Identifying the underlying causes of burnout
You've done it!
You have reached the end of the year, you have worked super hard in the last few weeks and you are finally on a break, feet up, sipping a cool drink with ice, by the beach and life is a dream.
Then you remember that in just one more week you are back to work and suddenly you feel a sense of dread, maybe even a hint of sadness that your new found, hard fought for freedom will be over sooner than you would like and the day to day responsibility that is work will soon be your new reality. If the thought of returning to work causes you to feel overwhelmed, have a panic attack, feel sad or depressed, you may be suffering from or close to suffering from burnout.
Burnout has been described as a state of physical or emotional exhaustion accompanied by reduced effectiveness and chronic negative responses to the workplace environment as well as the feeling of the loss of personal identity and loss of meaning. Burnout is different to stress. Stress involves the pressure of the demand to do too much and most people will experience stress in their lives and in the workplace, but burnout involves far more than stress. Burnout also involves a loss of meaning, feelings of hopelessness, cynicism and detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and emotional exhaustion. Burnout usually also has physical symptoms including complete physical exhaustion or illness, the lack of the will to get up and go, along with chronic headaches, digestive issues, difficulty sleeping; it can include lightheadedness and dizziness, depression, lowered immunity chronic anxiety and adrenal fatigue (due to the body constantly producing cortisol in response to stress and a perceived threat to safety).
Burnout can occur in any industry but for those in the helping profession, burnout is a greater risk; individuals who enter the helping profession expose themselves to negative events either directly or vicariously. Social workers have increasing demands placed on them such as large caseloads, exposure to trauma, and expectations around performance. First responders see trauma first hand, have to assess risk and provide care/ protection, often putting themselves in harms way to ensure others are safe. But even those in managerial roles can hit burnout. WHY?
There seem to be a few common scenarios when it comes to the difference between stress that requires an adjustment to the workload, and burnout, which takes a lot more of an emotional and physical toll and takes longer to fully recover from (ideally with the help a therapist).
Underlying root causes of burnout
1. Lack of Agency - you have very little control over what you do and little choice or say in what is going on. This is even more impacting if your role indicates you should have control and a lot of input, such as a managerial or leadership role. Often if you are in a role that is being micromanaged, you will have a title that says 'decision maker' but a boss who is making all the decisions, leaving you having very little control or influence. This is frustrating at best, but in combination with other stressors, can easily lead to burnout.
2. Lack of Reward. When your efforts go unrecognised or worse still, someone else takes the credit, it can leave you feeling undervalued and chronically unappreciated. This eats away at your PURPOSE leaving you just going thru the motions. Social reward, recognition and appreciation are as important as monetary reward.
3. Lack of Purpose. When you have lost touch with the WHY of what you do, when there is a disconnect between your own core VALUES and the values of the organisation or the job you are doing, you can quickly lose motivation and become disillusioned.
4. Unclear or Changing Expectations. When you are not sure of what is required of you until you are pulled up about it in a meeting, something is wrong. Unclear communication, lack of communication or poor communication all lead to unclear expectations and a feeling of unease in the workplace. This can lead to and increase in anxiety and second guessing yourself, leaving you with chronically poor self esteem.
5. Lack of Work/Life Balance. When you have persistent, un-abating work overload causing you to put in extra hours, take work home, or have work that interferes with family commitments which begin to take a back seat, something is wrong. Proving you are superhuman and can go above and beyond does little more than boost your ego for a time, before leaving you crashing to the concrete floor of reality. Work is work, it pays the bills, but once your health is gone, the reality that you can be replaced at work but not at home is just another punch in the guts, which are already in turmoil due to the stress load you have been carrying.
6. Lack of Social Support and Community. This can be at work, as well as at home. If you commit yourself so fully to your work that you have neglected your social supports, who do you turn to when you need that sense of community. Lack of team spirit at work, the feeling of going it alone, increases work stress, as does the feeling that you are competing with your colleagues rather than working together for the good of the organisation. This combined with emotionally draining work, can quickly lead to burnout.
7. Lack of Fairplay. There is no faster road to burnout than a lack of fairness in the workplace. You have worked hard, carried an extra load, gone the extra mile, stayed up late and come in early and someone else waltzes in to the promotion you were going after, having done very little work. This happens far too often and is disproportionately represented by the 'mateship' code. This leaves you feeling undervalued, demoralised and frankly, broken.
SO how can we prevent burnout and set ourselves up to be resilient and happy in the NEW YEAR? Read Part Two