In today’s rapidly changing professional environment, what is known as burnout is becoming increasingly common. Once rarely diagnosed, work-related burnout is now recognized and can be addressed. However, to do so, it’s essential to first recognize the early warning signs in order to find the most relevant solutions. Ultimately, what are the real causes of burnout, and how can it be avoided? These are the questions we will attempt to answer. Indeed, equivalent to the English term “burnout,” we can refer to the syndrome of professional exhaustion as “physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion resulting from prolonged investment in emotionally demanding work situations.” Thus, in the context of ever more intensive management that listens to its teams, our training organization, Quality Training, accompanies you to better understand this complex issue that a portion of the population may suffer from. The goal is to define this exhaustion syndrome, improve its identification and management, and also understand how to best support your employees upon their return to work after a crisis.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Often referred to by its English term “burnout,” work-related exhaustion is a psychological disorder resulting from chronic and particularly intense stress in the workplace. As we’ll see in more detail, this condition can be very dangerous for the person experiencing its effects. To avoid it, it’s crucial to recognize the early warning signs. These signs can be quite diverse in frustrating and demotivating work conditions. They include difficulties concentrating, feelings of failure, or intense fatigue. If the work conditions continue to be difficult or, worse, if they worsen and create a toxic atmosphere, a vicious cycle can develop.
For a person beginning to experience work-related burnout, it’s important to identify the initial symptoms fairly quickly in order to provide care and assistance as soon as possible. Burnout can manifest through various physical or psychological signs. Let’s identify the main ones:
- Emotional symptoms: These are the easiest for those in close proximity to recognize, quickly indicating that something is wrong. This can involve irritability, hypersensitivity, complete emotional numbness, or even memory and attention issues. In the context of work, burnout will also be noticeable by a lack of focus on assigned tasks. The individual will also experience high anxiety, muscular tension, and mood changes.
- Behavioral symptoms: Again, these are significant effects to identify, even though most of them pertain to an advanced stage of burnout. In serious cases, the afflicted person may display aggressive or even violent behavior, become increasingly unempathetic, and feel deep hostility toward colleagues.
- Attitude symptoms: As the syndrome takes hold, the person in distress will progressively disengage from their professional life. This can result in doubts about their own abilities, a profound decrease in motivation and morale, as well as significant sleep disturbances.
What Are the Solutions?
Nevertheless, strong fatigue or passing irritability may not necessarily indicate a deeper problem. Identifying the warning signs is just the first step. The next step is for the employee to seek treatment and be assisted by a professional. This could involve their primary care physician, occupational health physician, or even the workplace health team. Generally, communication between the occupational health physician and the patient’s primary care physician is necessary. The goal of treatment is to address the identified disorder by medical professionals. Most often, a period of sick leave is required. Its duration should be adapted according to the context and the disorder’s progression. In some cases, involvement of a psychiatrist might be solicited. They can perform a psychopathological diagnosis and prescribe appropriate treatment. Treatment with antidepressants could be considered when symptoms indicate. Indeed, some individuals experiencing burnout suffer from severe stress episodes and chronic depression.
How to Prevent Work-Related Burnout?
We’ve seen how to treat a significant case of work-related burnout. However, before anything else, for genuine fulfillment at work, certain keys must be taken into account to prevent falling into a vicious cycle that could be difficult to escape. Because, indeed, burnout is one of the greatest ills of our century. Many medical consultations address this issue, and numerous companies face this problem among their employees. Clearly, this also involves questioning the responsibility of managers and business leaders. But above all, we will explore how to avoid finding oneself in this state from the employee’s perspective, caught in a pressure that they can no longer manage on their own.
Keys to Combatting Burnout
We will identify certain keys that will help you fight potential work-related burnout, allowing you to be more comfortable in your environment, both at work and in your life as a whole.
Indeed, burnout is particularly dangerous for extremely ambitious individuals who feel invincible and are willing to give their all to work, even at the risk of endangering their physical and emotional health. We can only advise you to be cautious with your own mental well-being, to know how to set boundaries, and to sometimes create some distance from your ambitions.
Promote Communication with Colleagues!
This is a key that is simply essential in the fight against work-related burnout. Whether in relationships, private circles, or the workplace, communication remains the key to fulfillment. For this reason, don’t hesitate to establish a genuine relationship of trust and communication with your superiors and colleagues. For example, if you feel that your tasks are too overwhelming and you’re afraid of not meeting all the objectives, talk about it!
Don’t Aim for Perfection Right Away!
In many burnout cases, it’s often young employees, in their first jobs, who find themselves experiencing work-related exhaustion. The cause? These individuals haven’t yet found their place in the workforce and try to do everything perfectly in record time. This is a recurring problem among young employees. They quickly want to throw themselves entirely into their work, even if it means burning out.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle!
As you might expect, having good health and an appropriate lifestyle is fundamental to avoiding drowning in work-related stress and pressure. Regular physical activity is likely the best possible treatment to counter potential work-related stress. Therefore, we recommend engaging in physical activity at least 2 to 3 times a week. You can choose from various sports such as swimming, weightlifting, or team sports, in order to encourage interactions outside of your private and professional spheres.
Say Yes to Digital Detox!
In our time, where a computer or phone is never far away, it’s difficult to leave work behind. Depending on your position or field of work, it can be challenging not to be tempted to check emails or follow the latest news. To address this, we advise you to stay as far away from screens as possible during your vacations and weekends. Your health depends on it. Say yes to complete disconnection, allowing you to refocus on yourself and have your own moments with your family, away from any unnecessary stress.
Is Self-Assessment of Burnout a Good Solution?
Burnout is a form of professional exhaustion that affects both the mental and physical well-being of the individual involved. As we’ve seen, there are numerous warning signs that help understand when someone isn’t well and needs to be helped as soon as possible by loved ones or a healthcare professional. Moreover, it’s not uncommon for those most affected by work-related exhaustion to be the ones whose job involves helping others. Thus, caregivers, teachers, or social workers can be susceptible to this increasingly common issue. To assess your current state, there’s a test that can determine if you fall into this category. It’s called the Maslach Burnout Inventory. It’s based on the original version of the MBI, consisting of about twenty questions exploring three main themes: emotional exhaustion, dehumanization, and your sense of accomplishment at work.
How to Manage the Return to Work?
Work-related burnout can be effectively treated, but the final step is crucial and concerns the return to work after a difficult and challenging period for the employee’s health. This return to the environment that caused significant health issues must be well-prepared. To do this, we first recommend organizing regular visits between the employee and their doctor throughout their recovery period. These visits will allow the doctor to assess the employee’s health status and fully support them in their return to work. These visits are also mandatory for sick leave exceeding 3 months. After a pre-return visit, the doctor can make recommendations, including adjustments to the workplace if necessary. This support is essential, as it not only aids the employee’s return to work but also their ongoing presence in the company following burnout, helping them find their place again. Managers also play a role. They are a key component and must continue to monitor the employee to identify potential signs of relapse.
In summary, work-related burnout is a highly relevant topic within companies. An increasing number of individuals are affected by this condition, and to address it effectively—both from the perspective of affected employees and their employers—no sign should be ignored. As specialists in managerial training, our organization, Quality Training, is here to support you in the best possible way.