Burnout: The Effects Of Unavoidable Job Stress
Stress seems to be an inevitable part of any job. Even minor
things can lead to feelings of stress. Petty arguments with
supervisors and conflicts with co-workers are among the most
common every day stressors. For some employees, however, the
level of stress experienced goes far beyond job strain and
the irritation of daily hassles. For some employees, the level
of stress experienced on the job builds up until it is overwhelming
and leads to a condition called burnout.
What is burnout? In general, burnout is described as emotional
exhaustion. The most common symptoms associated with this
emotional exhaustion include overwhelming fatigue, headaches,
stomachaches, and impaired sleep. And, as burnout develops,
it often leads to a deterioration in social skills. Individuals
in the midst of burnout just do not interact with others as
they did in the past. They often withdraw from others. They
may lose patience more easily. They may become more abrupt
and abrasive in their dealings with others. Their language
on the job may become cruder. They may appear to be moody
Over time, burnout has profound effects on job performance.
Simply put, job performance suffers. Victims of burnout are
likely to reduce the amount of work they do. They may avoid
tasks that they find most stressful. Their absenteeism is
likely to increase. In the worst case, they may suddenly quit
their jobs with little notice to their employers. Supervisors
may not be able to recognize burnout for what it is, but they
certainly will notice the effects of burnout on job performance.
Burnout often occurs in those jobs we think of as the helping
professions. Professions such as teaching, law enforcement,
nursing, and social work are all potential breeding grounds
for burnout. Interestingly, within these professions, burnout
tends to strike the most dedicated and most idealistic individuals.
While burnout has been observed for years in the so-called
helping professions, it can occur in a wide range of jobs.
The key seems to be the presence of inescapable, day-to-day
frustrations which build up over time.
The frustrations that lead to burnout can take many forms.
Studies of professions such as teaching and nursing have suggested
that burnout occurs when workers begin to believe that no
one appreciates the work they do or the help they provide.
Over time the difficulty of their task and the presence of
ambitious, but ambiguous, goals may lead them to believe that
their efforts have no real impact. When the feeling "it doesn't
matter what I do" sets in, burnout is not far behind. Of course,
these feelings are not limited to the helping professions.
Anytime workers feel overwhelmed by the demands of their job
and think that there is little support for their efforts,
burnout becomes a threat.
Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to
eliminate or reduce the development of burnout. First of all,
it is important for supervisors to actively support their
subordinates, to treat them fairly, and to provide them with
appropriate feedback. Second, it is important for employees
to develop a realistic view of what they can accomplish on
the job. Unrealistic goals are a recipe for frustration and
stress. Third, employees need to maintain a balanced lifestyle.
Individuals who blur the boundaries between work and home
are good candidates for burnout. Finally, employees need to
learn specific techniques for reducing and managing their
own perceived levels of stress. These techniques may include
exercise and various relaxation procedures. Meditation, tai
chi, and qigong are all examples of holistic health practices
that might prove helpful. Practitioners have long argued that
these disciplines enhance relaxation and reduce stress in
Douglas Hardwick, Ph.D., holds a doctorate in psychology
from the University of Virginia. Dr. Hardwick has extensive
interests in aging and holistic health issues. He developed
the website: www.holisticwebworks.com
- a holistic health information hub
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