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Glossary: HR & Recruiting Definitions

What is burnout?

Burnout is an ‘occupational phenomenon’ that occurs when an individual experiences chronic workplace stress. It is a syndrome that has a deeply negative impact on a person’s emotional, physical and mental wellbeing.

Being under too much pressure, having too heavy of a workload, or having an uneven work-life balance can all cause burnout. Left untreated, burnout can evolve into depression, anxiety and affect other areas of life, alongside work.

  • Important note: Burnout syndrome is not to be confused with “boreout”. Although the symptoms of burnout and boreout are similar, the latter is caused by being severe under-challenged at work. Since becoming stagnant or feeling ‘stuck’ can also cause internal stress, boreout syndrome also often results in mental and physical exhaustion.

What causes burnout?

Occupational burnout is typically caused by a mix of issues. Receiving too high of a workload or having too many expectations set on an individual can cause them to push themselves and ignore their other needs to try and meet these goals.

Some careers are more prone to burnout than others, and should have a higher focus on preventing burnout from occurring. 

This includes careers with high pressure and low opportunities for rest, such as doctors, nurses and other care professionals. These are at an increased risk of occupational burnout, due to the nature of their profession.

Certain personality types are also more prone to burnout. For instance, ‘perfectionists,’ those who have a strong desire to be in control and employees with a huge ambition to ‘get ahead’ are at risk of becoming burned out at work. External circumstances, such as a new child or a change in relationships at home, can also increase the danger of an employee becoming burned out.

What are the typical burnout symptoms?

Burnout symptoms vary from person to person and are dependent on how long the syndrome goes untreated. For example, in the early stages of burnout, the symptoms tend to be more emotional and psychological, whereas physical symptoms tend to come later. Nevertheless, some common symptoms are likely to manifest themselves early in the employee’s behaviour.

The most typical signs of burnout syndrome are as follows: 

Behavioural symptoms of burnout

  • Reduced productivity and performance at work
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Decreased memory capacity
  • Complete lack of engagement and listlessness
  • Permanent fatigue, or even sleeping on the job
  • Lack of creativity and forward-thinking skills
  • Tension, panic, aggression, emotional outbursts or apathy
  • Increased impulsivity and impatience
  • Frequent nicotine and coffee consumption
  • In extreme cases, clear signs of alcoholism may be present

Physical symptoms of burnout

  • Unusually frequent colds
  • Tension, neck and back pain
  • Frequent headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Gastrointestinal disorders

What should you do if an employee is suffering from burnout?

Have you already spotted some of these burnout symptoms in an employee? If so, it’s best to approach the matter quickly, as occupational burnout can rapidly get worse if left untreated.

Start a conversation about burnout

The first step towards burnout recovery is to establish a confidential conversation. Bringing the problem to their attention in a friendly and informal manner is a great first step.

Work together to find causes and solutions for burnout

The second recovery step is to work together to find out whether the causes are of a professional or private nature. If at least a basic cause can be found, companies should support their affected employees in finding initial solutions – for example, with finding a suitable therapist.

Take appropriate measures to prevent burnout

Depending on the causes of burnout syndrome, different measures should be taken. Put short, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach when discussing how to recover from burnout.

Some people are helped by a reduction in workload or working hours, others by a remote workplace. Hiring a new team member to help take pressure off of the employee suffering from burnout can be a huge help for someone suffering from a large volume of work, for example.

The important thing is that the measures are individually defined, initiated quickly and maintained for an appropriate length of time. Checking in regularly to see if the support is helping, or if more support is needed can really help.

How can companies prevent burnout? 

  • Encourage conversation: Listening closely to your team’s thoughts and feedback is essential for recognizing burnout symptoms.
  • Conduct regular surveys: Companies should regularly ask how employees are feeling about their current workload and pressure levels. 
  • Encourage breaks: This covers everything from simple lunch breaks to paid time off and sick days!

Find other useful tips on how to avoid burnout in your team in our useful guide.

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