What is burnout?

By David Joel Miller.

Are you at risk of burning out?

Burnout is one of those conditions, like anger, loneliness, and jealousy which results in


Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

a lot of people coming for counseling, but which is not a specific mental health diagnosis. Burnout has usually been studied in connection to occupational functioning. Job burnout can result in significant losses of productivity and people who are off work on disability.

Burnout is best described as a syndrome, a cluster of similar symptoms. Researchers have debated whether burnout is in fact just another example of major depressive disorder which occurs because of stress at work.

One of the criteria for diagnosing any mental health condition is whether or not that condition interferes with occupational functioning. So, if burnout keeps you from being able to work, you will probably get diagnosed with either a major depressive disorder or an adjustment disorder. In some countries, they use the ICD code Z73, which is not found in the copy of the DSM-5 I have in my office. The result is that while you may be off work for work stress or job-related burnout when you go to use your medical insurance, they will probably be diagnosed you as having Major Depressive Disorder.

Burnout is largely associated with occupations which require a lot of contact with customers or clients.

Three professions are particularly noted for having high burnout rates.

  1. Educational professionals, teachers, and administrators.
  2. Medical professionals, doctor’s nurses and other related professionals.
  3. The human service professions, counselors, therapists, and social workers.

Burnout has also been identified in the banking and retail sectors. Some researchers have studied burnout in students, home workers, and couples. The concept of burnout was originally called compassion-fatigue because of the number of workers in the social service area who became so burned out they stopped feeling empathy for their clients.

The impact of burnout.

Employee burnout results in increased absenteeism and an increased employee turnover. There’s also a condition which has been called presenteeism in which people show up for work but work so slowly they accomplish almost nothing. If you are suffering from burnout, you may consider quitting, or you may do your job in a halfhearted manner. People suffering from burnout have an increased rate of physical illnesses, they missed more days of work and are more likely to file for disability payments.

The three components of burnout.

Burnout is a response to stress which exceeds a person’s ability to cope and which largely impacts their ability to work. Three specific symptom clusters have been identified as part of the “burnout syndrome.” The names of various authors use to describe these symptom clusters may vary, but the descriptions are remarkably similar.

Burnout causes extreme fatigue.

People who are suffering from burnout report high levels of both physical and emotional fatigue. They may describe themselves as being “worn out.” As the burnout progresses, people may become too tired or anxious to sleep. Loss of sleep, continuing to worry about what will happen when they returned to work increases the exhaustion leading to a downward spiral.

People with burnout stop caring.

This detachment is sometimes called cynicism, or Depersonalization. When you’re burned out or in the process of burning out, you may try to reduce the stress by detaching, becoming distant and impersonal. Workers who are burning out presented as cold and aloof. In the social services, they may be described as suffering from compassion fatigue.

You start doubting your abilities as your burnout progresses.

As burnout develops people report a reduction in self-efficacy, their belief that if they try, they can do something. Work output declines. Burned-out workers become less and less efficient. They start developing a negative self-concept, have feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Clients or customers report less satisfaction with the services they receive from providers who are suffering from burnout. Eventually, the burned-out work leaves. Sometimes they go on disability, sometimes they take another job, but many times burned-out workers are unable to work for long periods of time.

If you are developing the burnout syndrome because of work stress, seek help as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until you reach the point you can’t work at all. In some upcoming posts, look at some of the other characteristics and the treatments available for burnout.

More posts about – Burnout

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life.

Your cruising along the road of life and then wham, something knocks you in the ditch.

Sometimes you get your life going again quickly. Other times you may stay off track and in the ditch for a considerable time. If you have gone through a divorce, break up or lost a job you may have found your life off track. Professionals call those problems caused by life-altering events “Adjustment Disorders.” Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of Adjustment Disorders, how they get people off track and how to get your life out of the ditch. Bumps on the Road of Life is now available in both Kindle and paperback format.

Casino Robbery.

The robbers wanted more than money; they planned to kill Arthur’s fiancé and her boss.

Arthur Mitchell was trying to start his life over with a fiancé and a new job. That all ends when the casino robbers shoot Arthur, kill his fiancée, and her boss. Arthur would like to forget that horrible day, but the traumatic nightmares and constant reminders won’t let him, and someone is still out to get him. When he tries to start over by running a rural thrift store, someone knocks him unconscious, vandalize the store, and finally tries to kill him. His only chance to find peace is to figure out what the killers want from him and why.

Casino Robbery is a novel that explores the world of a man with PTSD who has to cope with his symptoms to solve the mystery and create a new life. Casino Robbery is available now in both Kindle and paperback editions.

Other books are due out soon; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s