Workplace Burnout: Identifying Early Signs and Implementing Self-Care Strategies

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Thanks to today’s stressful, packed, and demanding work lives, workplace burnout has become an enormous problem affecting several people and businesses worldwide. Workplace burnout poses considerable hazards to the well-being and health of an individual but it can also have negative impacts on the efficacy and productivity of organisations. It can be identified by looking out for signs, such as emotional fatigue, consistent work stress, and a sense of detachment from the work. It is important to look out for such behaviours to detect what’s going on before it is too late, as sometimes people get too muddled up between work and personal life. These warning signs seem to get ignored and not taken seriously.1

A brief introduction to workplace burnout

The term ‘workplace’ burnout or exhaustion is an occupation-related syndrome brought on by long-term, persistent workplace stress that is not adequately treated. Burnout can be evaluated and measured using scientific knowledge. It has been described as continuous emotional fatigue, psychological inaccessibility, negative emotions, and feelings of incompetence. All of these factors together create a state in which occupational stressors can not be effectively handled by typical rest and sleep during office breaks, evenings, weekends, and other days off. (WHO)

Workplace burnout is one of the growing concerns in today’s rapidly moving and chaotic work environments. Burnout could also occur when our work-life balance becomes distorted. This has become more and more prevalent during the last decade, as remote work has become a more available option.

Burnout could also be defined as the state of constant stress influenced by mental, physical, and emotional fatigue and exhaustion that could have dire consequences affecting both the employee and the employer. In the preceding sections, we’ll take a look at the initial warning signs of burnout and discuss how important it is to recognise the symptoms promptly.

Early signs of workplace burnout

Burnout at work can take many forms, often appearing slowly and getting worse. It may sometimes disguise itself as other ailments, like depression and regular fatigue.  

So how can one actually spot burnout? Here are some early indicators of burnout:3,4

  • Exhaustion and fatigue

We all know the feeling of some days finding it hard to get out of bed in the early hours to begin work. We also understand what it's like to be working on a hard project for a long time and eagerly waiting to take a few days off. Although these feelings can be mistaken as burnout, these kinds of feelings usually become persistent when someone is facing burnout. The early signs of exhaustion and fatigue can be persistent feelings of mental and physical fatigue and tiredness. Workers could find it hard to concentrate and they might experience headaches and body aches all day. 

  • Cynicism

Apart from experiencing constant fatigue and exhaustion, workers could also experience an overwhelming feeling of detachment and disconnection, or even feeling cynical about the workplace. Burnout could also be indicated by a sudden shift in one’s perception of one’s job and colleagues. This altered perception could give rise to cynical feelings about the workplace.5

  • Decreased motivation

Burnout may also be recognised by a noticeable decrease in motivation and enthusiasm for work-related tasks. Employees could also experience disinterest in their jobs. Workers suffering from burnout may also call in sick every other day just to get away from the stress of the job.

  • Troubles in concentrating

The mental strain caused by burnout can cause difficulty in concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things. This ends up causing a decrease in motivation for work. Maybe you were good at work once, but lately, you feel like you are losing ground. Maybe your boss and your clients do not notice the changes but you are aware of how your work productivity and quality have declined just because you don’t feel motivated enough to do your job. 

  • Physical indicators

Physical signs of burnout include migraines, digestive issues, and even chest pain. Although there could be a lack of scientific explanation for these symptoms, burnout and workplace stress could be the culprit. 

Stages of burnout

Generally, burnout doesn’t happen overnight. Researchers at Winona State University found that burnout occurs following five different stages:6

  • The honeymoon stage

Typically, one doesn’t even feel burnout in the early phases. Maybe you’ve just gotten a new job or landed a new promotion, and you are simply overwhelmed by the new opportunities coming your way. You are feeling incredibly productive, focused, and determined and you may start to overwork just to prove yourself. At this point, you’re prone to burnout but the signs are not noticeable so you neglect and maintain this unhealthy work, stress relationship. Now, the trick to balance all of it is to maintain the same energy and motivation even while overworking. 

  • Meeting the stress

Once the initial sparks start to fade, you’ll observe a decrease in your energy. There might be some days when you feel highly motivated and would go beyond your capacity to perform. Now you’ve most likely missed a meal and slowly you’d start missing more meals. The anxiety and stress now starts to build up. You might start feeling panicked and agitated. 

