Employee Engagement Work Culture

Job burn-out: Sure-shot signs of workplace exhaustion

January 17, 2019

Work-related burnout is usually characterized by physical/emotional tiredness, cynicism and hampered productivity.

Job burn-out

Job burn-out: Sure-shot signs of workplace exhaustion

Job burn-out as we know it today, was first explained by U.S. Psychologist and researcher Herbert Freudenberger. In his 1974 article, he described it as “becoming exhausted from making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources”.

According to the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Disease ICD-11, burn-out is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

The same manual notes the three main dimensions burn-out is usually characterized by. These consist ‘feelings of energy depletion; increased mental distance from one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy’. We take a look at these symptoms and a few ways to tackle burn-out.

Physical symptoms

The factors leading to job burn-out could be plenty. Never-ending meetings, an exhaustive to-do-list, racing against tight deadlines, dealing with unsympathetic supervisors etc. Therefore, sustained stressors accumulating unaddressed strain over an extended period of time is the main cause of suffering job burn-out.

Some of the most basic physical symptoms of burn-out include frequent headaches, palpitations, chest pains, dizziness leading to chronic fatigue etc. Similarly, several employees list loss of appetite and insomnia among other complaints.

In present times, burn-out symptoms are not uncommon among early-career professionals. Several empirical studies also suggest the high prevalence at which burn-out is hindering productivity of employees and thereby sabotaging retention.

A survey conducted by Gallup polled nearly 7,500 full-time employees in the United States. As the results showed that about two-thirds of workers experience burnout on the job. Statistics are given by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in U.K also reiterated grim findings of work-related stress. It showed a total of 239,000 new cases being recorded among British employees in 2017.


Employees who suffer burn-out complain about growing increasingly detached to their work. This is usually accompanied by feelings of isolation and recurrent pessimism. Consequently, this could lead to employees making excuses to come in late, reply to work-related emails, skip meetings etc.

There are high chances of such detachment spilling over from work to one’s personal life. Moreover, in worst cases, it can impede personal relationships at home.

Likewise, increased mood swings coupled with reduced motivation towards work can interfere with the confidence employees need to perform better. According to the Gallup study, burned-out employees are 13 percent less confidence in their performance at work.

Poor performance

Navigating huge work pileups can result in impaired concentration and forgetfulness. Furthermore, employees showing signs of burn-out struggle to remain focused for long hours.

Subsequently, it results in anxiety about various work-related tasks, whether it is making a presentation or handling clients. Overall, this kind of employee disengagement leads to decreased productivity.

Morar Consulting surveyed 614 HR professionals in the US ranging from managers and directors to vice presidents to chief officers. Therefore, as per their results, almost half of all these professionals held, employee burnout as responsible for up to half of their annual workforce turnover.

Ways to prevent an impending job burn-out

Organizational psychologist Dr. Sarah Cotton focused on identifying the pain points that cause burn-out throughout her doctoral studies and work experience. As a result, she listed some of the factors that push an employee to the edge of having a burn-out.

These include misalignment of job expectations, unsustainable workload, disengaged work atmosphere, poor work-life-balance among others. Also, here are a few simple ways to tackle job burn-out:

  • Recognize the symptoms in the first place. Do not ignore even simple signs like disinterest and detachment if they persist for a long time.
  • List down your priorities. Evaluate and re-orient them accordingly in case they are the source of your work-related stress.
  • Do not shy away from seeking help. Have a word with your supervisor, take an extreme vacation or do anything meaningful that will allow you to re-connect with your job better.

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