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Preventing Burnout: Identification and Prevention

4 October 2021

People whose work is to support others use the term burnout in their everyday language, but do we really understand what it means? Would we recognise when someone (even ourselves), was experiencing any of the symptoms and what can we do if we did? This article aims to increase awareness and understanding of burnout, including identifying possible symptoms and strategies to reduce risk in our everyday work lives.

Burnout

Burnout is a state of physical & emotional exhaustion resulting from prolonged work stress and frustration. It can affect any profession or occupation. The impacts of Burnout emerge gradually over time and are linked to stressors within a person’s working and personal life. It can occur when someone feels overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet continual demands. As the stress continues, they begin to lose the interest and motivation they may have felt previously at work. Burnout leads to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and resentment. It reduces productivity and saps a person's energy. The negative effects of burnout can affect all aspects of life similar to VT and CF, but Burnout does not include traumatic elements or PTSD like symptoms. It can also cause long-term changes to a person’s body making them vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Unlike compassion fatigue or secondary trauma, burnout relates to exhaustion or stress from work related issues rather than exposure to a client’s traumatic experience.

 

Those at Greater Risk

Where workload exceeds a person’s capability is a factor with burnout. Regularly having to bring work home and leaving late increases the risk of burnout, as does workplace stress and lack of job control. One of the most important things that can lead to Burnout is a conflict of values. Having to work within an organisation where their values are contradicted by policies or behaviours it can lead workers to disengage and withdraw.



Symptoms

Common symptom may include:

  • Cynicism & negativity
  • Decreased satisfaction
  • Avoiding responsibility
  • Isolating
  • Procrastinating
  • Increase drugs or alcohol
  • Frustrated with others




  • Constantly tired & drained
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits
  • Self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless & trapped
  • Feeling detached
  • Loss of motivation.



Prevention

To help prevent the symptoms of burnout from escalating or happening in the first place:

  • Debrief with your team and managers regularly for support
  • Access EAP (employee assistance program) in times of need
  • Take your scheduled breaks including your annual leave
  • Be supportive to yourself and co-workers and ensure to celebrate work achievements
  • Ensure your workspace is conducive to wellbeing – space, photos, plants/flowers/colour/light
  • Share lunch with colleagues away from your desk
  • If mindfulness is your thing, try one f the free great apps available: Healthy minds, Smiling mind, Headspace, Insight timer.

If you need support after reading this article, please talk to someone at work, your Employee Assistance program provider or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. You can also contact and discuss this with your GP.

For further reading, we suggest you try:

  • Affirmation of personal values buffers neuroendocrine and psychological stress responses Cresswell et al (2005) American Psychological Society Vol 16 No. 11 pp846- 851
  • Stamm, B.H. (2010). The Concise ProQOL Manual, 2ndEd. Pocatello, ID: ProQOL.org.
  • Beyond Blue: Heads Up good practice guides.