The WHO defines burnout as the feeling you get from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” They break it down to three dimensions: exhaustion, growing mental distance from your job (often manifested through cynicism), and lower efficiency. In the past, those feelings or symptoms were disregarded or misinterpreted as laziness or lack of motivation. Now that it’s recognized by WHO, employers know they need to do something about it.
Hidden from sight
It’s a lot easier for us to spot a physical ailment or a health issue than it is to spot its mental counterpart, so burnout can often go unnoticed. Also, it’s easy to mistake it for regular stress, but the two are actually different. We all experience short periods of stress, which can usually be shaken off over the weekend or with the help of a few days off. Burnout, however, has more of a long-term effect. When unattended, burnout can seep into other areas of your life (not just the professional aspect), and possibly even lead to depression. Sadly, people don’t talk about it enough as they’re afraid to be perceived as self-absorbed and less productive in today’s society. Startup culture, especially in the US is a great part of the problem, as its workers are often overworked and don’t maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Recognizing the problem
There is a list of common symptoms displayed by people with burnout. Here are the most common ones: mental (or physical) fatigue, disillusionment, loss of motivation, impatience, reduced interest in hobbies, moodiness, sleep deprivation, hopelessness, reduced focus, and more. The more of those symptoms you tick off, the higher the chance burnout has got you too.
Solving the problem
Since burnout as a phenomenon was recognized not long ago, solutions for it are still a work in progress. Still, there are some things you can do to help yourself (or your friends) treat it. First, try to have a zoomed-out point of view of your career and single out the things that make you feel bad. Is it overtime? The people around you? A certain responsibility in your position? Once you spot something tangible you can bring up to your employer, set up a meeting with them, and discuss your options. Obviously, not all of us have an understanding boss or work environment to rely on, but if you’re already burnt out, you may not have that much to lose anyway. Also, if the problem is bigger than that (like the organization you work for or your general field), you may want to consider different vocation altogether. Professional career consultants would be happy to help you with the matter.