The coronavirus pandemic has led to stress and anxiety about the future. The Work From Home (WFH) concept which earlier we assumed was easy, is turning out to be a 24×7 long haul with no end in sight. People who have managed to still hold on to their jobs are not taking enough time off to refresh and recharge, fearing they may be laid off the moment they are not available on call or don’t appear to be working continuously. According to Monster, ‘over 2/3rds, or 69%, of employees are now experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home.’ Burnout has been a simmering issue for the last few years but now it has become more pronounced with people getting fatigued and unable to cope with work from home pressure in this extraordinary global lockdown situation. Burnout can affect anyone, from employees to entrepreneurs, business owners, and freelancers.

The origin of the term ‘burnout’  

The World Health Organization (WHO), recognized burnout as a disease or occupational phenomenon, in the 11th edition of International Classification of Diseases (ICD) published in May 2019.

The new diagnosis is defined as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

How is burnout different from stress?

Burnout is the loss of meaning in one’s work, coupled with mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion as the result of long-term, unresolved stress.

When your boundaries of personal time and work time get blurred, it is the first sign of burnout. In the current work scenarios, with many employees having been laid off there is immense pressure on those still at work to put in extra time and effort to complete the job which was earlier shared over more desks. Burnout can happen when the immediate manager pushes the limits of the employee to do more than his or her fair share of work. It can also be the result of bullying or discrimination.

At this juncture, let us understand and differentiate stress from BURNOUT

  • Stress leads to urgency and hyperactivity while burnout causes a feeling of helplessness
  • Stress leads to loss of energy while burnout leads to loss of motivation
  • Stress symptoms are easier to recognize but it is always more difficult to notice burnout
  • Stress leads to working overtime to complete overload of work while burnout has no control over job-related situations
  • Stress affects the body and burnout affects the mind

Burnout is an outcome or result of excessive stress! Burnout is also referred to as compassion fatigue.

Image credits: Thrive Global

What are the reasons causing the burnout?

Work environments have changed. Today 48% of Generation Xers in their mid-career trajectories are faced with burnout. WFH has only accelerated the process. The causes of burnout are: –

  • Taking on more work or carrying more work pressure

As per a Harvard Business Review, 51% of women are prone to burnout as they take up non-promotable work in a collaborative environment mainly to help colleagues. Even not being able to delegate work to others is a sure sign.

  • Lack of support, recognition, and respect in the workplace

These markers only make people feel like a cog in the wheel than real contributors in a fast-paced highly-competitive workspace.

  • Lack of sleep, stress-eating, weight gain, and no time for social life

While lack of sleep, stress-eating, weight gain make a person grumpy and always exhausted, no vacations and lesser time with family and friends also lead to strained relationships sometimes leading to substance abuse. Work-home balance is a must.

  • Job content

Constant high job expectations and doing work that is monotonous and less financially gratifying is also another contributor.

The 5 stages of burnout

Burnout is often faced by persons in the age group 25 to 44. The 5 phases of burnout are,

1. Honeymoon Stage

This very first phase of burnout happens mostly in a new job when one rapidly accepts responsibility to proven one’s mettle. Often the person does not realize his/her unbridled optimism and over-commitment to the job at hand is starting to cause the first signs of burnout. If the right coping strategies are not in place, it escalates moving to the next phase.

2. Onset Stress Stage

In the second stage of burnout job dissatisfaction, irritability, and job anxiety begin to creep in lowering the initial level of productivity. You know it’s getting tougher and you feel the physical, mental, or emotional stress. This may also lead to medical problems like high blood pressure, increasing headaches, and heart palpitations.   

3. Chronic Stress Stage

In this stage stress levels increase and symptoms seen in stage two become more intense. One starts to stop socializing, misses work or deadlines, procrastinates, and gets into a denial mode. There is persistent tiredness and exhaustion from early morning, an onset of physical illness, aggressive behavior, and an increase in caffeine, alcohol, drug consumption.

4. Burnout Stage

Stage four of burnout is actual burnout where one may require clinical and emotional intervention. In this stage, the individual feels empty, becomes a pessimist, isolates himself/herself from family, friends and community, and exhibits behavioral changes. Also, it is marked with chronic headaches and chronic stomach or bowel problems.

5. Habitual Burnout Stage

The fifth and final stage of burnout is habitual burnout that leads to sadness and depression.

Image credits: Strategic Coach

How to prevent burnout

While burnout is primarily caused by work-related issues, it transcends into home life. It is important to recognize the signs and to proactively take up self-care and build mental resilience.

Here are a few recommendations on how to prevent burnout:

  • Take a relook and redefine your work, profile, and goals
  • Communicate and talk about any work related problems with co-workers, friends family, or a counselor if need be.
  • Don’t let negative or overly competitive work-mates pull you down. You are your boss and let your work define it.
  • While you are working from home, update your skills with numerous online courses available.
  • Be clear about maintaining a work-family balance. Work from home does not mean constantly staying connected with colleagues on WA, emails. Try to get some family time outdoors and away from social media. Also, try to involve yourself in social and community activities.
  • Introduce yourself to holistic health. Structure your day in such a way that you have time for yourself and activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness to keep burnout at bay. Even some exercise like a jog around the perimeter will boost overall energy.
  • Stay mindful. 

Burnout if ignored or unaddressed can have significant consequences on health leading to high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and even heart attacks.

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