Avoiding Job Burnout - What you need to know

Job Burnout Signs / Recovery / How to Avoid

Job burnout or the burnout syndrome has become a widespread disease in the industrialized world. Since 1990, the number of sick leaves for emotional distress has more than doubled. Job stress has been declared one of the biggest threats of the century by the World Health Organization (WHO).Competing for attention in a world of electronic and “social” media adds to the problem.

Even though performance-oriented people are most likely to suffer from a burnout, it is not just a “manager issue”. A burnout can hit anyone. People with the helper syndrome are also vulnerable to burnouts.

The number of job burnouts is constantly increasing. Many people underestimate the danger of this condition. Moreover, men often feel embarrassed to admit to themselves and others that they might need help. “I do not have time for this.” “I cannot afford a time-out at this point in my career.” “I am not mental.”

Especially, people who are worried about their careers should act at the first signs of a potential burnout. The soul always strikes back when ignored. Even harder.
Burnout is a serious disease. But it is frequently perceived as a “get your act together,” type of thing. Even depression, a condition 5% of people are suffering from, is often not accepted by society as a serious disease. As always, acceptance is a matter of awareness and awareness requires information.
Job burnouts do not happen overnight. In a slow process, they creep into our lives. Let's shed some light on:
  • What is a burnout
  • Why does it happen
  • What are the symptoms
  • How can I prevent a burnout?
  • How can I find out if I am at risk?
  • Recovery from burnout
A Burnout is a serious condition. This information does not contain medical advice, and it does not replace a doctor's visit. The information in this article is for information purposes only and must not be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment.

Job Burnout Definition

While a job burnout often is accompanied by depression, it is not the same, opposite to common belief.

  • The majority of burnouts are related to the job, but burnouts also happen to unemployed people.
  • A burnout just like the word says describes the feeling of being burnt out physically and emotionally.
  • A burnout happens in various creeping phases.

Numerous helpful books have been written on the topic.

What causes it?

Is burning out a matter of our personality or of our circumstances? Or is it a combination of both?
Some experts believe that burnouts are solely caused by external factors like stress and pressure at the workplace.
The progression of the disease is influenced by the personality traits, but the origin and cause are external factors.
Reasons for non-job-related burnouts include:
  • Stalking
  • Unemployment
  • Chronic stress (i.e., financial trouble over a longer period of time)

The common reasons for job burnouts are:

  • Stress caused by constant pressure though deadlines and challenging goals
  • Fear of job loss
  • Lack of recognition at the workplace
  • Mobbing
  • Inability to work in a team
  • Lack of positive feedback
  • Massed problems that are hard to influence
  • Pressure from superiors
  • Perfectionism
  • Administrative constrains
  • Excessive demands or too few demands
  • Missing agreement on objectives
  • Lack of resources (staff, budget)

Burnout Phases

Some experts divide the process into 5 phases, some experts into 3. Schaufeli, a renowned expert from the Netherlands, describes the three phases as follows:

Burnout Phase 1

Strong fluctuations in performance, motivation, and power. Hyperactivity and total exhaustion take turns.
Warning signals go unnoticed or are being ignored. During phase 1, a person continues to invest a maximum of energy into their tasks. In their time off, they continue to think about work. They feel the need to be efficient at all times, and even in their spare time they continue their search for new ideas or a new solution for a problem.
The line between work and time off fades.
At first, they do not realize that missing recreational phases take their toll on the soul. Irritability, lack of patience, a more unpalatable tone towards colleagues can be warning signals.

Burnout Phase 2

In this phase, the person concerned gets more dull. He removes himself more and more and focuses on his work and tasks.
Resignation starts to spread. A decrease of motivation and driving force is in sight. The performance starts to decrease. Small tasks start to seem exhausting.

Burnout Phase 3

In this last phase, the person concerned isolated themselves. At the same time, the performance decreases more and more.
Decreasing performance results in even less positive feedback, and that leads to a dangerous downward spiral. Tasks that used to be easy have become big chores that require huge amounts of energy.
The person feels like there is no way out of this vicious cycle.

Job Burnout Symptoms

Burnout symptoms are manifold.


