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Workplace Burnout

As the workforce continues to grow and workplace pressure continues to build, an increasing number of people are admitting to experiencing burnout at work. Burnout is described by the World Health Organization as an “occupational phenomenon,” and defines it as a “state of vital exhaustion.” Many researchers refer to it as an “occupational disease” and believe the occupations with the most risk of burnout are those in healthcare, social work, police work, teaching, and customer service.

Academic and mental health professionals have been working for years to come up with a definition for burnout based on its causes and symptoms. Some believe burnout is brought about through chronic workplace stress that is improperly managed and others believe there are other conditions, such as depression, that are behind burnout and have nothing to do with their actual job.

The American Psychological Association’s David Ballard, PsyD describes job burnout as “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.” Burnout may feature feelings of depleted energy and negative feelings; irritability with co-workers, customers or clients; difficulty concentrating; use food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or not feel at all; unexplained headaches, digestive or other medical concerns that can’t be explained; cognitive problems; etc.

Studies have shown that healthy levels of stress can boost one’s motivation while improving mental performance. Unhealthy levels of stress can have several negative physical and mental effects that drastically affect one’s quality of life.

Some reasons that lead to burnout are – feeling like you have to carry the constant expectation of success coupled with few opportunities for breaks; pressures of an increased workload; toxic work atmosphere; financial instability; workplace politics; unsupportive superiors; lack or poor communication; feeling that examples set by management who are work-a-holics expect their employees to do the same; allowing your work to seep into the time you should dedicate to personal relationships and self-care.

If you recognize or suspect that you are experiencing workplace burnout, you should take action to help alleviate the stressors causing your burnout or ask for help. Things you can do take action include – discussing your concerns with your supervisor; reach out to those you trust to help you; set aside a portion of your day to engage in something you enjoy and enable yourself to build your inner strength; engage in activities that will allow you to unwind and disengage from the triggers that are causing burnout; turn off your workplace devices (e.g. cell phones) and unplug; reorganize and reprioritize what’s truly important; exercise; and get some sleep.

Some organizations will have support already in place for when staff members require support. MyHealth Alberta also has some excellent resources to help manage job stress –

If you’d like to speak with one of our physicians to learn more about managing workplace burnout or the difference between healthy and dangerous levels of stress, book an appointment with your physician.


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