Professional Exhaustion Or Burnout

Professional Exhaustion Or Burnout

Burnout or professional exhaustion, initially identified among caregivers, can affect all professions that require intense personal commitment. Preventive measures must prevent a worsening of the health of people already threatened by burnout and, at the same time, prevent the appearance of other cases.

Burnout syndrome is a set of reactions resulting from situations of chronic professional stress in which the dimension of commitment is predominant. It is characterized by 3 dimensions :

  • emotional exhaustion: feeling drained of emotional resources,
  • depersonalization or cynicism: insensitivity to the surrounding world, dehumanization of the relationship with others (users, clients, or patients become objects), the negative vision of others, and of work
  • the feeling of personal non-accomplishment at work: the feeling of not being able to respond correctly to the expectations of those around you, depreciation of one’s results, feeling of waste…

Remember, “burnout” is a gradual process. It does not manifest itself at once. Often a person is not able to recognize the symptoms. He continues to linger at work to start or finish work projects, solve “vital” urgent questions, and think over work tasks outside of the office. And by his actions, he destroys his career. 

Many professions require a significant personal and emotional investment. Employees in these professions may be concerned by the risk of burnout when they come to feel that there is too great a gap between their expectations, the representation they have of their profession (based on values and rules), and the reality of the work. This situation, which exhausts them and drains them “emotionally”, leads them to question their initial investment.

Examples Of Exposure To Risk

Exposure to the risk of burnout can concern the professions of assistance, care, teaching… professions where the relationship with the other is at the center of the activity and constitutes a stake, sometimes vital, for the beneficiaries of this relationship (users, patients, clients, …). However, burnout can also affect other sectors of activity that are likely to mobilize and commit people to very strong professional values.

Risk Factors

It is commonly believed that burnout is more susceptible at the age of 28-42 when a person’s values and priorities are being reevaluated. But the pace of today’s changes is so high that the situation of increased stress and rapidly changing conditions of the working environment has become the norm in every sphere.

Since burnout is a consequence of stress at work, stress factors are among the causes of burnout. Various studies have specifically highlighted the role of the following factors:

  • Work overload, time pressure,
  • Low control over one’s work,
  • Low rewards,
  • Lack of fairness,
  • Value conflicts, conflicting demands,
  • Lack of clarity in objectives and means.

The effect of these risk factors can be combined, for certain helping professions (nurses, doctors, social workers, teachers, etc.), with the emotional burden inherent in these professions.

Accidents And Health Effects

The manifestations of burnout, more or less acute, can be :

  • emotional (feeling of emptiness, helplessness, loss of self-confidence, irritability, pessimism, “bureaucratic” attitude…),
  • cognitive (difficulty concentrating, indecision, difficulty performing simple operations, alteration of the quality of work…),
  • physical (generalized fatigue, headaches, backaches, muscular tension, sleep disorders…)
  • interpersonal and behavioral (withdrawal, isolation, aggressiveness, impulsivity, decreased empathy, addictive behaviors…)
  • motivational and attitudinal (negative attitude towards work and others, disengagement,…)

The symptomatology of burnout is quite complex, not very specific, and can evolve towards depression or anxiety.

Prevention

To prevent the appearance of burnout, it is recommended to ensure that the organization of work and the constraints it generates do not overload employees and do not put them at odds with the rules and values of their profession. Getting acquainted with the opinions of psychologists and studying scientific and research papers help to better understand the problem and to develop the right strategy to prevent such burnout. It is also important to allow teamwork and to encourage social support. And more generally, it is recommended to implement a collective prevention approach to RPS (see Psychosocial Risks).

Identifying Burnout Situations

At the individual level, the employer, the management, the prevention actors within the company, and the occupational health service must be vigilant to a series of signals that may suggest that an employee is in a burnout situation:

  • Does the employee complain of lack of energy to accomplish his work?
  • Does he or she complain about concentration problems, lack of mental availability at work?
  • Are they easily irritated?
  • Does he or she devalue the work he or she does, his or her own efficiency and skills?
  • Does he/she show signs of professional disinvestment?

A change in the employee’s attitude, a withdrawal, an unusual disengagement are all signals that should call out to the professional environment.

At the collective level, the indicators for detecting psychosocial risks can be examined.

Burnout can also be identified by means of questionnaires (see the FRPS questionnaire sheets).

Implementing Collective Prevention Measures

Appropriate prevention measures must be sought and implemented. Their objective is to reduce the professional demands placed on employees and to increase the resources available to them.

Examples of collective prevention measures for burnout:

  • Ensure that certain jobs or employees are not overloaded,
  • Encourage social support and avoid isolation: set up groups to exchange professional practices, strengthen teamwork (work time reserved for shift changes, spaces for sharing experiences and exchanges),
  • Improve feedback on work efficiency, recognition of work accomplished,
  • Be vigilant about the fair treatment of employees,
  • Avoiding ethical conflicts around the quality of work, by sharing objectives and ways of achieving them.

How To Prevent A Second Burnout At Work

According to researches, burnout syndrome does not disappear by itself. It needs active actions for its curing. Besides, it is impossible to get rid of this illness once and for all. There is a probability that it will develop again or intensify. This is why it is essential to take a conscious approach to the issue of prevention, to use self-regulation and self-recovery techniques to prevent burnout.

Taking Care Of People Suffering From Burnout

When one or more people are suffering from burnout, management can offer them a meeting to take stock of their difficulties. The reasons for their condition in relation to work must be sought. At the same time, they can contact the occupational physician. The occupational physician will assess the need for referral to specialized care and will evaluate the opportunity to adjust the position or redefine the objectives and resources available to them. The occupational health service can also help the company to identify the professional risk factors related to the cases of burnout brought to its attention.