What is Burnout?

If you’re feeling stressed out at work, you’re not alone. 83% of US workers are suffering from some kind of work-related stress, which causes one million people to miss work every day.

As more and more people work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, work-related stress may increase as the boundaries between work and home life become blurred. If this stress becomes overwhelming, it can cause burnout.

Burnout is a type of work-related stress. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon‘ in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Though it is not considered a medical condition, WHO notes that it can influence your health, and cause you to reach out to health services.

“Burnout describes the thoughts and feelings associated with feeling overwhelmed and fatigued by life circumstances,” says Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., a practicing therapist and Director of Clinical Effectiveness for Talkspace.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) is a survey designed by Christina Maslach, a psychology professor from the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1980s. The MBI is still used today by health professionals as the main way to assess burnout, and it is the basis for WHO's definition of the condition.

Burnout Symptoms

While burnout includes many of the same symptoms as stress, there are three specific feelings that differentiate burnout:

  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • A lack of enthusiasm and increased negativity towards your job
  • Decreased ability to perform your job

Often, burnout results in depressive symptoms, such as sadness or a lack of hope, O’Neill says. But it can also contribute to a wide range of negative emotions and even physical symptoms, such as:

  • Frustration or anger
  • Irritability or annoyance
  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
  • Physical feelings of stress, such as headaches, stomach issues, body pains, or fatigue

Causes of Work Burnout

A 2018 study of 7,500 workers in the USA showed that employees suffering from burnout are 63% more likely to take sick days, show less confidence in their work performance, and are more than twice as likely to leave their job.
The study found the top reasons for burnout included:

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Lack of clarity in role
  • Not enough communication or support from manager
  • Unrealistic time pressure

Moreover, a selection of studies from the American Institute of Stress found that the biggest sources of stress at work were: ineffective communication (80%); too much workload (39%); demands from their manager or supervisor (35%); and unclear expectations (31%).

As more people work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, O’Neill says many of these problems — poor communication, isolation and lack of support, difficulty meeting deadlines, and environmental distractions — could all worsen feelings of burnout and be difficult on your mental health. -The American Institute of Stress

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is a broadly defined concept that can include emotional, physical, and spiritual distress in those providing care to another. It is associated with caregiving where people or animals are experiencing significant emotional or physical pain and suffering.

Causes of Compassion Fatigue

Feeling empathy for those you care for may seem like a given, it may even be the reason you're doing what you do, but this empathy can often go too far, leading you to feel the symptoms of compassion fatigue as you suffer from another person’s trauma.

Compassion fatigue, or vicarious/secondary trauma, is much more serious than general burnout: it’s a caregiver experiencing trauma after witnessing another’s physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. Concept pioneers McCann and Pearlman define it as “a process through which the caregiving individual’s own internal experience becomes transformed through engagement with the client’s trauma” (1990).

According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, anywhere from 25–50% of healthcare workers experience symptoms of compassion fatigue. Everyone from long-term care workers to family caregivers to emergency room nurses to police officers may find themselves taking on others’ trauma.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

  • Feelings of failure, guilt, self-doubt, sadness, and powerlessness
  • Loss of sleep
  • Reduced sense of efficacy on the job
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling overwhelmed by obligations
  • Apathy and emotional numbness
  • Secretive addictions or self-medicating in a variety of ways
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Exhaustion
  • Intrusion symptoms in thoughts, dreams, or nightmares
  • Bottled-up emotions
  • Pessimism
-Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project