What is burnout?
Job burnout is an ‘occupational syndrome’ that is characterised across three dimensions:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Feelings of cynicism or negativism related to one’s job
- Mental distance and reduced professional efficacy
Burnout can impact physical and mental health in several ways. Physical symptoms can include headaches, intestinal issues, fatigue, or changes in sleep and appetite. Mentally, burnout might induce feelings of detachment, feelings of reduced personal accomplishment, experiencing a loss of motivation or a sense of helplessness. Certain personality traits, like high perfectionism or pessimism, can increase the risk of burnout.
Behavioural signs that someone may be experiencing burnout can include withdrawal or isolation, reduced performance, outbursts or using substances to cope.
Some factors contributing to burnout can include having little or no control over your work, a lack of recognition, overly demanding job expectations, boring or monotonous work, or a high-pressured work environment. Lifestyle is also important, and key factors can include excessive work, social isolation, lack of supportive relationships, overwhelming responsibilities and poor sleep habits.
Self-help strategies for burnout
Prevention is better than cure!
To avoid burnout, it helps to practice regular self-care and nurture your wellbeing. This includes establishing boundaries between work and personal life. Try to reduce participation in work activities outside of work hours (e.g., avoid checking emails or work-related messages) and have dedicated time to focus on work only. Establish good daily routines and health habits – eat well, sleep well, exercise and dedicate time to social and recreational activities. Prioritising joy and social connections can provide protective advantages in preventing burnout.
If you do notice any early signs of burnout, try reframing your perspective on events contributing to the burnout. Recognise your boundaries and adopt effective coping strategies, like increasing exercise or physical activity, engaging in mindfulness practices, journaling, deep breathing, practicing gratitude or performing acts of kindness. Engaging in enjoyable activities at home with a loved one can also be beneficial.
If you recognise signs of burnout and you feel your current coping strategies are not helping, the earlier you seek intervention the better. This might be through your GP or a mental health clinician.
How can a psychologist help?
Psychologists and other mental health clinicians can help by exploring your values, be it in your work or personal space. They will work with you to identify and explore the root cause of your burnout and can assist with developing interpersonal skills that might help you communicate your needs with others.
Typically, they will use tailored therapeutic approaches, including assessments; therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy; stress and time management; boundary setting; self-care; resilience-building; and workplace interventions to help create a supportive environment.
Mental health clinicians offer education about burnout and goal setting. These strategies will be customised to the individual’s specific needs and circumstances to address underlying causes and support a person’s overall mental and emotional wellbeing.
How can organisations and employers help?
Many organisations offer Employee Assistance Programs which provide free and confidential short-term counselling. Try reaching out to your manager to seek help with planning different working arrangements to prevent or alleviate burnout.
Managers can help their employees identify the source of burnout (e.g., work hours, type of role or responsibilities involved) and collaborate to produce different options or adjustments. Mangers can help prevent burnout by ensuring employees have clear role expectations and position descriptions and set realistic work targets. Collaborating with employees to set realistic work targets whenever possible helps.
Whilst it is an employee’s responsibility to determine ways to alleviate burnout, a supportive manager can guide an employee to advocate for their own mental health in the workplace. Using active listening skills and knowing when to refer the employee on for professional help, as well as maintaining comfortable and inviting workspaces, supports a safe and healthy work environment.
The information provided in this document is general in nature and is intended to be used for information purposes only. While we have tried to ensure the accuracy of the information published, no guarantee can be given that the information is free from error or omission or that it is accurate, current or complete.
The information published is not, and should not be relied on as, health or treatment advice. The diagnosis and treatment of any mental illness requires the attention of a physician or other properly qualified mental health professional. If you are seeking diagnosis or treatment of any other mental illness, you should consult a physician or mental health professional. You should not delay in seeking, or disregard, professional health advice because of something you have read in this document.