What Is Burnout? Causes, Signs And Symptoms, Prevention And Treatment

Burnout has adverse effects on your mental health



Who never feels overwhelmed or extremely stretched from time to time? Burnout can affect anyone at a workplace; however, the recent reports show there is a rise among the reported cases from entrepreneurs, freelancers and not to mention the business owners; which equates to more than 55% of the newly reported cases globally. It does not only affect your work output but also your life on and off from work; it affects your health, mental well being, and your relation with others.

What Is Burnout?

There has not been a clear definition of burn out. However, the World Health Organization in May 2019 classified burnout as, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” which was previously referred to as, “state of vital exhaustion.”

To my understanding, burnout can be described as the loss or the decline of meaning in one’s work which is coupled with physical, mental or emotional exhaustion which results from unresolved and long term stress. The World Health Organization sensitizes that burnout to be only work-related, thus should not be used to describe stresses from other extents of life-giving characteristics as:-

  • Decline ineffectiveness in your work
  • Becoming negative or cynical about work
  • Experiencing exhaustion or depletion

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

When getting up every other day to work report to work we need to have a determination of an ant. However, this does not always happen as we often experience the feeling of helplessness, unappreciated or overloaded.

Burnouts are gradual and do not happen in a day or over a short period. The signs and symptoms are elusive and become severe as time goes by. Burnout symptoms have a wider effect on an individual as far as it is a psychological disorder, sharing symptoms equivalent to those of a mental health issue and not as a mental illness.

Burnouts are more likely to result when employees;

  • Have a constant feeling of incompetent
  • Set too many expectations from themselves
  • Are in roles that don’t fit them jobs
  • Have stroppy expectations placed upon them
  • Never feel like they are giving enough output at work
  • General symptoms
  • The decrease in the productivity levels
  • Depleted energy levels
  • Prone to illness
  • Demotivation from work
  • Mental, physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Impartiality in personal relationships
  • Cynic outlook on your life or your work
  • Absenteeism from work
Emotional Signs and Symptoms of Burnout;
  • Motivation loss
  • Increase in negativity and cynical perceptions
  • Feeling lonely and distancing from others
  • The feeling of defeat or trapped
  • Decline of motivation
  • Sense of self-doubt
  • The decrease in the sense of accomplishment
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Burnout;
  • Change in sleep patterns (might experiencing difficulties to sleep or to get up)
  • Change in appetite
  • Muscle pains and constant headaches
  • Tiredness and feeling drained most of the time
  • Frequent illnesses due to lowered immunity levels
Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Burnout;
  • The feeling of disengagement or wanting to distance from others
  • Withdrawing from your responsibilities
  • Constantly engaging in abnormal behaviors to cope such as drugs, alcohol and unhealthy eating
  • Skiving duties; reporting to work late and leaving earlier
  • Procrastinating at work; taking longer than the expected time to get the work done
  • Attempts in taking your work frustrations to others

Causes of Burnouts

In most cases, the causes of workplace stress are closely related; however, the two are different mental health issues. Burnouts can be experienced from all walks of life; from the manager who has a large team that does not work cohesively, to a public officer who has not gotten an opportunity to go on leave or a mum who has to juggle between motherhood to work and personal life. Below are the causes of work-related burnouts;

  • Having roles that are unchallenging or else monotonous
  • Lack of support and poor communication at your workplace
  • Unfair treatments at your workplace
  • Lack of reward or recognition for good work; either an individual or as a team
  • Working in a high-pressure environment
  • Unclear job roles
  • Overly demanding expectations from work
  • The feeling that you have very little or no control over your work

Personality Traits Causing Burnouts

  • High-achieving, Type A personality
  • Having doubts about yourself and your place in society
  • Reluctance to have delegation over others
  • The need to be in control
  • Having perfectionist tendencies; you never feel contented enough by what you do
  • Letting yourself to take too many responsibilities without letting others help you or asking for help

Prevention and Treatment

The term “burnout” somehow suggests the situation is irreversible; however, the condition is not permanent and can be reversed. When you experience burnouts, there is a need to change your ways of working or do some changes in your working environments.

