The Signs of Burnout
18 October 2023 at 09:29 · 5 min read
Burnout is the exhaustion, both mental and sometimes physical that occurs as the result of long-term stress.
If left to worsen, it eventually manifests itself as a significant drop in your productivity and even an overall disillusion. If left unchecked, burnout can eventually lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
One of the most troubling aspects of burnout is its ability to become a vicious, reinforcing cycle. When your productivity drops, it can take longer and longer to do the same tasks as before. This inherently leads to frustration with oneself and one’s ability to handle their workload. Work begins to pile up, increasing the pressure. With greater pressure comes progressively lower and lower productivity and thus, the cycle repeats.
The longer it's left to smoulder, the more serious these consequences can become. With that in mind, it's good to be able to spot the beginning signs of burnout and take action early.
Early signs of Stress
We all have days at work that are more difficult than others, but that said, it’s worth being conscious of any these feelings becoming more long-lasting or seeming to appear out of nowhere. We often find ourselves starting a new job with a certain sense of enjoyment and optimism. When the stress that we experience seriously impinges on that, then we should be wary.
At this stage there can also be mental and physical symptoms of anxiety such as a persistent nervousness or having a sense of impending danger.
From an HR standpoint, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish these early warning signs from the everyday rigors of the modern workplace. However, people experiencing anxiety can sometimes display noticeable changes in diet, trouble concentrating, memory problems and in some cases can seem to have difficulty in making decisions.
When these ‘difficult’ periods become more common, these issues can become problematic. Despite difficult deadline times or a competitive work environment, it should be concerning to both employees and managers alike to see workers feeling constantly stressed over extended periods of time.
When anxiety and stress become more frequent and noticeable, they can become a very real drag on your motivation. Changes in workplace presentation can be seen as well as in increased lateness, noticeable tiredness, especially in the mornings as well as seeming to be constantly panicked or under pressure at work - even though workers themselves may be in a state of denial.
The end result of this is steadily increasing numbers of missed deadlines, and rushed, possibly substandard work. But it can also show itself in the personal lives of workers as they struggle to maintain hobbies, friendships and out of work activities.
When this state persists, workers can reach the state of burnout that many of us are more familiar with. This is simply because the signs are often missed leading up to this stage. In many cases, people may simply associate lesser symptoms with normal, everyday work life. But they can escalate and in some cases even become chronic.
Workers can become pessimistic and riddled with doubt, significantly underperforming in comparison to their previous efforts. They can display severe social isolation, even an active desire to escape not only work, but friends and family as well. Symptoms of anxiety can progress to chronic physical issues with sleeping, digestion, aches and pains.
If left even longer, this can progress into depression and other chronic mental and physical health problems.
It’s important to remember that this is not an instance of someone becoming arbitrarily bad at their job, losing a skill or falling behind. This is a very real instance of someone, experiencing mental health issues - at least partially as a result of their work environment. Ultimately the only ‘cure’ for burnout may be in an extended absence from work and a gradual reintroduction to the workplace.
For many workplaces, this is obviously not ideal and highly inefficient. That’s why it's best to solve the issues before they arise. One way can be for the company itself to be vigilant in looking out for the early warning signs among workers.
However, these are not always easy to spot in amongst the everyday cut and thrust of business. Indeed, some who experience burnout may not recognise it themselves at first, and many may be in a state of denial themselves. There are significant benefits to having in place dedicated mental health procedures that allow employees to self-report and take action themselves at an early stage before everyday anxieties escalate.
There are a number of different ways this can be done, and some will be more or less suited to a given business. In each case, it is important that there is always access to a properly trained and accredited psychologist when required.