Burnout is often seen as a modern condition. It’s a term that was first coined in 1974 by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, and is increasingly being used to describe the experiences of professionals in a variety of fields (Petersen, 2019).
Indeed, recent studies have uncovered alarming rates of burnout. A recent poll of physicians in Canada found that “more than one in four reported elevated levels of burnout” (The Canadian Press, 2018). Another study found that “…of senior managers and C-suite executives, about half thought the CEO of their organization was burned out while 75% said their senior managers were burned out” (McConnel, 2018). It’s also estimated that “between 30-50% of Canadian teachers are leaving their teaching positions within the first five years due to burnout” (Marko, 2015). In fact, professionals all over the country—and the world—are reporting worrying levels of burnout in sectors as diverse as banking, education, and healthcare.
Yet while there is no denying that burnout is a significant problem today, there is evidence that this condition has existed for a long time—even if it was misunderstood and poorly managed (Robson, 2016). Fortunately, while much work remains to be done, burnout is far better understood today. As we collectively face this problem, there is a lot that wellness counsellors can do to help alleviate and prevent burnout.
Defining and Recognizing Burnout
Burnout is “…a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress” (HelpGuide.org, 2019). It is characterized by chronic fatigue, ever-present stress, disengagement, low self-esteem, and even a weakened immune system (Bourg Carter, 2013). Yet while burnout itself can be easy to recognize, part of what makes burnout so common is that it occurs gradually over time. A high achiever who performs well during a high-stress period might continue to work at that same pace to get ahead or maintain the status quo. Over time, as burnout begins to set in, that same person will become less productive as “burnout reduces productivity and saps… energy.” (HelpGuide.org, 2019) This can in turn cause them to work harder, put in even more hours, and feel even more stressed, as they feel “…increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful.” (HelpGuide.org, 2019)
Because burnout can have a significant impact on a person’s career, relationships, and mental health, catching and addressing burnout in its early stages can make a world of difference for clients. Once you graduate from wellness college, you can help clients identify symptoms of burnout so that they can implement changes before the condition worsens.
Burnout in the Modern Workplace
Today, we know that there are many causes and contributing factors to burnout. External factors often centre on a person’s place of work. A work environment that is stressful and unpredictable—where employees feel unappreciated, as if they lack control, and as if too much is demanded of them—puts them at a risk of eventually developing burnout (HelpGuide.org, 2019). In fact, “Burnout research shows that complex environments and stressors, coupled with high expectations, create the conditions for traditional work burnout.” (Samra, 2019) Those working in healthcare and other helping professions are especially susceptible to burnout, as the nature of their work may leave them feeling emotionally drained (American Thoracic Society, 2016).
In addition, other stressors can also exacerbate stress felt in the workplace, or lead to burnout in their own right. These can include financial difficulties or caring for a sick loved one, which can leave people feeling overwhelmed and hopeless (American Thoracic Society, 2016).
Using Your Diploma in Wellness Counselling to Reduce and Prevent Burnout
Because a person’s work environment significantly contributes towards whether or not they develop burnout, this is often the domain that wellness counsellors address first. In fact, many workplaces invest in wellness programs for their employees in order to address problems with burnout and staff turnover. Professionals with a diploma in wellness counselling can help such establishments create an open and supportive work environment (Government of Canada, 2017). This can help employees regain a feeling of control, and help foster teamwork and a sense of community.
An open dialogue helps employees feel heard and supported, but managers can also benefit from this approach as well. For managers who themselves are struggling with burnout, making stress management a team effort helps to ensure that they don’t neglect their own mental health as they support their employees (Knight, 2019).
Of course, open dialogue isn’t the only approach to preventing burnout in the workplace. Stress reduction through activities such as meditation, yoga, and physical exercises can help to promote relaxation and wellbeing (Knight, 2019) (Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, n.d.). In addition, healthy company lunches, as well as advice on nutrition, can also help keep employees energized. However, wellness counsellors know that a sense of autonomy is important for employees (Knight, 2019). Therefore, wellness activities should be optional so that they remain stress-relieving, rather than become yet another responsibility for employees to add to their schedules.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, wellness counsellors can recommend that healthy boundaries are set within the workplace. If employees and managers routinely work long hours, you can suggest that they look into “Enforcing reasonable work hours, including, if necessary, sending employees without good boundaries home at the end of their regular work day” (Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, n.d.).
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American Thoracic Society (2016). What is Burnout Syndrome (BOS)? American Thoracic Society. Retrieved from: https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1164/rccm.1941P1
Bourg Carter, S. (2013). The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/high-octane-women/201311/the-tell-tale-signs-burnout-do-you-have-them
Government of Canada (2017). Mental health in the workplace: brownout vs. burnout. Government of Canada. Retrieved from: https://canadabusiness.ca/blog/mental-health-in-the-workplace-brownout-vs-burnout/
HelpGuide.org (2019). Burnout Prevention and Treatment. HelpGuide. Retrieved from: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm/
Knight, R. (2019). How to Help Your Team with Burnout when You’re Burned out Yourself. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2019/03/how-to-help-your-team-with-burnout-when-youre-burned-out-yourself
Marko, K. A. (2015). Hearing the Unheard Voices: an In-Depth Look at Teacher Mental Health and Wellness (master’s thesis, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada). Retreived from: https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4265&context=etd
McConnel, I. (2018). C-Level Burnout: A Problem No One Talks About. TLNT. Retrieved from: https://www.tlnt.com/c-level-burnout-a-problem-no-one-talks-about/
Petersen, A. H. (2019). How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation. Buzzfeed News. Retrieved from: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/millennials-burnout-generation-debt-work
Robson, D. (2016). The reasons why exhaustion and burnout are so common. BBC Future. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160721-the-reasons-why-exhaustion-and-burnout-are-so-common
Samra, R. (2019). Is there an answer to millennial burnout? BBC. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20190122-is-there-an-answer-to-millennial-burnout
The Canadian Press (2018). Burnout, depression and even suicidal thoughts reported in survey of Canadian doctors. CBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/canadian-doctors-burnout-depression-1.4856875
Workplace Strategies for Mental Health (n.d.) Burnout Response. Workplace Strategies for Mental Health. Retrieved from: https://www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/managing-workplace-issues/burnout-response