Burnout is fast becoming endemic in the world of business.

In a recent survey by the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 30% of employees admitted they had experienced symptoms of burnout at some point. With leaders and senior managers, the figure rose to 50%.

So What is Burnout?

Burnout has probably been with us as long as humans hunted and avoided being hunted. We can probably trace it to the industrial revolution when workers were tasked with producing goods within a set time frame to get paid enough to buy food for their families.

It became a badge of failure in the YUPPY days of the eighties epitomized by the Michael Douglas character Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street. “Lunch is for wimps” became the mantra. If you experienced burnout, you could never share it for fear of being branded a failure.

Burn-out is defined in ICD-11 (International Classification of diseases)

“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.

So how do you recognise it?

There are many causes of burnout. Here are my main Four

1. First you have to accept you have a problem, but I link one of the primary causes to the previous topic, i.e. perfectionism. Nothing appears to be good enough. Working long hours, stress and illness all follow. This is perhaps the most dangerous of all the challenges, as, if unchecked, the consequences can be fatal.

2. Stress

Stress may cause burnout, but whereas stress is usually the result of too much to do in too short a time frame, burnout happens over time and results in feeling empty, isolated and both physically and mentally exhausted. There is a resulting feeling of inability to change things or hopelessness. One of the first books on Personal development I ever read was by Dale Carnegie. He suggests three questions to ask when experiencing stress: –

What’s the very worst that can happen?
Prepare to accept the worst
Think of ways to improve on it

What do you do to alleviate stress?

3. Chronic fatigue

A common symptom of burnout is Chronic Fatigue. This is more than tiredness, it is a feeling of exhaustion accompanied by an inability to sleep or waking up frequently. Even simple daily exercise becomes an effort. Memory, concentration, and listlessness are consistently experienced 

4. Procrastination

Where before ‘Burnout’ the individual was decisive and quick thinking, they question their decision making. The hitherto positive mind experiences negative thoughts about their ability. As a result, they put things off or they are“kicked into the long grass” as politicians frequently describe decision making. People who have been successful will often describe procrastination as the first sign of burnout.

The classic response to burnout is to do the things that got you there in the first place.

Workout more, run more and do more. This is precisely why the person experiencing burnout needs help to understand what’s going on.

Treat this malaise like an addiction, because that’s what it is. Yes, it is that serious.

Next time, I’ll look at ways to prevent and avoid ‘Burnout’