Professional burnout a syndrome of our times

Constant tiredness, exhaustion, sleep problems, day after day spent in tension and stress… these are some of the typical symptoms of professional burnout. How to recognise the first symptoms and deal with this condition?

Nowadays, when we work a lot and intensively, more and more people are complaining of complaints of job burnout. According to E. Aronson, ‘burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged involvement in emotionally taxing situations’.  Until recently, it was thought that people in professions involving direct contact with other people, such as salespeople, teachers or doctors, were the most at risk. As it turns out, this is no longer the case – nowadays people of all ages, functions and professions are subject to burnout. Particularly vulnerable are people who are hypersensitive, neurotic, dependent on others and who feel uncomfortable in new situations and tasks.

Symptoms of professional burnout

Professional burnout can occur as a consequence of various factors, some of which lie on the personal side and some on the professional side. It is worth paying particular attention to the symptoms and causes of this syndrome. Cherniss, (after Fengler, 2000) identified the following group of symptoms that characterise occupational burnout:

  • feelings of disappointment with oneself;
  • anger and resentment;
  • feelings of guilt;
  • lack of courage and indifference;
  • negativity, isolation and withdrawal;
  • daily feelings of fatigue and exhaustion;
  • frequent “looking at the clock”;
  • great fatigue after work;
  • loss of positive feelings towards clients;
  • postponement of client appointments;
  • aversion to phone calls and customer visits;
  • stereotyping of customers;
  • inability to focus on or listen to customers;
  • impression of immobility;
  • cynicism and a reproving attitude towards clients;
  • sleep disturbances;
  • frequent colds and flu;
  • frequent headaches and gastrointestinal complaints;
  • intransigence in thinking and unwillingness to change;
  • distrust and paranoid imaginations;
  • marital and family problems;
  • frequent absence from the workplace.

All these symptoms paint a picture of a very unhappy person, devoid of any enthusiasm and energy, both for work and private life. Professional burnout is affecting more and more people in our society, which is undoubtedly due to the lifestyle we lead nowadays. The world around us is rushing at a frighteningly fast pace and it is not difficult to get lost in this race, but what really lies at the root of this condition?

Causes of professional burnout

In order to tackle professional burnout, it is important to look at the causes of burnout. This will allow us to accurately identify the problem and diagnose the source where a certain balance has been disturbed. Usually, we look for the causes on three levels: in a person’s personality, in their interpersonal relationships or in the very culture of the organisation in which they work. However, it is most often the case that these three areas directly overlap, creating the following causes of job burnout:

Individual: passivity, low self-esteem, low self-esteem, dependence, strong motivation to work, belief in high power to do things, perfectionism, high expectations of oneself, high perceptions of one’s work, tendency to avoid difficult situations, high commitment to one’s duties.

Interpersonal: emotional involvement with people we work with (clients, patients, students, colleagues, subordinates), lack of distance from the problem of people we work with, stressful employee-employer relations, disturbed communication at work, bullying, conflict situations at work.

Organisational: overloading with an excessive amount of duties, too little time to perform duties, tasks going beyond one’s competence, difference between the values of the employee and the norms of the institution, monotony, lack of development opportunities, feeling undervalued, feeling that one’s duties are meaningless.

How do you combat professional burnout?

If you spot the signs of job burnout in time, you have the opportunity to change your approach to work and your entire lifestyle. First of all, it is worthwhile to start observing yourself and your surroundings closely in order to notice what really contributes to your bad mood. In many cases, removing a stressor is not so difficult at all and only requires a little more motivation. What is worth paying special attention to? For example, let’s look a little closer at organising our own work. It can be a good idea, for example, to adapt tasks to the possibilities and times of our greatest activity during the day. For example, there is absolutely no point in leaving the most difficult tasks for the end of the day, when we are most tired, because we will then complete the task less well and more slowly. As a result, we will be dissatisfied with ourselves, because we won’t perform our duties well enough, on top of which we will be stressed that we won’t get everything done in time. It is also good to pay attention to whether our duties correspond to our competences. If we see that we are notoriously given tasks that exceed our capabilities, this should be clarified. There is nothing wrong with developing and challenging yourself. However, it is something else if, due to a lack of skills in a certain area, we perform badly and are thus exposed to chronic stress in relation to the evaluation of our work.

Our attitude in our relationships with others is also very important. Perhaps behaving more assertively will avoid taking on too many responsibilities or staying after hours at work. Assertiveness is something we can practice, so it is worth paying attention to whether it would be better to say ‘no’ more often. Let’s also look at how we spend our free time. This includes both our breaks at work and the time we spend outside of work. We need to take care of the hygiene of our mind, find what relaxes and pleases us, what will cause us to relieve tension after a day’s work.

Comfort in the spiritual, physical and professional spheres is the basis for achieving satisfaction and life balance. In the fight against professional burnout, the most important thing is to listen to ourselves – to stop for a moment and think about what is important to us in life, what we feel comfortable and safe in. Take a look at your aspirations, capabilities and the tasks you undertake. It is worth answering the question – is what we are following necessary and do we really want it? Here, even a simple conversation with someone close to us can be very helpful, as it will tell us what stage of life we are at and what we expect from it.


Author: Julia Ługowska