What is burnout?

Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is related to someone’s job. Burnout happens when you’re overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life’s incessant demands.

In 2019, ‘burnout’ was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. As lockdowns have drastically affected our work-life balance and working environments, the public’s perceptions of burnout and the contributing factors, considering the pandemic has changed. The lines between work and home life have become increasingly blurred. Many are working longer hours, some have and still have to look after children during the working day, and for many, social interaction and social environments have changed.

Since the start of the pandemic, a recent poll was conducted asking adults about their perceptions of burnout and what they think could contribute towards it.

The results are that burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you have worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time.

What are the 5 Burnout Stages?

  • Honeymoon phase. Like a honeymoon phase in a marriage, this stage comes with energy and optimism. 
  • Onset of stress phase. Eventually, the honeymoon phase dwindles, and you begin to experience stress. 
  • Chronic stress phase. 
  • Burnout phase. 
  • Habitual burnout phase.

Common signs of burnout:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time
  • Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
  • Feeling detached/alone in the world
  • Having a cynical/negative outlook
  • Self-doubt
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
  • Feeling overwhelmed

When asked to identify the symptoms of burnout, 85% of UK adults correctly identified symptoms of burnout, while 68% mistakenly identified symptoms of anxiety.

Burnout isn’t something which goes away on its own. Rather, it can worsen unless you address the underlying issues causing it. If you ignore the signs of burnout, it could cause further harm to your physical and mental health in the future. You could also lose the ability and energy to effectively meet the demands of your job which could have knock-on effects to the other areas of your life.

As prevalent as it is, burnout is often misunderstood, stigmatised, and costly both to employees’ health and wellbeing, and employers’ productivity.

46% of UK workers feel ‘more prone to extreme levels of stress’ compared with a year while only 15% feel ‘less prone to extreme levels of stress’.

Gender and age play a role in this prevalence, with women and young people reported feeling more prone to extreme stress and pressure at work. 

Employers need to be thinking of this topic and what they can do about it. Ignoring it is not an option.