Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Woman at computer holding her head looking stressed.

Burnout Part 2

by James Porter June 16, 2022

This is the second of a six-part article on Burnout. Future installments will discuss what makes resilience a dirty word, the five stages of burnout, how to prevent burnout and most importantly, how to help employees recover from burnout.

“Burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion brought on by long periods of constant, unrelenting stress. Burnout renders you feeling depleted and dejected,” reports a recent article in Forbes magazine.  Just one year into the pandemic, again according to Forbes, rates of burnout amongst all worker age groups soared:

  • Millennials were the most affected with 59% experiencing burnout.
  • Gen-Z were a close second with 58% reporting burnout.
  • Gen-Xers were third at 54%.
  • Baby Boomers were the least affected at 31%.

But all 4 generations experienced dramatic increases in the rates of burnout from the year before with the younger generation’s increases as high as a 24%!

Work-related burnout results from long-term, unresolvable job stress. Burnout is caused by a set of symptoms that include exhaustion resulting from work's excessive demands, as well as the resulting physical symptoms, such as headaches and sleeplessness, anger episodes and closed thinking. The burned-out worker "looks, acts and seems depressed."

Burnout often starts in workers who are considered rising stars in an organization. Often referred to as the honeymoon phase, this worker starts out passionate about his or her career, putting in long hours and not minding it a bit. This person wants to do everything it takes to get ahead. 

After the honeymoon phase, for a variety of reasons, outlined in the next installment, this worker’s enthusiasm starts to fizzle out. Often times, he or she is not in control of their career or job and can’t figure out a way to succeed—no matter how hard they try. This leads to increasing levels of frustration, compounded by the worker’s own desire to stand out in the crowd. It may come down to the work not resonating with their sense of purpose, social justice, or even ones’ beliefs how about “green” his her employers policies and production methods are. Eventually, this person starts to wonder if it’s all worth it.

By the time this worker has descended into burnout it’s often too late to turn their ship around. And until recently, managers would typically lay blame for this work-related condition on the necks of their employees. For decades after it was first identified in the 1980’s (see my previous installment) employers didn’t really want to face up to their role in CREATING burnout.

As I learned, when attending the last US meeting of the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) in 2001 - which is a robust organization outside of the US and now, hanging by a thread here, one of the British members explained: “In the US job stress and burnout are considered to be the responsibility of employee, in Europe and Canada (where ISMA thrives) job stress and burnout are considered to be the responsibility of the employer.”

But thanks to what continues to be a very strong job market there has been a sea change here in the US where this topic is concerned. New hires want to work in a place that is fun, playful, environmentally responsible, with lots of benefits including onsite yoga classes and online wellness programs, and Talent Acquisition Specialists, are doing their best to provide those perks.  

Jennifer Moss, author of a recent article in the Harvard Business review, agrees with this new position of forward-thinking companies: “We tend to think of burnout as an individual problem but it’s not. The responsibility for managing it has shifted away from the individual and towards the organization. Leaders take note it’s now your responsibility to build a burnout strategy.”

In the next installment, we’ll look at Moss’s top five reasons workers burnout and in future installments, exactly how to solve it. (Check out Jim Porter’s Stress Management at Work group on Linked-in and join the conversation to comment on this article.)

James Porter
James Porter