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Recently, the World Health Organization officially recognized burnout as a legitimate medical diagnosis. Burnout has received more attention over the past few years amid a flurry of reports documenting increasing occurrences across various occupations.
A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always. In high-stress occupations, burnout rates can soar even higher. For instance, a Medscape Physician Lifestyle Survey in 2015 reported the rate of physician burnout at 46%. But burnout can affect anyone regardless of their occupation.
What is burnout?
According to the WHO, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they meet the following symptoms:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
The diagnosis is limited to work environments and shouldn’t be applied to other life situations.
Burnout is not just an emotional issue. A 2017 study in the journal PLoS One cited major health risks related to job burnout, including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol, and even death for those under the age of 45.
What causes burnout?
According to a 2018 report by Gallup, employee burnout has five main causes:
- Unreasonable time pressure. Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70% less likely to experience high burnout. Individuals who are not able to gain more time, such as paramedics and firefighters, are at a higher risk of burnout.
- Lack of communication and support from a manager. Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70% less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.
- Lack of role clarity. Only 60% of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
- Unmanageable workload. When a workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel hopeless. Feeling overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout.
- Unfair treatment. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favoritism, unfair compensation, and mistreatment from a co-worker.
Think you may be burned out?
Almost everyone has times when they feel mentally and physically tired or when they feel down about their work. Maybe we’re not as productive or feeling as creative as we know we can be. Does that mean we’re suffering from burnout? Maybe, but not necessarily. We’ve put together a simple 8-question quiz to help you assess whether you may be suffering from burnout. A caveat: this is an educational tool, not a clinical diagnosis. Answer each question, True or False.
1. I frequently feel out of energy or exhausted
2. My job seems to be more stressful than it used to be
3. I have difficulty concentrating on tasks at work
4. I’ve noticed or been told that I’m more irritable lately at work
5. I feel less creative at work than I used to feel
6. I get headaches or stomaches without any apparent cause
7. I don’t feel like I’m part of a team anymore at work, but I don’t care
8. Sometimes, I don’t care about the quality of my work performance or product anymore
If you answered True to 3 or more questions, you might want to consider speaking to your supervisor or HR representative about the possibility of burnout. If you answered True to more than 4 questions, you should consider more formal assessments by consulting with your employer’s EAP or wellness program or discussing your feelings with your physician.
If you answered True to question 6, you should consider seeing your healthcare provider to rule out a purely physical condition versus possible stress-related causes for the issues.