It didn’t necessarily exclude stress or working long, tiring days – in fact, some of the best positions require all of that. However, the measures taken by your management or employer to keep you motivated and engaged in that work were likely much more successful than a job you’ve hated.
What causes burnout?
We can understand burnout by thinking of everyone we work with, and ourselves, as having two sliding scales; one for satisfaction, and the other for dissatisfaction. Rather than satisfaction and dissatisfaction being opposites, they can work alongside each other, building up quite the reserve of frustration in an individual.
So, while a person’s passion and motivation to do their job well (satisfaction) might be high, the lack of their fundamental needs being met – lack of sufficient salary, personal time off, safe work environment, etc. – (dissatisfaction), might eventually overwhelm their motivation, leading to burnout. With burnout, it’s often a case of being a frog in a slow-to-boil pot; the employee might not notice their dissatisfaction all at once, because it’s a gradual, building process.
This begs the question, what are the main irritants that lead to the pot boiling over? A Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees sought to answer this exact question. It found the following to be the five most common causes of workplace burnout:
- Unfair treatment at work.
- Unmanageable workload.
- Lack of role clarity.
- Lack of communication and support from manager.
- Unreasonable time pressure.
The biggest takeaway from the Gallup study is that burnout is not inevitable. The findings emphasized that leaders “can prevent – and reverse – burnout by changing how [they] manage and lead [their] employees.” Meaning, if you’re suffering from burnout, and the onus is completely on you to change and get better, without any consideration from your workplace as to its role in the matter, you likely won’t find the relief you need in your current position.
Burnout treatment needs a different approach.
Unfortunately, most treatment for burnout is aimed, ultimately, at getting the individual to return to the workplace with successful performance. This is not always congruous with what is best for the individual or what will prevent burnout from recurring.
If you’re suffering from burnout, and you find that your organization is unwilling to change, the hard truth is that you may not find relief. Leaving may be the best option for your overall health and wellbeing. Until corporate culture can adjust to meet its employees’ needs, businesses will continue to see turnover and burnout impacting their bottom line.