The phrase “burn-out syndrome” has been credited to German-born psychologist Herbert Freudenberger who first used the term in a study of the condition in 1974. Having observed the symptoms in some of his colleagues and later experiencing it himself, he described the state of being burnt-out as “becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources”. A large number of studies appeared on the subject over the following forty years so although it has been recognised for a number of years, it was not considered an actual mental disorder
Recently however, a report from The World Health Organisation officially listed it as a legitimate medical diagnosis. In the handbook for doctors and health insurers, the International Classification of Diseases, it is now listed as ICD-11 under “Problems associated with employment or unemployment’ with the guidelines categorising it showing the following symptoms:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- reduced professional efficacy.
This official listing does now mean that employers may need to start considering burnout in relation to the culture and leadership aspects of the company as well as in the role employees have in managing their own wellbeing. If a link is found between workplace stress/burn-out and poor management and leadership practices, organisations will start to face in-depth scrutiny and burnout may become something they will need to factor in to their corporate environment.
Many factors can affect burnout. At the lower end of the job market, people are stuck in a cycle of low pay, higher costs and decreased job security whilst in the white collar market there is the requirement to work longer and harder to ‘bring in a project’ or meet a deadline. This type of pressure can be seen as exciting and positive, but the situation can lead to increased stress, reduced sleep and heightened anxiety. Other causes of burnout include:
- A lack of autonomy or control over your work
- Not having enough time to finish tasks and projects
- Differing values between you and your organisation or role
- Unclear goals or job expectations
- A dysfunctional team or organisation
- An excessive workload
- A lack of support from your manager or organisation
- Little or no recognition for your work
- Monotonous or low-stimulation work.
So, people experience burn-out for a variety of reasons but, whatever its source, it’s effects can lead to cognitive and emotional debilitation. Whilst in many cases a full recovery can be made, it is an often an unnecessary and completely preventable aspect of working life.
The consequences of burnout can be severe and impact not just on an individual but their team and organisation as well. Whether looking at burnout from a corporate or individual perspective, the need is to focus on strategies that will have a deep impact, and create lasting change that builds a culture where both individuals and organisations can take informed decisions about stress levels.
Listen to our latest podcast to hear Dr Russell Thackeray on Burnout and Resilience where he talks about the responsibilities that managers and individuals have about burnout, how it develops and what needs to be done to alleviate it.
Alternatively visit our Burnout page to find out more!