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Workplace burnout: how to know when you're affected

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay

Workplace burnout. Buzz words commonly spotlighted by the media – and for good reason. 

While most of us seek the idyllic notion of a gratifying, lifetime job, reality shows that plenty of workers encounter bouts of great stress, cynicism, and resentment towards their job at some point or another. 

Australian statistics reveal that 92% of serious mental health concerns in the workplace are attributed to work-related stressors (source: Safe Work Australia). Poor psychological conditions cost businesses an approximate $10.9 billion per year, including $4.7 billion in absenteeism and $146 million in compensation claims. 

And yet, workplace burnout remains more prevalent than ever. It’s that feeling of being stuck, unaccomplished, and facing a career dead-end.
SkillsTalk dive into the early signs of workplace burnout, its causes, and how to effectively prevent it. 

Workplace burnout: how do I know if I’m affected?

  1. The signs of workplace burnout.
  2. What causes workplace burnout?
  3. What are the risks of workplace burnout?
  4. How to prevent and treat workplace burnout.

1. The signs of workplace burnout.

man sitting on floor burnt out

While not a clinically diagnosable disorder, the following symptoms are general indicators of workplace burnout: 

Apathy and detachment 

Those experiencing workplace burnout often feel disconnected from their work, and by extension – activities they used to enjoy. Feelings of drive and motivation typically devolve into irritability and cynicism, damaging their productivity and performance in the workplace.

Professional relationships may also be affected, as individuals resort to isolating themselves from colleagues and social activities.  

Physical exhaustion

Burnout commonly induces signs of physical fatigue, often in the form of headaches, stomach aches, palpitations and other bodily pains. Psychology Today Australia suggests that due to a depletion of energy, victims may experience a weakened immune system; thus making them more vulnerable to illness (i.e. colds, flu, infections). 

Emotional exhaustion 

Arguably the most telling symptom of workplace burnout – emotional exhaustion is defined through varying mental health concerns, including anxiety and mild depression. When left unchecked, these may reach severe levels of guilt and hopelessness (individuals are then advised to seek immediate professional assistance). 

Emotional fatigue can initially develop through gradual apathy and detachment from one’s work, leading to increasing feelings of tiredness and impaired concentration. 

It’s important however, to distinguish the signs between general stress and actual burnout. 

While stress is brought about by escalating workplace pressures, it’s generally manageable by those who experience it – often overcome with a bit of discipline and optimism.

Burnout, on the other hand, leaves one feeling lacking despite their attempts to curb stress: lacking in motivation, inspiration, engagement and direction. It’s an often sneakier phenomena; the signs of stress are often immediate and clear, though burnout is gradually developed over time, influenced by both internal and external factors.

2. What causes workplace burnout?

The most evident causes of workplace burnout are job-related stressors, these including extreme workloads and poor management. Ongoing communication, support, and reasonable, clear expectations are common requirements to keep workers confident and motivated in what they do.   

Gallup studies show that employees who are treated fairly, are provided enough time to complete their work, and are offered continuous guidance and encouragement are 70% less likely to experience workplace burnout. 

It isn’t, however, exclusive to one’s work environment. 

While burnout is certainly triggered by the demanding or unfulfilling nature of a job, research also links the syndrome to one’s inherent personality traits.

Those with a tendency to self-criticise and hold pessimistic views on their skills and abilities (also known as low core self-evaluation) are more susceptible to burnout, often viewing their workload as overly challenging or intimidating tasks.

In the same vein, those who are prone to perfectionism are also more likely to experience burnout. These workers set unrealistically high standards for themselves that they typically fail to meet, damaging their confidence and self-esteem in the process. This mindset, paired with continual exposure to a high-stress workplace, forms a toxic recipe for physical and emotional drain.  

3. What are the risks of workplace burnout? 

asian woman is stressed out

On top of its psychological toll, workplace burnout is proven to induce physical illness and workplace injuries. 

According to a report by Pro Choice Safety Gear, burnout increases the risk of worker injury by 19%. Research links this to the physical exhaustion burnout victims typically face, leading to reduced strength and awareness on the job

Scientific studies have also outlined the specific diseases correlated with workplace burnout, including diabetes, cardiovascular disorder, musculoskeletal pain, and respiratory problems. Their findings have also revealed a potential mortality of below 45 years. Such cases, of course, are on the severe end of the spectrum – though are possible outcomes for symptoms left unchecked.

Extreme psychological effects include insomnia, anxiety, and depression. These poor mental states inhibit the ability to work productively, damaging overall business performance. Workers facing high levels of burnout are thus more likely to take sickness leave, with statistics showing an average of 13.6 days per year (compared to happy, productive workers who take an average of 5.4 days).  

4. How to prevent and treat workplace burnout. 

To sum it up, worker burnout is bad news for everyone. It not only lowers employee morale and productivity, but it also impacts business operations as a whole. So how do we keep it at bay?

Firstly, keep self-care a priority. Your performance is only as good as your physical and mental state, so maintaining a proper work-life balance is a must. Make time for exercise, leisure, and healthy sleep habits; while sustaining a quality diet and supportive social network. 

Since some are more predisposed to burnout than others, take time to evaluate your personality style and how well you manage internal and external stressors. Experts suggest looking into healthy coping strategies for dealing with such pressures, if necessary. 

However, if you’re already in the thick of it, a well-deserved break may be just what you need to address workplace burnout. It can help to take a vacation, a temporary leave of absence, or to simply use up your sick days to recover or gain some perspective. 

Plenty also turn to relaxation strategies, such as yoga or meditation, to help clear their mind of worry or stress. If it helps, reach out to your supervisor or human resources department to discuss your concerns. 

In other, more severe cases, perhaps it’s simply time for a career change. It may be worth pursuing a role more attuned to your needs, personality, and ambitions – ultimately finding you the balance and fulfillment you’re after.

A healthy mind makes a happy worker

Workplace burnout, as common as it is, is thankfully treatable through varying mindset and lifestyle changes. Whether you’re a worker who has or is currently experiencing this condition; or a manager of those affected, it’s vital to nip these issues in the bud and be wary of the warning signs before they get worse. 

If you’re looking to participate in promoting a happier, healthier community – Upskilled offers a CHC43315 - Certificate IV in Mental Health that delves into the methods of assisting those with psychological and emotional needs. Students will learn of ways to improve the health and safety of Australian workplaces, and the various mental health services and networks available. 

Alternatively, courses in management and leadership are also available, training you in best methods of fostering a happy, productive workplace. 

Enquire today to find the ideal course for you.
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