Are you stuck in a job that’s so stressful and unrewarding it is starting to leave you frustrated and disengaged? Do you sit at your desk and wish the day away? These are the early signs of burnout. Chronic burnout weakens every area of your life, from your daily engagement and resourcefulness to your natural motivation and satisfaction. It literally robs you of your excitement and joy for life.
Defined as a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by workplace stress, according to research burnout is responsible for up to half of annual turnover in the workplace. Originally coined by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Christina Maslach, burnout is responsible for leaving us feeling hopeless, disengaged and apathetic towards our job. This bleeds out of our profession and into our daily lives and can manifest as disappointment and repressed shame, isolation and collapse.
What causes work burnout:
While most cases of burnout can be caused by subjective individual factors, it is normally as a result of organizational issues. There have been many debates over the years about what causes burnout. Which leaves the average employee totally confused. So how do we end up in a place where our eyes are glued to the clock and we no longer care enough to achieve? Most people sit halfway on the descent to burnout, so it’s important to recognise the causes so you can stop burnout in its tracks.
1 – Lack of control
A lack of control at work is directly linked to burnout. When we believe we have the ability to influence decisions that affect our jobs like our schedule, assignments or workload, we become far more engaged and productive. According to research individuals with more autonomy felt more optimistic, were far more efficient and had much higher levels of self esteems as a result. If you are unclear about your level of control in what you do, then you’re not likely to feel comfortable in your professional life.
So how does it look at work? Maybe you feel like you lack a say in decisions that impact your working life, how you do your job, what your work environment looks like or when you take a break. Maybe you don’t have a say in your working time or with whom you work. Sounds simple, and almost even obvious, but trust me these are subliminal messages that result in tiny shifts along the burn out curve. Having that sense of control gives us a sense of purpose.
2 – Overwhelming workload
Unrealistic and conflicting priorities can make it hard to manage a heavy workload, which results in burnout. When we have a workload that fits our ability and capacity, we can get our work done effectively. Focusing on one task at a time allows us to prioritize and not become distracted.
Think back to a day when you got nothing done as a result of being overwhelmed. Perhaps you weren’t able to focus in and complete a single task fully. Having a workload that is manageable means we are able to rest and recover. We can feel the dopamine rush that comes with finishing a task and know that we can now step away from the to-do list and recover. Taking adequate amounts of time outside of work to rest, and enjoy life is vital in order to recharge your batteries. If you are not recharging enough you will constantly be running on the back burner.
3 – Insufficient rewards
If the rewards for your job don’t match the effort and time you put in, then you are more likely to feel the investment wasn’t worth it. Do you feel like each time you finish something no-one cares or acknowledges your work? Whether you are talking about tangible or intangible rewards, a lack of either can greatly increase your vulnerability to burnout. The equation is simple, more work plus less reward equal dissatisfaction. We tend to feel taken advantage of if our work is not recognised. According to Dr Geri Puleo when we feel appreciated for our hard work and acknowledged then that can serve as just a bigger reward as any promotion or pay rise can.
4 – Lack of community
A workplace environment that isolates people from one another is a source of stress for a lot of people. However, it is unresolved conflict that causes eventual burnout. Perhaps you have a toxic work colleague that wears you down, or you feel undermined by a colleague or your boss who is constantly micromanaging your work. The dynamics of your work environment greatly affects your job satisfaction. Feeling a sense of community is a natural prehistoric factor for human happiness. When we experience conflict, it normally leads to hostility, feelings of a lack of support and as a result, raised stress levels.
5 – Unfair policies and decisions
Do you believe that you receive unfair treatment at work? For example, do other people get praised for your work? Do other employees get more flexibility with their work times? Have you been regularly criticized for something that others get away with? Bias and unfair treatment demoralises us and is a direct cause of burnout.
6 – Conflict of values
Do you notice your motivation to work hard for your company starting to significantly drop? Think back to the values, ideals and motivations that first attracted you to the job. Do you feel that they have changed? Shared values are extremely important in the workplace, knowing you are all working towards the same goal and ideals creates more motivation and satisfaction. When we start to feel our values are no longer shared or at least discussed, then we start the descent into burnout.
Spotting and understanding these causes is extremely important for your mental wellbeing at work. Visit Journify to discover how to manage and prevent burnout for yourself.
About the author: Sasha Worrall is a writer, professional musician and health nerd based in the UK. She is passionate about understanding mental and physical health and has spent many years learning from techniques around the world. When not working she can be found wandering the local farmer’s market, reading in a cosy cafe or cooking for the people she loves. You can find her on Instagram at @sashaworrall.