Drained from your work week?
A typical career experiences peaks and troughs when it comes to business. Busier times are often associated with success and carry a sort of glamour, a promise of success- and sure, being bored can be just as stressful as being overworked. However, we must focus on the nature of our exertions to see if they are worth it.
Accomplished psychoanalyst Herbert J. Freudenberger described burnout as “a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.” The World Health Organisation conceptualizes the syndrome as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. With definitions like this, it’s hard to know where to draw the line in the sand. How much is too much? How drained is too drained?
Take a look at the 12 stages of burnout to tune into your status quo. Note, the stages are not necessarily in order. Not every individual experiences all, and some can run concurrently.
1: Excessive Ambition
Burnout commonly starts when people feel the constant need to prove themselves. All aspects of work appear to be can’t-miss opportunities to further their careers. Like people-pleasers, these people struggle to say “no”.
2: Working Harder
In an escalation of stage 1, people take on more work than they can handle in an effort to become indispensable. They hold high standards and do not have confidence in delegating, compelled to complete work on their own.
3: Neglecting Needs
Sleeping, eating, exercising, and spending time with loved ones get pushed aside to accommodate more work. Interestingly, this can be a comfort zone for people who may not see a real problem- but, since we know the brain literally starts eating itself with insufficient sleep, it’s not ideal.
Stage 4: Displacement of Conflict
Meetings are forgotten, late arrivals start happening and emails fall through the cracks. Small mistakes appear, leading to mild conflicts for which the individual avoids responsibility. They feel defensive in the face of all their sacrifices, and a breakdown in communication begins to occur.
Stage 5: Revision of Values
Self worth comes from work. Friends, family, hobbies are repeatedly dismissed, their value now increasingly diminished in comparison to the worth of work. There is a justification of priorities without sober consideration of the ramifications.
Stage 6: Denial of Emerging Problems
Relationships become harder.The individual continues feeling more frustration and becomes bitter towards ‘lazy’ coworkers, time pressure and work, without factoring in the impact of the other life changes that have occurred.
Note: Between stages 6 and 7, there is a line where the situation starts becoming critical.
Stage 7: Social Withdrawal
Social contact is reduced to a minimum because the presence of others resembles an inconvenient intrusion. Loved ones are seen as a burden, rather than a support system. People in this stage are susceptible to stimuli they can control for gratification, for e.g. alcohol.
Stage 8: Obvious Behaviour Changes
Things are not ok and people are noticing. Nothing matters to the individual, who is now making more obvious lifestyle changes.
Stage 9: Depersonalization
The person has now isolated themself from all things, except for work. They are oblivious to any signalling of their own unmet needs, because they don’t know what those needs are anymore. Their focus is survival and their perception of time has narrowed to existing from moment to moment.
Stage 10: Inner Emptiness
Uselessness, anxiety, and fatigue characterize their inner world. In a desperate attempt to counter these feelings, other activities are sought. These may be exaggerated, and lead to overeating, excessive drinking, or sexual activity.
Stage 11: Depression
The previous stage, if not addressed, progresses to a baseline level of depressive feelings.
Individuals in this place are now indifferent, exhausted, and see no hope for change.
Stage 12: Burnout Syndrome
This is the true mental, emotional and physical collapse, and is commonly characterized by the experience of suicidal thoughts. The situation has become an emergency.
The decline from employee-of-the-month to Burnout Syndrome paints a sobering picture of the importance of work-life balance. Judith Schmitt, business trainer and burnout expert, recommends that people consciously find ways to replenish their resources in the same measure that their workplace stressors (poor communication, bad management, time pressure, etc.) deplete them. Using the image of an energy tank, she asks: “What specific activity has emptied your tank today? What specific activity will fill it up for tomorrow?”
The key is to keep that tank flowing.
By Marina Andreoli-Laubscher
Mental Health Writer