Each day feels like a Monday, you hate your job and feel like you're super distant from it? You may be suffering from a case of burnout. The World Health Organisation has included burnout as a standalone medical diagnosis, which was earlier only considered as an additional diagnosis in connection with another mental health problem in its International Classification of Diseases.
It calls it a "vital state of exhaustion" and for the very first time, it is being associated as an occupational hazard.
So how would a person know that they are suffering from burnout? It isn't as easy to define it, says Torsten H. Voigt, Professor of Sociology and Chair of Technology and Diversity at the RWTH Aachen University.
Voigt is also the co-author of a 2017 research paper, 'Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis', which argued that burnout is a real issue and yet its definitions were vague.
The research found that although conversation around it had been on the rise for 40 years, it wasn't "taken seriously and critically analyzed."
Linda V. Heinemann was the other author of the paper.
"One of the challenges is that there are several, sometimes conflicting definitions of burnout," Voigt told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), "This is also why it has not been considered an official mental health issue for so many years, even decades."
American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who is widely considered as the founding father of the concept, describes the state of being burned out as "becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources" in the workplace which characterizes burnout by physical symptoms such as exhaustion, fatigue, frequent headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances, sleeplessness, and shortness of breath, Voigt says.
As for other signs, there may be symptoms of frustration, anger, a suspicious attitude, a feeling of omnipotence or overconfidence, excessive use of tranquilizers and barbiturates, cynicism, and signs of depression, he says.
Burnout also includes many physical symptoms including headaches, stomach issues, muscle tension, and chest pressure. Long-term job stress can lead to more serious conditions: Ulcers, high blood pressure, GURD, and panic disorder.
However, the new definition of burnout in the ICD is threefold. "There are 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," he says.
Burnout is, however, very distinct from depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
If you are one of those who are "the dedicated and the committed" you are most likely to burn out, Freudenberger has said in his research.
"The term burn out implies that at one time the person was performing well and had some degree of job satisfaction but over time the job began to take a toll physically and mentally," said Ken Goodman, Board Member for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and creator of The Anxiety Solution Series at QuietMindSolutions.com.
Voigt says that burnout is a cocktail of stress combined with emotional draining. So if you constantly think about how to overperform and everything in your life is your job, you may want to rethink your approach.
"There are several causes for burnout including stress, often in combination with work that requires a lot of empathy and emotional work, personal involvement and intrinsic motivation. But there are also organizational factors that contribute to it," he points out. These factors include rewarding an employee's efforts, not just in terms of pay but also with other forms of recognition, he says.
"The most common job-related causes of burnout are due to poor management. It is difficult to work long-term for supervisors who micro-manage, set unrealistic expectations, demand long work hours, are unfair, don’t listen, lack empathy, play games, lie, are verbally abusive, take credit for the work of employees, and don’t verbalize praise or appreciation. Working with difficult co-workers, employees, or customers day in and day out can also cause burn out,"Goodman said
"If tasks are monotone and tedious it certainly drains energy more quickly and can lead to what is called burnout," he explained.
Before you decide to jump the gun and hand in your resignation, you may want to wait a bit - the expert says that it's a two-way street if you want to prevent burnout.
"I think it is important to not only focus on the individual but also look at organizational factors," he says, noting that they need to up their game. "I do not see responsibilities as much on the individual as on the organization to prevent burnout."
"Although a conversation with a boss can be intimidating, it can sometimes resolve issues and therefore worth a try. Talking to co-workers you trust about your situation will not only give you an opportunity to vent but if those co-workers feel the same, it will help you feel not so alone. Commiserating makes the job easier," he said, adding that seeking the help from a good therapist can be extremely useful to learn how to cope and that sometimes the best move is to look for another job.
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