Burnout is a relatively new term. 50 years ago, psychologist, Dr. Christina Maslach was studying how people responded to emotions being brought to the surface. She found that among all the triggers, unhappiness at work seemed to bring out the most crying, yelling and rage. Now a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr Maslach has become a pioneer in burnout research and can help us understand what it may look like for us and what can be done about it.
What is burnout?
Deakin University psychologist Dr Michael Leiter explains burnout as a “reflection of fundamental challenges in life.” Working together Leiter and Maslach have found that the fundamental challenges contributing to burnout mostly occur in the workplace. They argue that the workplace is largely where people seek to fulfil themselves and seek core values. It is when those efforts fall short of our expectations and core values that the consequences of frustration can be immense.
What are the symptoms?
While the study of burnout is still in its infancy, Leiter explains that psychologists see burnout as a syndrome of chronic exhaustion, inefficiency, cynicism and people feeling distant from themselves and their core identity.
Psychologists see burnout as not just one issue rising to the surface but a few. They see the syndromes involved as being multiple, chronic exhaustion and acute stress disorders playing parts in how people are feeling.
How can I tell if it’s happening?
Dr Maslach outlines that, It happens when you’re backing off from what you probably once loved and committed to doing in working. “You’ve lost that feeling, you’ve lost that motivation, and you’re simultaneously feeling cynical about the work and bad about the work you are actually doing.”
Dr Maslach highlights that one of the compelling reasons triggering her to look into burnout is that people were asking for help. “I wasn’t starting top down from theory or model. It was a really particular kind of phenomenon that was causing people to ask for help.”
The more often someone is feeling the symptoms of exhaustion, stress and frustrations at work reinforces the likelihood that they are experiencing burnout.
What can be done about it? #1
Academics from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health highlight that much is still needed in figuring out burnout and effective approaches to combat it.
“Interventions to tackle burnout vary considerably in content and the results are mixed.”
Additionally the academic team found that “Individual-focused interventions are not consistently sufficient to tackle severe burnout.” This arguably means that a multi-faceted approach to tackling burnout is an avenue that businesses and employees should seek to use.
Dr Leiter argues that burnout can be helped but the options are limited. He encourages employees to “maintain energy throughout.”
Looking Deeper May Help #2
Dr Leiter encourages people to “maintain fulfillment”. He argues that spending time figuring out your core values and personal commitments is an important first step.
Are you core values not being pursued at your work?
Do you feel distant from parts of your job that you initially loved?
Feeling trusted and respected at work is also a crucial part of work satisfaction. He also advocates strongly for the importance of maintaining good workplace relationships which he believes is one of the crucial elements to stave off burnout.
Asking yourself if you feel trusted and respected at work may help you navigate why you are feeling frustrated with work. Prioritising having a discussion with your boss, a trusted co-worker and a counsellor may be the difficult but rewarding first step to rejuvenating your passion for work.
Social relationships at work are crucial
Dr Maslach believes that having a network of support and friendship at work is vital for workplace health.
“One of the things we know from tons and tons of studies is that good, powerful social relationships are critical for long-term well-being and mental health. “[Seek] People who make life [and work] fun and who can give you advice. You’re there for them, and they have your back, too.”
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