Workplace burnout symptoms can leave you feeling utterly exhausted, disillusioned and demoralised. In this condition, any problem, whether big or small, seems insurmountable. Everything appears bleak, and it’s almost impossible to gather up the strength to care about anything. Due to the severity of the problem, companies are advised to take a preventative approach. By making the appropriate changes in the work environment an individual on the path to feeling burned out can regain their balance and start feeling hopeful and positive again.
What Is Workplace Burnout?
Burnout is a state of exhaustion that takes an emotional, physical, and mental toll on a person. It is typically triggered by prolonged and excessive stress in the workplace, where an individual feels overwhelmed due to the constant demands of their workload or the nature of the work environment itself.
Burnout inhibits productivity and leaches energy, leaving an individual feeling vulnerable, hopeless, and resentful, all at the same time. Eventually, it may feel like there is nothing more left to offer. And instead of being just a few bad days at work, it’s a problem that interferes significantly with one’s health, happiness and overall quality of life.
The negative impact of work burnout symptoms affects every aspect of life including work, home, and social life. Given the nature of its negative consequences, it’s important to be on the lookout for the first signs of burnout so that remedial action can be taken before things worsen.
When identified early, it is easier to reverse the downward spiral.
The World Health Organisation has identified three areas where burnout symptoms present themselves:
- Physical and emotional debilitation
- Reduced professional efficacy/productivity
- Cynicism and disengagement
In short, if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of professional burnout. You may also start showing detachment, feeling listless, and have difficulty concentrating.
Workplace burnout doesn’t happen overnight, it comes on gradually and many people don’t notice the early warning signs. Therefore, it’s important to understand and recognize the early signs of professional burnout, so that you can take action to prevent burnout developing further.
There are a number of common burnout symptoms, but not everyone experiences all of them. For example, two co-workers might respond to the same stressors differently. One employee might experience physical symptoms of burnout such as insomnia, headaches or fatigue. The other employee may show signs of mental exhaustion, becoming more forgetful, irritable, or depressed.
Here are seven of the most common burnout symptoms:
1. Stress / Anxiety
A little bit of stress at work is okay, and so is an occasional high-stress day. However, if you are constantly experiencing a high level of stress, that’s the first warning sign that workplace burnout is on its way. This is especially true if the stress doesn’t stop when you leave work at the end of the day.
The stress that contributes to professional burnout primarily comes from the job, but other stressors from lifestyle may also add on to this. Contributing factors may include perfectionistic tendencies, a pessimistic view of yourself, the need to be in control or the reluctance to delegate to others, and having a high-achieving type A personality.
Even though burnout results from unrelenting stress, it’s not the same as having excessive stress.
Too much stress involves an overwhelming number of demands on the individual, not only mentally but also physically. However, stressed individuals hope that if somehow they manage to get things under control, they will feel better.
On the other hand, being burned out depicts mental exhaustion by feelings of emptiness, a lack of motivation, and indifference. Those who experience burnout aren’t hopeful of anything changing in their situation.
While stress makes its presence known, people don’t necessarily notice burnout as it happens. So, instead of a sense of urgency or hyperactivity, as in stressful situations, burnout generates hopelessness and helplessness.
2. Physical Illness
When you’re stressed, your body releases chemicals, such as cortisol, which prepare your muscles for the fight or flight response and temporarily pulls resources away from your internal organs and other body functions that aren’t needed in a fight. Your body can handle this in short bursts, but if you’re constantly stressed at work then your health will deteriorate. Your immune system will be depleted, and you will be more susceptible to illness. You’re more likely to catch colds and flus more often, and it will be harder to shake them. You may experience frequent headaches, stomachaches, lack of appetite or even nausea.
In more extreme cases, some people may also experience more severe, stress-related physical symptoms of burnout such as palpitations, shortness of breath, and even fainting spells that can interfere with daily functioning. These symptoms can make it difficult to get or complete work. It may also become harder to recover from illnesses.
In short, the more severe the burnout, the more vulnerable you become.
3. Physical Exhaustion
When you are stressed all day, the cortisol is keeping your body on high alert all day, and that is exhausting.
You feel tired all day, and unfortunately, the stress also keeps you awake at night. Insomnia is a common physical symptom of burnout. The lack of sleep makes you even more exhausted the next day, which reduces your productivity, and in turn causes more stress.
Fatigue seems perpetual with no relief in sight. Being constantly tired makes caring about your work and home life seems like a total waste of energy. The same fatigue may also make you neglect your personal hygiene and self-care.
Physical exhaustion may also present itself as increased absenteeism, procrastination, frustration while on the job, and a low commitment to the role.
4. Cynicism & Apathy
Stress isn’t the only factor that causes workplace burnout, another important factor is the belief that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. You don’t think the situation will ever get any better; the excessive workload will continue; your boss won’t stop treating you unfairly; the crazy workplace procedures won’t change; nothing worthwhile will ever result from all your hard work. This loss of hope combined with resentment at the perceived unfairness of the situation leads to cynicism and apathy.
The symptoms of mental exhaustion, including cynicism, are detectable as it can easily carryover to co-workers. People that you used to like working with now become annoying and irritating. Everything around feels like a burden and you find yourself snapping at people from time to time more and more frequently. It is hard for you to notice this behaviour but everyone else can see it clearly.
5. Reduced Professional Efficacy
If you’re physically and mentally exhausted and not getting enough sleep and feeling a little sick, your mind isn’t going to be as sharp as it used to be. You’ll be more forgetful and find it harder to concentrate and solve problems, and easier to get distracted. The result will be lower productivity. If you’re already struggling under an excessive workload, your lower productivity will increase your stress and push you further towards professional burnout.
As work becomes less important to you, you will become less creative and become more negative towards co-workers or the job itself.
If you start getting the unshakeable feeling that the quality of your work is slipping, it is a tell-tale sign of burnout. You are now in a state of physical depletion, where you can’t perform in your normal range of capabilities.
6. Lack of Patience with Clients and Co-workers
Experiencing more anger is one of the common burnout symptoms. If you are exhausted, stressed, a little sick, or feeling that you are being treated unfairly, then you’re more likely to be impatient with customers or co-workers. If you are experiencing all four of those then it’s almost inevitable that you’ll snap at people who don’t deserve it. This is bad for team morale and productivity, as well as being bad for the company’s bottom line.
Initially, these anger issues may be somewhat limited to interpersonal tension with colleagues, friends or family, but can quickly escalate into angry outbursts and serious arguments in any setting.
7. Absence of Positive Emotions
Another of the common signs of burnout is a reduction in positive emotions and even depression. If you find that you no longer enjoy things that you used to enjoy (even outside of work), then you could be experiencing burnout.
There is an overall loss of enjoyment not only related to the workplace, but one that extends to all areas of life. This sense of pessimism becomes so overwhelming that it leads to developing a perception of utter worthlessness and hopelessness, and then isolation and detachment become the norm.
Organisations play a pivotal role when it comes to creating their corporate culture. Among other components of this culture, it is important to look into burnout prevention strategies that will keep their workforce performing optimally.
Practices such as fostering workplace friendships, providing corporate team bonding activities, and increasing resilience are all great ideas. Others like encouraging staff to exercise, providing laughter workshops, along with mindfulness training can also make time spent at work less overwhelming and more enjoyable.
Contact us now on 1300 889 073 or email us to discuss how we can support your organisation.