  1. Talking to someone whom you trust should be the first step. This can be your supervisor, the human resource at your department or your line manager about the issues that you feel are affecting you at your workplace.
  2. Set clear boundaries between your work and personal life can be very critical. Although burnouts result from the workplace, some of the risk factors are personal traits and lifestyle; such as the time one takes to sleep, relation with others at the workplace, etc.
  3. Take a vacation or create some time for yourself or the family; this can be in your leave days or the holiday. This offers you some temporary relief and away from work and office.
  4. Schedule time to recharge such as exercise breaks to help you combat burnout. This can be daily or several days in a week
  5. Develop clear strategies to help in stress management; this can be having enough sleep, completing designated tasks in time, self-care strategies, etc.
  6. At times you can change your role at work or your job if the pressure is too much and no solution

If you are having difficulties in finding a way out of the burnout situation, or maybe you suspect that you may be having other underlying mental conditions such as depression or anxiety that may worsen burnout, then, seek professional treatment as soon as possible.


Work Place Conflict: Causes, Prevention, And Workplace Conflict Resolution

“You guys are now finishing me. Someone knows very well of their roles and job descriptions but still, they want me to babysit them to do them do their work.” My boss said more to herself than to us in the office. Due to my naivety, I look up, then around. To my surprise no one is bothered by his words. It is neither they did not hear nor are too busy glued to their computers to even notice she was lamenting. Of cause they were ignoring, she was loud enough. “…. Rosa, eeh! Some people have to be followed around to do their duties and complete their tasks on time. They are always the first ones to leave and the last to arrive.” She continued where I had to pretend surprised on hearing my name as if I was not following the conversation. I am a good student; this is the second month and learning how to act surprised when I am not and busy when am doing nothing. She continues talking and in a couple of minutes she heads out for the meetings banging the door behind her.

“I have a load of better things to get done than being here babysitting working-class babies” laments one of the managers left in the office as everyone else exhales with relief, a pin drop silence and then blame game begins to which I could term as ideological differences. ‘It seems that someone is always mad at someone else.” I thought to myself. He mumbles with other colleagues as they walk out of the office. By this time, the silence in the office and the noise in my head is almost to the point of murky waters.

The team left in the office is left behind discussing their frustrations, workload pressures, poor leadership, unfulfilled needs and on top of that, what unifies them most or the common enemy; their bosses. The noise was too much for my naïve head and so I just keep silent. By this time I am two months and still learning my new family at work. They continue talking back and forth to matters that I can barely relate and I say to myself. Now that is workplace conflict! And I immediately walkout, not banging the door behind me this time. What is all this about anyway? It is all about conflict. A considerably normal segment in our personal lives and at the workplace; conflict can be useful in implementing changes within the work or home environment. However, it brings about mixed feelings of hopelessness, discontent, depression, sadness among others

Understanding Workplace Conflict

Workplace conflict may be described as the opposition of ideas or sharp disagreement at a workplace. Workplace conflict is inevitable when we have people coming together; in short conflict is the major part of “having things done”. Conflict is standard and natural fragment at any workplace. While it is true that most of the causes of stress at a workplace are the “people issues”, conflict should never be ignored. Proportionally petty grievances at the workplace can turn into some extensive-standing antagonisms directly affecting morale at work, production output and customer satisfaction. Managers and supervisors should be in a position of identifying signs of conflict, address as soon as the notice and discuss the issues with the workers as well as resolve the extents of disagreement.

Causes Of A Workplace Conflict;

  • Personality differences: Workplaces set up consist of people from different backgrounds, learning institutions and experiences which shapes different personality clash. For instance an employee with a straight forward personality may in most cases offend other colleagues for speaking whatever in their mind without appropriate timing.
  • Lack of or poor leadership; closely relating to effective communication, listening, interpersonal as well as soft skills among those in superior roles.
  • Stress as well as Workload pressures; this largely affects moods and the shapes of how people interact with one another at a workplace.
  • Generational differences; a millennial, not understanding or else respecting a baby boomer way of work or the vice-versa
  • Poor communication leading to misunderstanding or under information; this includes misunderstood remarks that may be taken out of context, failure to communicate, styles of communicating. This may lead to employees making incorrect assumptions to situations or just overlook issues. Poor communication in the workplace does not only grow conflict but also decreases employee morale and productivity.
  • Misconduct of organizational transition and changes
  • Unmet or unsatisfying needs in the workplace; mostly where the members of the staff don’t feel empowered, respected and recognized for doing better.
  • Scarce availability and issuance of resources
  • Unclear or undefined roles in the workplace
  • Some behaviors being viewed by other workers as irritating
  • Poor implementation of the job description or competition of duties; for instance appointing a non-supervisory employee to an unofficial spot of “supervising” fellow employees or even senior staff members
  • Systematic situations such as lessening of in force or workforce slow down
  • Workforce differences regarding goals and methods of work, perspectives, ideologies that may be brought about by sex or age differences

