Burnout – what is it and why are we talking about it now?

When burnout affects someone, the impact is huge. However, it is preventable. 

Burnout is now recognised as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Authority. It is not a medical condition but a syndrome that occurs when ongoing high levels of stress have not been managed. It is about experiences at work, not in other areas of life.


Burnout is a phase we are hearing about with increased frequency as a result of chronic workplace stress. When it affects someone, the impact is huge. However, it is preventable if we look at how we are working as individuals, and also examine organisational culture.

    The current situation

    Recent research indicates burnout is an increasing workplace issue, with more than half of workers saying they are feeling burned out (Indeed, 2021) and 46% of UK workers feeling more prone to extreme stress than a year ago (Mental Health UK, 2021).

            Stress or burnout?

            When we are experiencing stress we have a sense of overload – everything is supercharged. Emotions are oversensitive, there is a feeling of hyperactivity and urgency. We may feel tired and there is a clear link to developing anxiety disorders, which may also lead to depression.

            Burnout on the other hand, is experienced, as the name suggests, as being ‘burnt out’. Being totally empty, a hollow container, totally exhausted, with no motivation, not caring, feeling hopeless and helpless, with no resources to draw upon to recover, and linked to depresssion.

                    Signs of burnout

                    Usually, burnout is a gradual process with small symptoms at first. However, on occasion it can hit people without them having recognised the warning signs.

                    There are physical, emotional, and behavioural signs that burnout may be developing.

                    These include loss of motivation, feeling helpless and alone, having negative thoughts, headaches, muscle aches, frequent colds due to lower immunity, withdrawing from social contact, being short tempered with others, and absence from work.

                    Also look out for unhelpful coping strategies including alcohol, drugs and food.

                            Work and burnout

                            There is not an automatic correlation between a high stress job and burnout. Some occupations for example social workers, emergency response workers; and personalities for example perfectionists or those needing to be in control; may be at higher risk.

                            Factors linked to burnout include:

                            • Unrealistic and unmanageable time pressures, particularly in situations where time is crucial e.g. paramedics responding to emergency situations.
                            • Lack of control over work and how it is carried out.
                            • Unmanageable workloads and expectations.
                            • Boring, repetitive, undemanding work with no challenge.
                            • Lack of recognition.
                            • Poor communication and lack of support from managers.
                            • Experiencing unfair treatment at work.

                                    Dealing with burnout

                                    Burnout is a specific work-related condition. However, it should be noted that our work situation does not exist in isolation to the rest of our lives. Other factors impact our ability to manage the things that may lead to burnout.

                                    When burnout really hits, it can’t be ignored or worked through. People must rest and rebuild resources.

                                    The best strategy is prevention.


                                              Evaluate your overall wellbeing. Be kind to yourself. Consider things you do or could do to support your physical and psychological wellbeing. This will build resources and resilience to draw upon when things become challenging.


                                                        When you are at work some things are within our control, others are not. Consider the elements that are in your control and any changes you might make, for example, the hours you are working, how you disconnect from work, and the expectations you are setting for yourself.

                                                                  Supporting employees

                                                                  Avoiding burnout will be an outcome of a healthy organisational culture and proactive wellbeing initiatives. Consider the hours and workload of employees, the level of support they feel they are getting from managers, the stress management techniques they use, as well as raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of burnout.

                                                                            What can you do?

                                                                            Challenge yourself:

                                                                            • What unhelpful habits have you developed at work that you could change?
                                                                            • What changes could you make that would benefit your wellbeing?


                                                                                      Contact us for details

                                                                                      Get in touch through the contact form below to discuss how you might achieve this, either for yourself or your organisation. 


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