Last May 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that burn-out is an “occupational phenomenon”.
Often confused with depression, the WHO classifies burn-out as a distinct condition by defining it in the “occupational context”.
The 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) places it in a section related to employment or unemployment and stated that it “should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
Depression affects people in all aspects of their lives, which makes it different from burn-out. Burn-out is specific to the workplace as often people who are going through burn-out will notice that the ‘heaviness’ or burn-out symptoms which have gone on for so long are lifted as soon as they get away from work.
Conventional wisdom has it that disconnecting from work, even just having just a quiet weekend, or going on a quick nature getaway can help address burn-out and there’s some evidence that that is true.
Whatever the coping mechanism, the distinction is clear: burn-out is caused by one’s job or occupation.
What are the symptoms of burn-out?
People who have gone through burn-out, including me, know full well that it creeps in slowly.
As we’re always busy and preoccupied, we tend to ignore it until it’s fully taken over us. It zaps us of any and all motivation for our jobs. The hardest thing is, the responsibilities aren’t going anywhere, so we still need to show up and get to work.
Still not sure if what you’re feeling is really burn-out? Check the following burn-out symptoms that the WHO laid out.
They defined burn-out as, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
- Feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion
- Increased mental distance from the job that one holds or even negative feelings or cynicism towards it.
- Your professional efficacy is reduced.
How to manage burn-out
Burn-out was first really recognized by the medical community after observations made by Dr. Hans Selye, who pioneered the field of stress research.
He made the stress model “General Adaptation Syndrome” (GAS) in 1936. This study led to the discovery that stress causes infections, chronic diseases, and death.
Dr. Selye broke down the three phases of how our bodies respond to stress:
1. Alarm Stage
This first phase happens when you recognize the stressor, and your body copes by going on either fight or flight mode. When this happens, the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are released.
At this point, you can either see yourself working harder — fight response, or becoming less productive due to stress symptoms such as high blood pressure, insomnia, or increasing anxiety — flight responses.
This is when the body adapts to the stressors. We get used to it. At this stage, we keep ourselves busy, thinking that we’ve adjusted, and go through the motions and everyday demands of the job.
However, being the adaptable beings that we are, this only means that the body and our immune-system have started to be constantly alert, and our bodies now functioning at a dangerously high level. Depending on a person’s stress levels, this will go on until the third stage.
Think of this as the crash and burn stage, and it’s the end result that we need to avoid.
There are different ways that our bodies manifest exhaustion. In the case of burn-out, some people get sick, some breakdown and cry, and others explode with rage.
At the very first sign of burn-out, we need to find ways to regain our work-life balance, or, if all else fails, leave the draining job. This is both for your sanity and overall good health.
Personal ways to deal with burn-out
Here are the ways you can start taking a breather and find balance. Remember though, only you know what works BEST for you in dealing with burn-out.
Take some time off. Go offline for longer periods. Weigh things over, if it’s still worth keeping your job or not.
Set clearer goals
If you ever decide to stay, how long do you think you can maintain that motivation again? Write your goals down. Plan and execute.
Set healthy boundaries
Learn to say ‘No’. Whether it be to co-workers, your boss, or the little things that drain you of your energy.
Talk to your boss
Is your burn-out stemming from a lack of growth? Talk to your boss on any possibilities of growth opportunities such as seminars, promotion, or lateral move.
Find a hobby
It could be regular workouts, a sport, or any type of creative output you like. It’s very important to build discipline and learn new skills outside of your regular job. It not only gets your mind off things, but it can also expand your social circle, and build your confidence.
You might even start earning income through this new endeavor.
Outside of the Typical Work Set-up – Business, or Relationship
Find some time for yourself. Sometimes you just need to reset in someplace where there are no distractions.
Set healthy boundaries
Learn to say ‘No’. Be clear and specific on your own terms moving forward. Whether it’s with your business or partner, it’s important that you communicate and respect each other’s views.
Go for a run
Can’t take a break? Go for a run for at least 20 minutes. There’s been a lot of research on how jogging or running boosts your mood. Even if it’s just for a while.
Learn to put yourself first
As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Prioritize your health and well-being, and everything else will follow.
If you need motivation on how to get started, follow successful people on social media and get ideas from their self-care routines.
If possible, you can take a longer time off from your business if you learn to trust the people that work for you and delegate some of your responsibilities or tasks to them.
Organizational changes that can help with burn-out
It is important for an organization to be aware of the feelings of their employees, especially if many of them are suffering from burn-out.
If they observe that they have high attrition rates it could be a sign that the work, work environment, or the boss is toxic.
On the employer level, we can all learn from companies like Google, who are well-known for their huge office perks that are meant to help employees cope with job stress.
Free food, massage, and sleeping pods are just a few of the things that Google tries to give its employees. Needless to say however, they are already a large company, and all these perks won’t be feasible for all organizations.
Employees for big companies can also turn to their worker’s union to request for changes they deem fit for the good of everyone in the company.