  • Frustration
  • Feeling of guilt
  • The feeling of discouragement and indifference
  • Resistance to go to work
  • Distrust, mistrust, and paranoid ideas
  • Mood swings


  • Concentration disorders
  • Projections
  • Rigid thinking and resistance against change


  • Nervous tics like i.e., nail-biting, scratching
  • Tension


  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
  • Hypersensitivity syndrome (MCS)
  • Sleeping disorder
  • Sexual problems
  • Extreme tiredness after work

Physical (in the form of disease)

  • Frequent headaches
  • Back pain
  • Dizziness
  • Frequent colds or flu
  • Gastrointestinal disorders

Physical reactions

  • Increased heartbeat
  • Increased pulse
  • Increased cholesterol level

Behavioral level / Behavioral level work related

  • Increased aggressively
  • Excessive use of drugs, alcohol, or coffee
  • Irregular or excessive food intake
  • Decreased efficiency
  • Extended breaks
  • Turning up late to work or appointments

Social (clients/colleagues/at home)

  • Unable to focus on clients or listen to them
  • Client contacts skipped or delayed
  • Resistance against customer calls and appointments
  • Negative feelings/feeling of indifference towards clients
  • Isolation
  • Withdrawal
  • Avoidance of team meetings and discussions
  • Relationship problems
  • Loneliness

Attitude towards clients

  • Cynicism
  • Stereotyping of clients
  • Reduced empathy
  • Black humor
  • Demonstration of powerlessness

Attitude towards the workplace

  • Negative work attitude
  • Disillusionment
  • Loss of idealism
  • Hyperactivity
  • Chronic fatigue and mental and physical exhaustion
  • Extreme focus on (a) specific goal(s)
  • Anxiety states
  • Inability to take responsibility (for failure)
  • Belittling others to look better and consequently
  • Often not liked by colleagues
  • Seeking distraction (often addiction) in gambling, drugs, internet, sex, alcohol
  • Lack of concentration, sleeping disorders
  • (Pseudo) tinnitus
  • Skipping off-days, breaks
  • Postpone their needs
  • No (very few) social contacts outside the workplace (avoidance)

Burnout Prevention

Basically, there are two kinds of things you can do:
  • Change/remove the negative factors
  • Change the way you react to them
  • Change your mindset
Ok, that is three things. Even better, right?Suppressing the symptoms (i.e., with pills) or ignoring them would only make matters worse.

Job related measures

If possible, involve your employer. Admitting “weakness” might seem like the wrong step for your career, but it is damage minimization, really. If you do not act, you could find yourself in a position that will be riskier for your career than suggesting certain changes and setting boundaries.
No matter if you are a top manager, high performer, a stay-at-home mom or part of the service industry. It is your responsibility to recommend changes when something is off.
Whether it is asking for more staff, realistic goals, additional training/tools, confronting a mobbing situation or asking for feedback – once you identified the negative factors in your working environment you can come up with suggestions and solutions.
If you cannot implement or propose changes that allow you to be successful and healthy, it might be time to consider if owning this company or working for this company is the right long-term career, health, and happiness strategy.

Personal changes

  • Setting realistic goals. A good goal scares you a little, but is neither too challenging nor too undemanding.
  • Positive thinking. The more you practice positive thinking, the more opportunities and resources that aid you and your goal you will see. Throughout this blog, you find recommendations for great tools and at the bottom of this article you will find a form to contact me.
  • Relaxation. Whether it is through yoga, meditation, acupuncture or a neuroscientific approach. Calming your mind will help you to recreate.
  • Say NO. Often, problems are created by our inability to say “no”. Setting limits and saying no can be a great step towards greater happiness – at your workplace and in your home.
  • Success and life coaching with a personal coach or through a program. A burnout is always also a sign of a problem with the feeling of self-worth. A burnout also is a disease that changes your self-perceptions. There are tools and coaches that enable you to change that. The more you love yourself and deem yourself worthy, the easier it will become for you to change unhealthy behavioral patterns and circumstances.

Burnout Recovery

Recovery presupposes a diagnosis. Many cannot recognize the feeling of being burnt out and physically and mentally exhausted as an actual burnout.
What makes the disease even more difficult to diagnose is that it is a creeping process. Furthermore, doctors and psychologists are not always burnout experts, so that to diagnose often takes some time.
Several tests can help to distinguish depression from burnout. Especially in phase 3 the symptoms can look similar to a depression.
In phase 2 and especially 3 it is time to immediately seek the help of a professional. At this point, a spa weekend will not make it go away. Psychotherapy is needed. The good news is: Recovery is possible.


People affected can be able to self-diagnose that they have a problem. That requires absolute honesty.
Generally, self-diagnosis cannot replace the diagnosis by a qualified expert.
To read articles like this can help you gain a better understanding where you stand and whether you need to act.  Once you identify a problem, it is time to seek help.