X snoozes his alarm for the second time, this morning. The thought of having to go back to the same desk, see the same faces and ‘waste’ another day seems unbearable. For the first time in his career of 4 years, office and everything else seems meaningless. A good performer is struggling with a below-average rating now. And, outside the workplace, X is hardly ever excited with his friends and family. What could have gone wrong?
Have there have been days at work where you’ve felt bone-tired? Burnout is a term used to describe disinterest and frustration at work that could have stemmed from long-term exhaustion.
A heavy workload, having to stay long hours at work, cramming one’s evenings with meetings, and last-minute presentations have become the norm in corporate India. Over time, prolonged exposure to such stressful situations can impact one’s physical and mental health alike. In fact, signs of burnout are similar to symptoms of clinical depression.
Herbert Freudenberger, a psychoanalyst researched about burnout in the 1970s after he noticed feeling fatigued and frustrated with his own work. Seemingly, this can affect individuals across different fields- be it art, corporate, social, scientific, sport etc. According to his research, the burnout syndrome lasts 12 phases, and progresses gradually.
Is there a phase that seems relatable to you, currently?
A compulsion to prove oneself- It starts off with an urge to be successful in their jobs. A high achievement drive makes individuals want to prove to others, and themselves that they are doing a brilliant job.
Working harder- Individuals start wanting to make accomplishments on their own. They assume sole responsibility for certain tasks and want to constantly meet their own high expectations.
Neglecting needs- Work assumes primary focus and importance in their lives. Basic needs like sleeping, eating and socializing with friends and family are considered important sacrifices to make in order to climb the corporate ladder.
Displacement of conflicts- The individual starts to recognize that there might be a problem but isn’t sure as to what it could be. The first physical symptom could appear, and be ignored in this phase, since one ‘does not have time’ to care for themselves.
Revision of values- Since individuals start staying alone frequently, avoid conflicts and their basic needs, they begin thinking differently. Friends, family, interests and hobbies are neglected. Work becomes the only measure of their self-worth.
Denial of emerging problems- Mood fluctuations become frequent, with individuals having lower levels of tolerance, and higher levels of aggression. They see their problems emerging from the amount of work they have, and not from how they have changed.
Withdrawal- Individuals don’t have a clear direction anymore. They have cut themselves off from social circles, and continue working, as they are expected to. Substance abuse can begin during this phase.
Behavioural changes- People close to the individual start noticing changes. They could have become fearful, shy, cynical and indifferent.
Depersonalization- Nothing seems to be worthwhile or valuable- neither people, nor themselves. Individuals tend to lose contact with their own identity, while mechanical tasks still continue.
Emptiness- Since their inner emptiness deepens, individuals tend to compensate for it with some kind of activity. Exaggerated sexuality, overeating, and alcohol or drug abuse could be noticed.
Depression- The burnout signs correspond to those of depression. The individual believes that their future will be meaningless- they tend to feel hopeless, disinterested and exhausted.
Burnout syndrome- Individuals start having suicidal ideations to escape their situation. Since they experience a deterioration of physical and mental health, they require immediate medical and psychological assistance.
If some of these signs sound relatable, it might be important to make a few adjustments to your routine.
Here are a few strategies that one could use to combat feelings of burnout-
Prioritize basic needs- Eating, sleeping and exercising are activities that could form the basis of your physical health. Compromising on any one of these means that you’re placing work against your own well-being. Setting out time for these, and fitting other tasks around this schedule is an important adjustment to make.
Speak to people- Try limiting the time you spend on your screen, and use it to have real, face-to-face conversations with people. You could go out for a walk with a colleague, during your lunch break without a phone, or have a tech-free dinner at the table with your friends/family every night.
Leisure activities- Fill your time after work, and during the weekends with activities that help you feel refreshed. Different activities could work well with different individuals. Whether it is taking on a hobby during the weekends, or staying in bed, watching movies without a feeling of guilt, experimenting and finding a few relaxing activities can help.
Life outside work- It is important to work on your thoughts, and remind yourself that your identity and self-worth is not measured only by work. It is a choice for you to make as to what you’d like to identify with. Apart from being an employee at your company, you can also be a great cook, fitness enthusiast, singer, or movie-buff.
Plan efficiently- Plan your workdays well. It is important to have a time limit on your office hours every day. Pick and choose to do harder tasks when you feel more active in the day, make lists of what needs to be completed on a daily basis, leave your laptop behind at work in the evenings, and turn off notifications for your work mail just before you leave.
Ensuring that these basic procedures are in place would help you re-prioritize your health and well-being to be as important as a successful career.
Making these changes right away can be hard. Hence, if you’ve identified with these signs, and are looking to make certain changes in your life, please feel free to contact our counsellors to discuss this further.
Kraft , Ulrich . "Burned Out - Scientific American." Science News, Articles, and Information - Scientific American. Scientific American Mind , Jun 2006 . Web. 16 Feb 2018. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/burned-out/>.
Lodhi , Muhammad. "Psychological Factors Affecting Job Burnout ." Www.indepreview.com . Indep Review , Jan 2015. Web. 16 Feb 2018. <http://admin.indepreview.com/article/VOL.%2017%20No.%2001/017%20IR-360%20Psychology%20Factors%20Effecting%20Job%20Burnout.pdf>.