Job burnout: Know the signs and symptoms
It's time to head back to work after your brief vacation. You have a demanding job and carry a great deal of responsibility on your shoulders. Even though your time off was relaxing, you dread going back to work. A trusted friend thinks you have job burnout.
Maybe you've started to wonder whether you have burnout yourself. Or maybe - like many people - you've tried to avoid the question all together. A closer look at burnout and why you may have it can help you to face the problem and take action before it affects your health.
What is burnout and who's at risk?
Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations. Burnout is the cumulative result of stress. You may be more prone to burnout if:
- You identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between work and your personal life
- You try to be everything to everyone
- Your job is monotonous
- You work in the helping professions, such as health care, counseling, teaching or law enforcement
What are the signs of burnout?
Ask yourself these questions to see if you're experiencing signs and symptoms of burnout:
- Do you find yourself being more cynical, critical and sarcastic at work?
- Have you lost the ability to experience joy?
- Do you drag yourself into work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
- Have you become more irritable and less patient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you feel that you face insurmountable barriers at work?
- Do you feel that you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you no longer feel satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you have a hard time laughing at yourself?
- Are you tired of your co-workers asking if you're OK?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you self-medicating - using food, drugs or alcohol - to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
- Are you troubled by headaches, neck pain or lower back pain?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing burnout. You may also be depressed.
Identify the causes
You can overcome burnout. But first you have to understand what caused it. Burnout can result from:
Lack of control. Perhaps you're unable to influence decisions that affect your job, such as which hours you'll work or which assignments you get. Perhaps you're unable to control the amount of work that comes in.
Unclear job expectations. Examples include uncertainty over what degree of authority you have and not having the necessary resources to do your work.
Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Examples are working with an office bully, being undermined by colleagues or having a boss who micromanages your work.
Mismatch in values. If your values differ from the way your company does business or handles employee grievances, it will wear on you.
Poor job fit. Working in a job that poorly aligns with your interests and skills is certain to become more and more stressful over time.
Extremes of activity. When a job is always monotonous or chaotic, you'll need constant energy to remain focused. Over time this energy drain can lead to burnout.
Is it time to take action?
If you feel you may have signs or symptoms of burnout don't ignore them. Like stress burnout can have significant health consequences including fatigue, insomnia, weight gain or loss. It has the potential to put some people at increased risk of depression, anxiety and other emotional difficulties. And working in an environment that negatively affects your physical and mental health can affect your personal life.
Talk to your supervisor or mentor, or see your doctor or a mental health professional. A counselor at your employee assistance program (EAP) can help you assess your interests, skills and passions. This can help you decide if you should consider an alternative job, whether it be one that's less demanding or one that better matches your interests.
Recovery from burnout is possible, but it may require changes and take time, so don't expect a quick fix. Keep an open mind and consider all your options. Don't let a demanding job affect your health.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Sept. 29, 2006
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