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Burnout as a phenomenon that can happen to anyone

We are one of the busiest nations in Europe: according to the data of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), only Greeks work more than Poles. It is estimated that even 65% of Poles can experience burnout symptoms.

Burnout is a significant problem not only for those employees who have been present in the labour market for many years. More and more often, also young employees who, as it might wrongly seem, work too short to be able to talk about burnout, also struggle with this problem. According to a study by ARC Rynek i Opinia in cooperation with Randstad Polska, commissioned by, already last year, employees indicated the following top three possible causes of emotional exhaustion and lower assessment of one’s own abilities: high responsibility with low remuneration (54%), the need for professional development with low promotion opportunities (43%) and large amount of work with small amount of time (41%). In the latter case, the percentage decreases with tenure (67% when working for less than a year vs 42% when working for over 8 years). As some respondents (28%) declare, they definitely lack new challenges in their current workplace and their tasks became tedious and repetitive.

Definition of burnout

The concept of burnout was introduced in the 1970s by Herbert Freudenberger – an American psychiatrist, born in Germany. According to his observations, in a relatively small group of people (involved in volunteering activities), there was a certain “regularity” concerning general well-being.

Freudenberger noticed that people who were strongly involved in charitable activities experienced
a significant decrease in motivation and primary enthusiasm after some time, which was crowned with the presence of psychosomatic symptoms. Burnout is a psychological condition that constitutes the body’s response to chronic work-related stress. According to Christina Maslach, one of the most famous researchers in this field, it has three dimensions:

emotional – exhaustion (discouragement to work, decreased activity, pessimism, constant tension and irritability, chronic fatigue);

interpersonal – depersonalisation and cynicism (distance and superficiality in contacts, less sensitivity towards others);

cognitive – decreased sense of personal accomplishments (dissatisfaction with the results of work, lower sense of effectiveness of actions, loss of self-confidence, sense of wasting time).

Burnout has negative consequences not only for the affected person, but also for the organisation, as it can lead to a decrease in employee productivity, frequent absence and even resignation from work.

Burnout syndrome – symptoms

How can we recognise burnout? Like any disorder, it has a set of symptoms that gradually begin to show up. They include the following:

  • feeling constantly tired of work – tasks that used to be simple and well-known become tiring and unpleasant. Postponing tasks results in an increasing level of stress related to the fear of failing to fulfil obligations on time and in good quality. We bring tiredness home with us, which makes us unable to relax and rest before the next day.
  • alienation from the company’s life – if we used to be very active and involved, used to submit our ideas and proposals and for some time, the involvement in the company’s affairs has not been satisfactory for us, it can be a signal of an emerging problem with burnout,
  • fear of going to work – very often people struggling with burnout feel stressed just thinking about going back to work. This stress manifests itself in various ways, often with somatic symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.
  • lack of interest in the industry – if our work used to be our passion and now, we are not happy at all, it could mean that we are at risk of burnout. The issue of losing interest in the industry in which we work does not necessarily have to be directly related to it – it may be the result of a poor atmosphere in the team or a lack of recognition by the management,
  • nervously browsing job advertisements and not applying for offers – often people who are burned out think about changing their job, browse advertisements, visualising themselves in
    a new position in another company. At the same time, they do not apply for offers, being afraid of changes and risks that would require additional activity from them, for which they do not have the strength now. As a result, they remain in their current position – burned out.

What can we do?

In the early, mild phases, specialists recommend holidays. The best way to overcome burnout is to change the workplace which, however, is already quite a radical solution. In the case of complete burnout, accompanied by depression and suicidal thoughts, consultation with a psychologist or psychiatrist is necessary. Burnout syndrome is difficult to overcome so it is better to prevent it, which is not as difficult as it might seem.

The ways to do so are well-known now and are also promoted by many employers. It is work-life balance and constant professional development. Specialists recommend trying to do the work that we actually like as well as taking care of a healthy lifestyle: sleep, nutrition, sports. It is equally important to have a life outside of work: taking holidays, pursuing passions, spending time with loved ones, constant learning.

Activities on the part of the employer are also important and it is worth learning about them already at the stage of recruitment to a given organisation. Does the company conduct employee satisfaction surveys to find out who and when might be at risk of burnout? Are there programmes and mechanisms in place aimed at preventing work overload and monotony – e.g. project work in various teams? Are employees positively motivated? Does the employer support the work-life balance of its employees? Is the work space and work organisation favourable? These questions must be answered by both the employee and the employer.

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