Importance of Conflict Resolution at the Workplace

  • Proportionally petty grievances at the workplace can turn into some extensive-standing antagonisms directly affecting morale at work, production output and customer satisfaction.
  • Creating a positive culture at the workplace where everyone feels respected and supported. No one would choose to be working in a tenser and negative aggressive environment where they are constantly uncomfortable and unhappy with their work
  • Less workplace stress promises stress-free colleagues and a healthy workplace
  • In situations where people don’t want to be at work, it means high staffs turn up; more absenteeism from sick offs hence poor performance.
  • A protracted conflict at the workplace leads to legal issues

Management and Resolving of Workplace Conflict

workplace conflict resolution

  • Define Acceptable Behavior. Having a clear definition of what acceptable behavior entails is a positive step to avoiding conflict. Here we may emphasize issues such as having clear job descriptions, understanding the ways of work in your organization, a well-defined chain of command, and a standard escalation procedure.
  •  Proper Communication. As the area owner, make it known publicly that what forms of behaviors that will not be entertained in your area. It is also wise if you make it clear on the appropriate channels for people to air their concerns. Encouraging sound business norms, talent acquisition, leadership development, and team building steer positive cultures at the workplace this minimizing conflict.
  • Hit Conflict Head-on. While it is not always possible to prevent conflict, the best way to resolving something is through preventing its occurrence where possible. Through understanding all the underlying sources of conflict at the workplace, you are in a position of intervening actively in these situations thus preventing conflicts from occurring. In case a conflict does occur you are on the upper hand in dealing with it quickly minimizing the severity.
  • Understanding the ‘What’s In It For Me’ (WIIFM) Factor. The proper way to avoiding conflict is to help those around us achieve their objectives. This is only practical if you understand WIIFM which is very critical other motivations before chipping in to support, thus minimizing conflict as well as helping others resolving conflict when it arises.
  • View Conflict as an Opportunity. In times of disagreements, there is intrinsic potential for progression and development especially if you take it as a learning opportunity. CEO’s who don’t leverage conflict for leadership development purposes or team buildings not only miss great opportunities in building the best managers but also growing themselves. Smart leaders look for the plus in all opinions.
  • The Important Factor. Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict

Always interested in your experiences, comments and thoughts….



workplace stress is draining if not managed 

‘When you are working here it is like you are married to this business… you have to stay connected to the business if you want to be part of the company…’ my boss told me one day. It made a lot of sense to me since I was working six days a week. The only day that was left to me was on Sunday which I was to figure out whether to clean the house, clean myself, do the weeks’ laundry, go to church, or get enough sleep. Visiting family and friends was not on the list; at least they had to wait until my annual leave if they were lucky. At times I used to be called on Sundays to close actions that needed to be ready on Mondays and other times carry work home. You see, I am a good employee. They told me in school for one to grow their career they have to build their CV. And yes. I was building my CV!!

By this time I was only two months in the ‘business’ and already drained. Extremely drained indeed! Did I say this was my first job? Yes you can guess what I was taking home at the end of every thirty days; Busy, broke, lonely, drained, fatigued, troubled, single, losing weight and much stressed. To the younger me, this was a definition of work stress. 

What is workplace stress?

According to WHO, workplace stress may be defined as ‘ the response people give when they are presented with work demands and pressures that may not match to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.’ 

Stress may result from a wide range of circumstances such as; when an employee feels very little to no support coming from their colleagues and supervisors, little control over the work process. However, the confusion between pressure or challenges at work and tress is often and always used to excuse bad management practices. 

