Rafael was a bank account officer tasked with marketing loans and reviewing financial statements for corporate loan applications. The job was interesting at first, but eventually pressure from work piled up on pressure at home: He was starting a new family while supporting his elderly parents.
After a year or so, he was miserable. “I was unhappy and dragging myself out of bed … forcing myself to work. They’re not affected at the office, but at home, [my family] could sense that I was tired and that negativism pervaded [my outlook],” Rafael says, adding that frequent bouts of fever and severe colds would force him to go on sick leave.
The end of the rope
Rafael’s story is a classic case of burnout—a response to chronic stress at work. It has three key symptoms: exhaustion, disengagement from others at work and a feeling of helplessness. It is distinct from depression, a mood disorder resulting from negative or traumatic events in life, including family and work, for which the individual feels unable to cope. It is also different from fatigue, a general condition of tiredness that may occur for a short or prolonged time and may be triggered by factors other than work.
Burnout was first noted and studied in the human services sector: nurses, doctors, teachers, firemen and policemen on whom the varying demands from people with various conditions take an emotional and physical toll. Today’s Internet connectivity and global competition add other factors that lead to burnout: a quick 24/7 response to customer inquiries and follow-ups from principals; shorter turnaround time; and differing cultural work ethics.
Robert Caraan, a human resource practitioner at a multinational firm, identifies four stages of burnout:
• Irritability—getting annoyed with repetitive tasks and finding the job monotonous.
• Angst or despair—feeling that nothing can be done to improve the situation.
• Cynicism—feeling that there is nothing good about the workplace.
• Indifference or skepticism—stems from the above-mentioned despair and cynicism; believing there is no hope for his work situation, the individual begins questioning work processes and policies.
Burned-out employees display several observable behaviors, says certified industrial organizational psychologist Ligaya Menguito. Among these are absenteeism, tardiness, working “undertime” and withdrawal from interaction with their peers. “A keener boss would also be able to detect a decline in the quality of the employee's work. For example, is the employee still putting in the extra effort even without supervision?” she says. Other signs, though harder to catch, would be negative posts on social networking sites.
Keep the fire burning
For the burned-out employee, Caraan suggests the following self-care steps:
• Take time off from work. A week off might just be enough time to help you gain some perspective about what to do.
• Get some exercise. Many studies show that physical exercise can help improve your sense of well-being.
• Pray. The sense of having someone larger than yourself to talk to and take charge may help relieve you of feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. It may also help frame your work experience in more meaningful ways.
For more information on fighting burnout blues and the boss’ role in keeping the staff passionate and productive, get a copy of the November issue of HealthToday, out now in newsstands and bookstores.