What is job burnout and why is it included in the International Classification of Diseases?


What exactly is job burnout?

Indeed, sometimes a person who says he or she is tired, irritated, doesn’t want to go to work, claims to be burned out. This is unfortunately the result of the pop psychology that floods us. Burnout is a permanent disappointment with work, which we cannot cope with. We call it burnout when three key symptoms occur simultaneously. The first is emotional exhaustion. The second is cynicism — research shows that this is a key dimension of
professional burnout. The third area is a reduced sense of self-efficacy.

What is cynicism at work?

Cynicism is a lack of empathy. Let’s use the example of a young doctor. He comes to work with his head and heart full of ideas, and then clashes with reality. He does not manage to help everyone, does not manage to treat as effectively as he would like, and does not have time for every patient. This causes him to slowly become filled with disappointment. And if he doesn’t know how to deal with it, name it or manage it, it floods him. He distances himself from his work, acts as if he is behind glass, and feels no empathy. Job burnout also correlates with very high, often unrealistic demands. In relation to his work and to himself.

[Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels]

Does a person’s character affect job burnout?

Yes, we know that burnout usually affects ambitious people. There is a saying: to burn out, you have to burn out. It is also often the case that people who are burned out feel the so-called work craving. To put it simply, they use their work to get something done, to compensate for negative emotions. They do not use it to earn money or build a career, but they base their sense of worth on it.

Job burnout often co-occurs with workaholism and neurotic perfectionism, based on so-called perfectionist fears. The fear is that it will come out that we are not very smart, not very good. Perfectionism is not bad in itself, but neurotic perfectionism is dangerous. In determining whether someone is predisposed to burnout, it can also help to know the level of our mental toughness. It is a feature that we can already measure. It consists of four areas, the so-called 4 “Cs”: control, challenge, commitment, and confidence. Mental toughness tells us what in life can be easy and what is difficult, where it is worth investing our efforts, which qualities are worth strengthening, and which ones should be worked on. People with high psychological resilience are less likely to experience professional burnout. Good information for everyone is that mental resilience grows with age and we can develop it.

WHO has addressed occupational burnout — will we stop treating it like a fad or an excuse?

I hope so because it is an important and growing problem. For many years it was a problem of an individual, swept under the carpet by corporations. It was associated with weakness. I want to emphasize a very important thing — a pathological work environment is responsible for burnout, and in it three key areas: excessive control, lack of real support and constantly increasing demands. Employers will have to face this problem from now on. With burnout now officially recognised as an occupational syndrome, there is a chance that we will gain a better understanding of the scale of the phenomenon, and that companies will need to pay more attention to how employees feel in a given company, and take real steps to create a less burnt-out working environment.

[Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels]

What are the symptoms that should worry us and force us to go to the doctor?

For many years, the dilemma was how to tell the difference between burnout and depression. I myself have been through job burnout and know that it is not easy to identify and, like diagnosed with depression, it is hard to force yourself to take action. Burnout is closely related to work. If you stop working, say, for two-four weeks, you feel better, unlike depression. Burnout people don’t feel job satisfaction, they are kind of behind the glass. They often start having trouble with relationships, even outside of work. There’s also the whole sleep problems, digestive system problems. To confirm the diagnosis, it is worth going to a specialist: a psychologist, a coach. In more advanced cases, there may be a need to visit a psychiatristIt will not go away by itself.

Isn’t changing jobs enough?

Sometimes it is enough, but not always. Not everyone can afford it, and not everyone is able to do it when they are already suffering from burnout. When changing jobs, it’s helpful to know what worked for me and what didn’t and to take that information into account when looking for another job.

How is job burnout treated?

It’s definitely not a standard treatment. It is a good idea to rest, sometimes you may need to take a longer time off. Sometimes therapy is necessary and in some cases pharmacotherapy. A person who is burnt out professionally is like a withered tree. It needs to be taken care of and restored to function. I also want to emphasize that job burnout is a process, no one burns out overnight. And in the same way, its treatment takes time.

What can we do to protect ourselves from burnout?

First, be a self-aware person — take into account what our nature is, where we fit in, what brings us satisfaction, and what is too much of a burden. It is also very important to pursue our own goals in life, not just those set by others, such as our parents or our company. If we realize our own aspirations in life, resulting from dreams and passions, it is more likely that we will not burn out. Then we do something because we want to, we feel the sense, and not because we have to or should. Another thing we can do is to remember that when we realize these goals, for example in a company, to focus on mastery rather than the result. That is: I want to be a champion in a particular area, for myself, given my own abilities. I don’t focus on others but on myself. And this is the source of my satisfaction. Another important aspect is communication. Even if I already know that I am in a pathological environment, I don’t grit my teeth and endure, but it is important to talk to someone about it. With the boss, with someone from HR, with other employees. It’s not easy, but it can protect you from the consequences of working in a toxic environment.

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