The first to arrive and the last to leave, Liz could be called a sad workaholic. She usually says yes to that extra task or taking on someone else’s load, doing extra hours or shifts. No wonder she looks tired. Liz used to have a great sense of humour but of late she’s been out of sorts, sometimes a little short-tempered. She has a family but she’s too tired to enjoy time with them. Despite those long hours at work, her line manager has been at her to get her documentation and stats up to date. Liz is so tired of spinning all these plates and wonders what happened to her love for her work. Perhaps you know her, perhaps you are her.

Recognition of burnout

Liz is suffering from burnout which can lead to:

  • reduced efficiency at work
  • having difficulties problem solving
  • dread of going to work, even hating your job 
  • social withdrawal such as not seeing friends or doing things with family
  • spending long periods doing nothing
  • wanting to sleep more.

Burnout is bad for you, your relationships and work.

Burnout is defined by the World Health Organisation/WHO (in ICD-11) as  “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Note the emphasis on stress in the occupational context. Burnout  is characterised by 3 dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

It helps to understand the causes of burnout by dividing them into external vs internal. External causes may include your work environment, long working hours, lack of resources or unrealistic expectations at work. Internal factors may include your sense of professional identity or work role, relationships with colleagues and your self-care. When you’re pressured at work, you may give up on the factors that contribute to your wellbeing such as connecting with family and friends and having time to relax or enjoy activities.

Recovery from burnout

Burnout is a serious, debilitating condition and left untreated/unresolved it can lead to depression. The causes of burnout are multiple and complex.

Burnout is not homogenous, neither are solutions (Winkel)

Simply taking time off will not have a lasting effect. There is a need to tackle the causes and then to adapt work and lifestyle. When you have identified some or all of the contributing factors, plan how they can be addressed. You will need help from others such as work or partner, friends and family.

When you have identified external and internal causes ask yourself:

  • Who do you need to speak to?
  • Who can help?
  • How much time do you need away from work?
  • What needs to be changed in your work environment?
  • Where do you need help and support from?
  • How can you adopt a healthier lifestyle taking into account
    • diet
    • exercise/physical activity
    • leisure activities/hobbies/interests
    • time for family and friends
    • mental health such as self-help, meditation, psychological therapy, help from GP or psychiatrist.

To guide your recovery, draw up a personal plan.

Prevention of burnout

Organisations have a responsibility for ensuring wellbeing in the workplace. Fortunately there is growing recognition in this area although it will vary considerably in quality from one place to another.  Good organisations will be aware that nurturing their employees will lead to happier, more productive and creative employees. Of course, if you’re self-employed you will need to plan how to make your work environment a healthier one and limit your hours.

Like most afflictions, prevention is so much better than cure. Knowing what could lead to burnout means you can avoid that slippery downhill slide.

Tips to keep you well:

  • Physical wellbeing. Discover what physical activity you enjoy and incorporate this into your   daily routine.There are so many ways to get your body moving and to experience the pleasure of being active. This is your life, this is your body: take good care of yourself.
  • Emotional and spiritual wellbeing .You can be spiritual without being religious. This is being aware of your inner essence, taking time to listen to your inner voice and living your life accordingly.Seek out time for yourself where you can be quiet and reflective; take inspiration from reading, take time to write or draw or paint.

  • Your values and the organisation. Your particular values are a direction in life and may be success, integrity, honesty, a sense of adventure, financial reward, security. When you are working with these values you have a feeling of energy, enthusiasm and happiness. When you work in an organisation, you are required to uphold their values. If you are conflicted or ignore your values you are likely to feel unhappy and dissatisfied.

  • Nourish relationships. Having strong friendships and healthy family relationships contributes to happiness and being more resilient.

  • Strengths. When you’re working with your strengths this increases your sense of enjoyment and helps you get into a flow state. Know your strengths especially your character strengths.

  • How much control, what can you delegate.Having a sense of autonomy improves our wellbeing at work There is a need to prioritise what is essential to your role and what you are good/excellent at providing. Know when to delegate; what can reasonably be given to others to deal with.

  •   Planning – know your direction. Clarify your work role and understand your sense of professional identity. It’s essential to have a sense of growth and direction or you will feel bored and frustrated. Consider being coached and/or mentored.

So in summary

Burnout is a result of workplace stress and results in the individual feeling depleted and lacklustre.
The first step is recognising it, the second step is asking for help and giving yourself permission to rest and recover. Recovery involves addressing the causes and having a personalised plan. The third step is preventing burnout recurring.

I leave you with a quote from Bernard Beckett (a writer from New Zealand),

Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, differences resolved. It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile. It can be blackened by fear and superstition.


Reinvention coaching is helping you to change your life so you spend time and energy on who and what matters to you.