What is Burnout and How Do We Know If We Or Our Team Is in Danger of Burnout or Its Effects


Ever hear someone (or yourself) say, “I’m burned out?” Chances are if you’re living and breathing in today’s world you have heard that said many times, or have even caught yourself saying it a time or two.

But what is burnout? Is it a real thing or does it basically just mean we’ve ‘had it’—at least temporarily?

Burnout is definitely a real thing. And in 2019, the World Health Organization deemed it a public health crisis.

In a 2020 Gallup survey, 69% of respondents said they sometimes experienced feelings of burnout. Off this 69%, 48% said they sometimes experience burnout and 21% said they always do…

In a 2021 study that was not as prominent but just as expansive, that number of people who sometimes experience burnout — or feel burned out — was closer to 78%.

Why is this so serious?

Here are three things we need to understand about the seriousness of burnout:

First, it’s important to understand that the roots of true burnout are deemed to be occupational—they begin at work. However, the feelings about — and our responses to — burnout can definitely expand, permeate, and impact every single area of our life.

Second, we need to understand that burnout is more than just being tired, or even periodically exhausted or fed up with work. Burnout is a chronic state of occupational stress that can lead to very real mental and physiological signs and symptoms.

Third, left unchecked, burnout can cause severe effects on every area of our lives. Someone experiencing significant, real, burnout, can become apathetic or experience clinical depression, or even “check out” and bottom out in nearly every area of life. Furthermore, massive negative physical impacts can be seen.

Look at these stats about people who are experiencing burnout:

  • They are 63% more likely to take a sick day
  • They are 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
  • They are 13% less confident in their role at work or job performance
  • They are less likely to approach their superiors on suggestions for improving their performance (likely due to apathy setting in)
  • They are more likely to miss deadlines
  • They are more likely to miss more work overall
  • And they are almost 300% more likely to leave their job

What causes true burnout?

While it is known, again, that burnout starts at work, a misconception is that it is merely due to workload or being overworked.

While workload can be a factor, it’s deeper or more than that en whole.

Most experts on burnout cite the factors below as combining to create burnout. However, it is important to remember that burnout happens when feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion are created due to these factors and those feelings are not just fleeting, but are chronic and lasting.

Common contributing factors to burnout are:

  • Unrealistic work expectations (workload and unrealistic deadlines or time pressure)
  • Micromanagement
  • Poor instruction
  • Isolation
  • Lack of support or unfair treatment

One expert I’ve seen summed it up very nicely, saying, “Burnout occurs when the effort put in at work is not worth the reward we feel we are getting for that effort.”

Just as important as understanding what burnout is, is recognizing the signs and symptoms so we can address burnout in ourselves or our team, before it becomes too severe. In our next article, we will discuss how we can do that, specifically.

(*Note: Some of these symptoms may need medical attention; I am not a medical doctor and this is not medical advice. If you have concerns about any of the signs and symptoms you are experiencing, see your doctor.)

Signs of Burnout:

Here are some of the signs of burnout that you might see if burnout is impending.

  1. Feelings of exhaustion that seem to be chronic or continuous
  2. There is pessimism or low motivation—even disinterest—about work
  3. High or higher disorganization
  4. Lowered inability to pay attention
  5. More forgetfulness
  6. Mental functioning might appear lower as demonstrated by higher irritability, anxiety, and even depression
  7. There will be some level of physiological symptoms such as more headaches, stomach issues, and even heart issues like chest pressure, a racing heart, or breathlessness.

Symptoms of Burnout:

Symptoms of burnout can be seen or felt when burnout has already started to set in and should be addressed with more haste.

  1. Chronic exhaustion
  2. Low immunity and difficult recovery from minor illnesses
  3. Frequent headaches
  4. Stomach issues
  5. Sleep disturbances
  6. Episodes or periods of breathlessness
  7. Irritability
  8. Extreme unexpected or out of character emotional responses
  9. Being suspicious or paranoid about co-workers
  10. Substance or food abuse
  11. Stubbornness that is out of character
  12. Negative attitude
  13. Depressed attitude or behavior
  14. Appearing out of it or out of sorts

Again, if you or anyone you know is experiencing signs of burnout, the time to take action is now. In our next article, we will share some strategies for beating burnout.