The experience, symptoms and duration of burnout are highly individual. We can therefore feel quite isolated – personally and professionally - as we grapple with an experience that often lacks clear definition much less prescribed steps to alleviate it.
At the onset, we may experience increasing physical and emotional symptoms associated with high levels of stress. As burnout takes further hold, we wonder why we dread coming to work, why we feel disengaged from our work and disconnected from its personal value. We become disinterested in what we are doing. We feel constantly overwhelmed. We are functioning at our job but chronically exhausted. We observe our colleagues doing similar work and wonder why they seem not to be experiencing what we are (many in fact are!). These experiences can certainly lead us to feel isolated with burnout.
Work environments and burnout
Burnout is also, and very often, compounded by contributing external factors. Most frequently these factors include: the type of work environment we are in, the amount of work demanded of us, expectations that are too high or too low, poor leadership, being placed in a role that doesn’t fit our abilities, being unable to communicate concerns about our work or contribute to possible change.
Work environments that do not acknowledge the reality of burnout or the systemic factors that contribute to burnout can deepen our feelings of isolation. These include work environments that do not examine their expectations of employees and do not monitor for signs of burnout. Environments that do not provide on-going support for employees both on the job and for those who require time-away to recover from burnout. And management that is not open to creating strategies to help employees successfully return to work.
A client of mine recently shared their return to work experience after a leave of absence due to burnout. They attempted to have a conversation with management about possible means of successfully re-integrating into full-time work (without working 12 – 16 hours per day). The stark response from management was one I have heard all too often: “it’s the nature of the job”. In other words, this job requires 12 – 16 hours of your time, end of story.
When an employer prioritizes “the nature of the job” over the individuals whose talents and motivation bring that job and the work required literally “to life”, we put those employees at risk for burnout.
When an employer places excessive demands on an employee’s time, as in the example above, the professionalism, expertise and skills the job requires are undermined. Those employees at risk for burnout.
When we prioritize the function of the job (“its nature”) and minimize the value and meaning that job and work has for the employee, we put them at risk for burnout.
And when we categorize burnout as merely an individual experience, we shift the responsibility for burnout onto that one employee.
This shift in responsibility makes burnout a difficult topic to confront as a shared experience. It makes it difficult to be collectively open to identifying the many factors, both personal and systemic, that contribute to burnout, and to accept its pervasiveness in the work world.
If you are experiencing burnout, I encourage you to seek support from a physician, therapist or counselor.
I help my clients create positive and personally empowered solutions to stress and burnout. To inquire about coaching options please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.