Occupational burnout or job burnout is a specific condition induced by work-related stress. It is a state of extreme mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that also implies a sense of diminished accomplishment and loss of identity.

However, burnout is difficult to diagnose medically. It is classified as an occupational phenomenon by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The definition is as follows:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Experts point out that often there is an underlying medical condition such as depression behind the burnout. Often individual factors such as personality traits and family life influence burnout.

Regardless of the cause, occupational burnout can impact your mental and physical well-being. In order to seek help, you must first understand the key symptoms and criteria of job burnout.

Here are some pointers that can help you diagnose burnout:

  • Are you becoming cynical or overly critical at your workplace?
  • Have you lost motivation and initiative?
  • Do you feel irritable or lose patience with coworkers or clients?
  • Have you lost the energy to be productive?
  • Are you experiencing a lack of focus, a lack of satisfaction from achievements?
  • Do you find yourself disillusioned about your work?
  • Do you experience frequent headaches, and stomach or bowel issues?
  • Have your sleep patterns changed?
  • Do you turn to food, alcohol, or drugs to feel better or numb your feelings?

If the answer is yes to many of these questions then you might be going through job burnout. You must consider speaking to a mental health professional to find out the root cause of these feelings.

Risk factors for job burnout

Some of the common reasons why people experience occupational burnout include an unreasonably heavy workload and long working hours, poor work-life balance, work in a healing/helping profession such as veterinary science or health care, loss of control over your responsibilities at work, etc. In 2020, 41 percent of employees surveyed found themselves feeling burned out from the stress of managing work during the pandemic.

But burnout is not just a pandemic phenomenon. As our lives become increasingly fast-paced and digitized, there is increasing pressure to compete and perform at the workplace, sometimes not in the most favourable of circumstances.

Occupational burnout can stem not only from being overworked but also from feeling under-utilized. There are essentially three subtypes of job burnout.

Overload burnout

This is the classic experience of feeling ‘burnt-out’. When people continue to work at an unmanageable pace in the pursuit of success or just to sustain themselves in the workplace, it can lead to an overload of burnout.

Under-challenged burnout

Moderation is key. Just like a heavy workload can cause burnout, a lack of stimulating work can also lead to the same feelings. People need to feel stimulated and challenged to be satisfied in their careers. When they feel disengaged from their work, they lose passion and disconnect.

Neglect burnout

Neglect burnout occurs when a person feels totally helpless in their job and life. When the workplace offers poor support and fails to engage employees meaningfully, it makes team members feel unmotivated and passive.

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Coping with job burnout

It is important to identify the root cause of your burnout and take action. Seek medical help to find out if you have other underlying symptoms such as anxiety or depression. Evaluate your options and discuss your concerns with your immediate superiors. You can certainly work together to change the expectations and create balance. It also helps to speak with friends at the workplace, loved ones, etc to get the support and collaboration you need. Many organizations offer an employee assistance program. You must take advantage of these.

Finding a distracting, relaxing activity becomes all the more important even if you feel overwhelmed with work. Explore programs or activities such as mindfulness, yoga, gardening or simply walking to help you take your mind off work. Regular physical activity can help you cope better with stress and release ‘happy hormones’ that can alleviate the symptoms. It is also necessary to restore your sleep patterns to protect your health.

Last but not least, job burnout is often a wake-up call about life goals and lifestyle choices. Be flexible in your outlook toward personal achievements and your work. Seek the help of professionals such as therapists and executive coaches to better align your career goals and manage your work-life balance.