  • Constant stress

Now you begin to notice that stress has become your constant friend. It may sometimes keep you up all night and as a result, you’ll arrive late to work. You’d be behind on deadlines and now you’re constantly anxious about your work as your work productivity declines. 

  • Burnout

Ultimately, prolonged periods of constant stress lead to burnout. You’ll now notice all the signs of burnout, such as emotional disturbances, physical, and mental health decline, and many more. Not only will your work suffer but your personal life will be affected by it. At times, you'd experience the need just to run away. 

  • Chronic burnout

If not handled, burnout can become your default condition, and you may find it difficult to remember your previous life. If you aren't aware you're burnt out, you may even assume that you’re just being frustrated. At this point, burnout at work has a significant impact on both your professional and personal life.

Implementing self-care strategies

Here are five simple strategies to help prevent burnout:7,8

  1. Manage workloads

Using simple technologies, such as time monitoring or electronic planning software, can help managers set clear priorities for tasks to be completed. Creating flexibility and regular breaks can help reduce the stress of tight deadlines while also providing staff with the space they need to be effective.

  1. Engage in different activities

Look for hobbies that might relieve tension. Examples include yoga, meditation, and tai chi. Taking a few deep breaths throughout the day might help ease tension.

  1. Practice meditation

Mindfulness and meditation mean being aware of what is happening inside and around you without judging or reacting. This technique can help you deal with what's happening in the workplace.

  1. Support from others

Seek helping hands from coworkers, friends, and family. Talking with others may help you cope. Feeling like you belong helps to prevent burnout. Consider the services provided by your employer's employee assistance program.

  1. Fix the root cause

To deal with burnout on the job and avoid having to deal with it again, it's critical to get to the bottom of the problem. Whatever the source, identifying and resolving it can ensure that you overcome burnout for good. Getting to the core of the problem, however, needs a great lot of self-reflection. Therefore, don't be afraid to seek help from a mental health expert if you find you can't do it alone.

Conclusion

Recognising the early indications and symptoms of burnout allows individuals to make proactive efforts toward self-care and well-being. Individuals who recognise warning signs, such as increasing irritation, exhaustion, and diminished motivation should intervene early to avoid burnout from worsening. Self-care practices such as setting boundaries, practising mindfulness, keeping a healthy work-life balance, and seeking assistance from colleagues or professionals are critical for fostering resilience and sustaining mental and physical health. Prioritising self-care not only helps individuals cope with work responsibilities but also promotes a culture of well-being inside organisations, resulting in higher productivity, contentment, and overall success.

References

  1. Beating Burnout. Harvard Business Review [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://hbr.org/2016/11/beating-burnout.
  2. Burnout and stress are everywhere. https://www.apa.org [Internet]. [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2022/01/special-burnout-stress.
  3. Employers need to focus on workplace burnout: Here’s why. https://www.apa.org [Internet]. [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://www.apa.org/topics/healthy-workplaces/workplace-burnout.
  4. Bradley M, Chahar P. Burnout of healthcare providers during COVID-19. CCJM [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://www.ccjm.org/content/early/2020/07/01/ccjm.87a.ccc051.
  5. Work Burnout Signs: What to Look for and What to Do about It. Boston University [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://www.bu.edu/articles/2022/work-burnout-signs-symptoms/.
  6. ApS N. Burnout in the Workplace (Causes, Signs & Advice). Novorésumé [Internet]. [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://novoresume.com/career-blog/burnout-in-the-workplace.
  7. Know the signs of job burnout. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642.
  8. Bye Bye Burnout: Four Ways to Keep Employees Engaged and Avoid Burnout [Internet]. [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://workplaces.org/articles/bcwi-resource/blog/bye-bye-burnout-four-ways-to-keep-employees-engaged-and-avoid-burnout.

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Fariha Ahsan

Doctor of Physical Therapy, United Medical and Dental College UMDC, Karachi, Pakistan

Fariha is a dedicated Doctor of Physical Therapy with a strong desire to promote public healthcare and holistic health practices. She feels passionate about sharing meaningful insights through her writing and has several years of experience producing varying kinds of content, particularly in the healthcare niche. Aside from that, she experienced working at a private clinic and the Bosch Medicus Institute. Currently, she works as a virtual medical assistant at ClinicFone, Canada.She is working toward her objective and is excited to contribute to public research.

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