Well, workplace stress over a long time has not been an issue; however, recent studies show that workplace stress is far and away from the major source of stress among many working grown-ups and has escalated more and more, over the last few decades. The increasing levels of work stress especially those associated with less control and high demands are associated with health risks such as heart attack, bipolar, hypertension and other disorders (studies from AIS). Different job levels and environments have their stress factors and we cannot group them to two factors like lack of support and minimal control. 

Common Causes of workplace stress

  • The pressure to always work at optimal levels
  • Lack of control over the way you can organize yourself at work and how to do your work
  • The pressure to meet the increasing demands and expectations without appreciation or job satisfaction
  • Working more on overtime due to staff falloffs 
  • Poor work organization
  • Poor work design
  • Unsatisfactory working conditions
  • Very little to no support from supervisors and colleagues
  • The constant anxiety of being laid off 
  • Having less to no control over decisions relating to work
  • Unclear performance expectations
  • Very few to no opportunities for growth and career advancement
  • Lack of engagements in your work

The chart below shows a survey taken from our twitter page showing various issues that people associate with workplace stress. The issues on the survey were limited to; workload, lack of job security, juggling work- personal lives and people issues. As the chat shows, workload took the lead with a whopping 46% bringing us to the next question, “are we really in a position to differentiating work pressure and workplace stress?”

Apart from the lack of job security which solely depends on the organizations’ policies and the contracts of work, the rest can be controlled or else avoided to reduce workplace stress. 

Warning signs of stress at the workplace

  • Apathy, drained interest in work
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Social pulling out  
  • Headaches and muscle tensions
  • Defeat in sex drive 
  • Stomach issues
  • Higher intake of alcohol or other drugs to cope
  • The feeling of anxiety, depressed and irritated

In some cases, workplace stress can actively affect your thinking and mood. In this case, it decreases the ability to focus or think clearly, increases mood swings, forgetfulness, defensiveness, hypersensitivity, and anger

However, when people with the above mentioned emotional states caused by workplace stress are most likely to;

  • Have impair judgment and make decisions out of business or else overlook into situations
  • Neglect responsibilities or over concentrate on certain roles leaving others unattended
  • Become easily distracted
  • Have poor reactions towards issues that may require foot-eye coordination
  • Experience the feeling of being withdrawn from the rest
  • Constantly expose themselves to physically stressful situations. 
  • Long term health conditions caused by workplace stress
  • Heart diseases
  • Cases of depression
  • Obesity or weight loss depending on an individual
  • Deterioration of the immune system of an individual
  • Muscle pains with no established causes
  • High blood pressure 
  • Anxiety and insomnia

Managing workplace stress

  • Have a trajectory for your stressors. This should be the number one way to curbing workplace stress. Basically, it involves monitoring ourselves and trying to understand our triggers to stress at the workplace. It can be done by identifying the situations that create stress on a daily basis and recording them in a journal. Put down the situation, your feelings, thoughts and any relevant information regarding the environment. This can include the people, the circumstances and how you reacted to the situation; did you talk a walk? Raise your voice? Grab a snack? Isolated yourself? You can take the notes for two or three weeks helping you understand the patterns of your stressors and how you react towards them. 
  • Create a healthy response. This involves engaging in activities that are highly involving and healthy choices contrary to fighting stress through fast foods or alcohol. These may include and not limited to, physical exercise, Yoga, reading interesting novels, creating time for hobbies, playing games with family, practicing healthy sleeping habits, limiting caffeine intake at night, etc. 
  • Set boundaries. Though it might be difficult in the digital era, it is a quite practical and healthy practice. This involves simple steps such as not checking the mails from home and waiting to get to work unless you are working from home where you can wait for your working hours to check your inbox. Establish clear home-work boundaries to reduce work-life conflict which is a major workplace stressor.
  • Teach yourself how to unwind. This can be done on a daily basis (in the evenings from work or in the mornings before work), even without taking leave days. It can be achieved by training yourself the art of focusing on a single activity at a time without distraction. The activity can be breathing in and out while closing the eyes and listening to your breath, enjoying a meal, or taking a walk. 
  • Engage in a talk with your manager or the supervisor. 
  • Getting some support from trusted friends or family members can help in workplace stress management.