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Are you struggling to cope in the workplace? Do you find it difficult to switch off from work at the end of the day? Are you feeling exhausted but just can’t seem to relax?

YOU ARE NOT ALONE, and could be suffering from burnout. Burnout is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in the workplace with searches for ‘signs of burnout’ increasing by 24% in 2020 compared with the previous year.

Furthermore, a poll by Monster in July 2020 found that 69% of workers are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home during COVID-19 (a 35% increase since early May (51%)). 

As, historically, precarity has been connected to burnout historically, it’s no wonder that pandemic burnout is increasingly common, just as it was after the 2008 recession. 

And in many ways it’s the fault of employers. Burnout occurs when you are asked to do more than you are capable of, and you keep doing that day after day after day. At the same time, you are living in insecure housing, struggling to look after your children or not making enough money to make ends meet.

Burnout is a peculiarly work-based phenomenon, and COVID-19 has not made it any easier. Over the last year, many companies have required more from their employees, cut back on staff, frozen new hires and increased the time on the job. Equally, as employees, we’ve had to fit our working day around childcare, and faced the lack of commute, a hotchpotch working space, cramped living space and work that blends into our home life. 

Burnout can affect anyone in their lives, however the average age of burnout is 32

What is Burnout?

The term “burnout” was coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions, such as doctors and nurses

In 2019, burnout was introduced into the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest International Classification of Diseases manual (the manual which describes every disease and its symptoms for doctors and other health providers) where it is described as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Let’s look at each one of those dimensions in more depth below.

20 Burnout Symptoms you should be Aware of

Exhaustion and other physical symptoms

Not feeling your usual physical self.

Anxiety - we’ve all been anxious and felt the tension and worry that come along with it, but with burnout, anxiety can interfere with your ability to work in a timely manner and can impact the relationships you hold inside and outside the workplace. 

Depression - depression often manifests in a number of the symptoms talked about here, including pessimism, loss of enjoyment, anxiety, insomnia and impaired concentration as well as sadness. You may also experience feelings of guilt and worthlessness. Luckily, these periods will pass as long as you do something about your work situation!

Insomnia - you find it hard to fall asleep or wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep. 

Chronic fatigue - perhaps because of the insomnia, you’re feeling physically and emotionally drained, with a lack of energy to do very much at all. 

Impaired concentration and attention - an inability to focus at the task at hand, to keep switching between tasks or signs of forgetfulness. You may get to a point where you are so behind in your work that your tasks have started to pile up and you’ve a never ending to-do list you just can’t finish. 

Anger - anger may start off as mild irritability and interpersonal tension, and this may soon include being bad tempered with colleagues and those at home. If unchecked, the anger may start to affect your relationships. 

Physical symptoms - such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and headaches.

Increased illness - because your body is under so much stress and you’ve not been able to recover through lack of sleep, your immune system is not what it should be, making you more vulnerable to colds, infections and other medical problems. 

Appetite changes - you may not feel like eating much of the time and start to skip meals, or you may find that your evenings and weekends are spent scoffing on the sofa in front of the TV. 

Increased mental distance from one’s job

Not having the clarity and motivation to reach your career goals in the workplace

Loss of enjoyment - not enjoying day-to-day work in the way that you are used to, not taking the time to build and maintain relationships and not experiencing the feelings of joy, for example when you see a project reach completion or see a patient improve. 

Detachment - as you are not enjoying your work, this can lead to you feeling detached from it. You might find yourself not wanting to wake up in the morning, failing to get started, and the Sunday night dread kicking in. At its worse, you may see yourself physically removed from the situation, calling in sick, starting late or not attending meetings and appointments. 

Isolation - the more that you remove yourself from others, the less chance you have of being able to speak to someone about the problems you are facing in the workplace. In the end, it may leave you feeling alone and isolated, with no one to turn to. 

Pessimism - working to earn a living and enjoying the things you do may just start to feel pretty pointless, and apathy and hopelessness may have started to kick in. If you are not enjoying it in the same way that you are used to, is there any reason to continue? 

Reduced professional efficacy

Not being able to perform on the job as you know you can do.

Low productivity - even though you are working non-stop, the work is just not completed in the same time frame and to the same standards you’ve previously set for yourself. With more time being needed to complete each task, your to-do list is growing longer and longer. 

Inability to concentrate - you sit there staring at your computer screen and nothing is getting started!

Irritability (with colleagues or friends and family) - irritability can stem from your lack of control over your workplace environment and the fact that you are not getting on with the job in the way you used to, which is a difficult vicious cycle to get yourself out of!

If you think you are suffering from burnout, the Maslach Burnout Inventory is a self assement test that can help you check how serious your symptoms are and whether you need to do anything about it urgently. 

What you should know is that it is preventable and it DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. Instead of finding yourself at the end of your burnout tether, prevent burnout before it happens via our blog: Control Your Work-life Balance and Avoid Burnout.   

Let us know in the comments below if you’ve been dealing with burnout and what has helped you through this difficult time. 

P.S. If you feel as though you are suffering from burnout and the side effects of depression and anxiety, remember that you can get help from amazing charities such as Mind, Rethink and the Samaritans