The following series of posts is a collection of thoughts, feelings, and general readings over my working life. It is safe to say I fell into the dark hole that most people in the technology sector experience. Burnout.
Emotionally exhausted. Insomnia. Anxiety. Depression. Irritability. Forgetfulness.
Burnout as a concept has been described in various ways, and even today the themes and explanations of burnout vary;
“State of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one's professional life” (Kraft 2006, p. 30).
"As a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with people in some capacity" (Maslach, Jackson & Leiter, 1996, p. 4)
Notice a pattern? The academics among us are discussing this under terms such as; Occupational, Professional, and Staff burnout. There's no consensus on burnout at present and depending on who, and where you're reading there's always a different take on the topic.
Burnout ≠ Stress
There was a phrase used by one of the first publishers in the field, that sets the scene nicely:
"a disease of over-commitment" (Freudenberger, 1980)
Now a number of you are probably thinking of the above and saying "Hey, this sounds like stress". Not quite, although they are often interlinked, with chronic stress eventually leading to the situation of being burnt out in the long term.
The symptoms often interlink and the strategies for tackling stress aren't always the most effective strategies for dealing with burnout. Stress has hope at the end of the tunnel, Burnout is beyond the point of acceptance.
Stress tends to focus in and around the more tangible manifestations; the physical, emotional and mental impact of an event/situation/environment. Our response to stress in the short term is usually dictated by the fight-or-flight response ingrained in all of us.
Burnout on the other hand has a collection of signs and symptoms, isn't a clinically recognised condition (as its a collection of several, already recognised conditions, and often falls under workplace stress).
The Phases (process) of Burnout
Now this model was published by Freudenberger in 1980, it divides burnout into 12 distinct phases that may (or may not) occur in sequential order.
- The compulsion to prove oneself; demonstrating worth obsessively; tends to hit the best employees, those with enthusiasm who accept responsibility readily.
- Working harder; an inability to switch off.
- Neglecting Needs; erratic sleeping, eating disrupted, lack of social interaction.
- Displacement of Conflicts; problems are dismissed, may feel threatened, panicky and jittery.
- Revision of Values; values are skewed, friends and family dismissed, hobbies seen as irrelevant, work is only focus.
- Denial of Emerging Problems; intolerance, perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined, social contacts harder; cynicism, aggression; problems are viewed as caused by time pressure and work, not because of life changes.
- Withdrawal; social life small or non-existent, need to feel relief from stress, alcohol/drugs.
- Odd Behavioural Changes; changes in behaviour obvious, friends and family concerned.
- Depersonalization; seeing neither self nor others as valuable, and no longer perceive own needs.
- Inner Emptiness; feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs; activities are often exaggerated.
- Depression; feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak and dark.
- Burnout Syndrome; can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.
The four stages of burnout model (Gorkin, 2004) sets the scene for a slightly shorter and easier to digest model:
- Physical, Mental and Emotional Exhaustion; Maybe you are still holding it together at work. Still, can you relate to this sequence? As soon as you get home, you head for the fridge, get out the Haagen-Dazs or Ben and Jerry's, turn on the TV, collapse on the sofa and you're comatose for the rest of the evening.
- Shame and Doubt; Perhaps this scenario is familiar. A supervisor asks you to take on a new assignment. You want to ... but this voice inside silently screams, “Who are you kidding!” So what's happening? You're not feeling confident about the future; and you're feeling pretty lousy in the present.
- Cynicism and Callousness; In response to that prolonged feeling of insecurity or vulnerability, some folks feel there's only one thing left to do: put on the heavy armor. They develop an ATTITUDE.
- Failure, Helplessness and Crisis; Being caught in a familiar “Catch-22” often signals the final phase: “Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Damned if you stay, damned if you leave.” Your coping structure seems to be coming unglued.
Finally, there's the three-dimensional Maslach Burnout Inventory,
Burnout is an individual's state that is influenced by three key areas; Work, Lifestyle/Social, and Personality. Burnout can be caused and influenced by just one area, or more usually the combined interaction between them. Situational factors tend to contribute more towards the breaking point.
- Lack of Control
- Lack of Recognition and Feedback
- Unclear job expectations
- Workplace dynamics
- Organisational Behaviour
- Monotonous/Chaotic workloads
- Lack of Appropriate training and resources
- Work-life balance
- Lack of close, supportive relationships
- Too many responsibilities, without help
- Not getting enough sleep
- Lack of self-care
- Reluctance to delegate
- Type A personalities
Consequences of Burnout
- Staff turnover.
- Decreased job satisfaction
- Reduced job performance
- Mental health
- Memory retention and attention issues
- Increased Personal conflict
Even after keeping all the above causes in mind, burnout is still a possible outcome for any individual or even an entire team. Something has to give, we're all human and work-life balance is more heavily skewed towards work, along with the increasing number of job requirements and responsibilities has only grown over the years.
Corrections, and Contributions
If you feel anything in this article could be updated, added to, or changed to improve it; feel free to get in touch via twitter.