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How to Recognize Burnout Before It’s Too Late

How to Recognize Burnout Before It’s Too Late

I thought I was invincible to burnout. But I soon realized how wrong I was. I thought what I was feeling was temporary, like stress. I didn’t know if I was suffering from a short-spurt of emotions or something more. I burnt out, and I don’t want you to go through that.

This article is meant to help you recognize if you’re burning out; or if you’re already burnt out. In the midst of everything you’ve got going on, burnout can sneak up out of nowhere.

Luckily, science provides us with a framework for identifying the root causes of burnout. I’m going to share this framework with you in this article. I’m also going to share my personal story of burnout to help you see it in action.

What Actually is Burnout?

Dr. Christina Maslach from University of California at Berkeley has devoted a significant chunk of her life studying burnout. Her research led to the creation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), which provides the framework for identifying burnout.

Essentially, the MBI defines burnout as a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with other people in some capacity.

Let’s look at each of these in closer detail.

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Emotional Exhaustion

People who are experiencing burnout, either in the beginning stages or otherwise, suffer from emotional exhaustion. This is the feeling of being emotionally overextended, emotionally drained and emotionally overwhelmed by one’s work. Dr. Maslach defines this feeling as no longer being able to give yourself to work or others at a psychological level.

Tangible examples of Emotional Exhaustion:

  • Blunted emotions
  • Loss of motivation, ideals and ambition

Depersonalization

Depersonalization is interesting and a bit frightening. Depersonalization is the development of negative and cynical attitudes towards one’s colleagues and clients. Dr. Maslach claims the development of depersonalization is related to the experience of emotional exhaustion. From my personal experience, I believe this to be true. More on that later.

Tangible examples of Depersonalization:

  • Detachment with one’s clients and colleagues
  • Feelings of anger towards one’s clients and colleagues

Reduced Personal Accomplishment

Reduced Personal Accomplishment in burnout is the development of negative feelings towards oneself. This looks like poor self-esteem, low self-efficacy, and an overall negative perception of your abilities. In spite of accomplishments on the job, you’re still dissatisfied with your performance.

Tangible examples of Reduced Personal Accomplishment:

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  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Decreased self-confidence related to one’s ability to perform

The difference between stress and burnout is that burnout is a chronic condition. While stress is fleeting, burnout is constant. When you’re experiencing the three components of the MBI ‒ emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment ‒ day in and day out, you’re experiencing burnout.

What Causes Burnout?

Dr. Maslach’s research has identified 6 risk factors for the development of burnout. When high levels of stress are sustained over time, the risk of falling victim to burnout increases. These 6 risk factors are the leading causes of stress-induced burnout. It’s important to note that not all 6 of these factors need to be present for burnout to occur. In my case, only 3 of these factors caused my burnout experience. Again, more on this later.

  1. Workload: Having too much work, with too little resources, in too short of time.
  2. Control: Being too micromanaged or not having enough influence within your work environment.
  3. Reward: Working for not enough pay, not receiving enough acknowledgement or feeling little satisfaction towards your work.
  4. Community: Working in isolation and experiencing conflict or disrespect with those around you.
  5. Fairness: Being discriminated against or falling on the short end of the stick in regards to favoritism.
  6. Values: Having ethical conflicts with the work or completing meaningless tasks (according to your own perception).

Not all of these factors need to be in play to experience burnout. The key takeaway is that if any of these factors are affecting you for a sustained period of time, the stress resulting from these conditions can lead to burnout.

It might be easier for you to understand this with a story. So, here’s my burnout story.

My Burnout Story

Note: I have nothing against the company described in this email. I was fortunate to work with very successful and smart businessmen, but the opportunity wasn’t for me.

I allude to this in my other work, but I was money-hungry at 21 years old. So money-hungry that I was willing to do what 99% of Americans don’t want to do: door-to-door sales.

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I began my short tenure with this company, which we’ll call The Sales Company (I hope this isn’t actually the name of a company), in May. I was done in August. In my case, the three burnout risk factors that caused my burnout experience were reward, community, and values.

Reward

Like most door-to-door sales positions, the pay with the Sales Company was commission only. Again, my main motivation was to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. The commission structure was laid out very well, and I was convinced I was going to make five figures in less than a month.

The problem with a commision-only pay structure is if you’re not selling anything, you’re broke. When you’re broke, you’re worried about how you’re going to buy groceries. When you’re worried about how you’re going to buy groceries, you can’t sell. And so the cycle repeats itself. For some reason, I couldn’t sell squat. The result? I was worried about money, which only made my sales pitches even worse.

Austin’s Burnout Cause No.1: Working for not enough pay.

Community

The people in the Sales Company are awesome. Smart, caring, and intelligent. But, I was an outside sales representative. This means that for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, I was by myself. Experiencing repeated failure in isolation made took a toll on my psyche. Ultimately, I began to dread leaving my home with 6 roommates for a lonely trek around San Diego.

Austin’s Burnout Cause No.2: Working in isolation.

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Values

The Sales Company product is truly innovative and one-of-a-kind for small business owners. Seriously, the value for the price is unparalleled in the marketplace. The only problem is that I wasn’t curious about the product, wasn’t passionate about the product. I didn’t really care about the product. The only thing I cared about was making money. So, after a couple of months without making any money, I became intensely disengaged.

Austin’s Burnout Cause No.3: Doing perceived meaningless work.

These three risk factors sustained over the course of four months led me to burnout’s doorstep. I will never forget the feeling of waking up in the morning legitimately depressed because I needed to knock on doors all day. I would drive to a location, walk around for an hour, and then go home early because I couldn’t stand approaching business owners anymore. When I did talk to an owner, I would literally give them reasons to not meet with me.

Here’s how these three risk factors morphed into the three characteristics of burnout mentioned above.

  • Emotional Exhaustion: I would passively update my supervisor on the day’s events without a hint of excitement.
  • Depersonalization: I began to view business owners as dumb people who couldn’t recognize a great offering.
  • Reduced Personal Accomplishment: When I was successful at setting appointments, I wouldn’t want to actually attend them.

The Sales Company took steps to fix the problems listed above, but it was too late. I was burnt out.

What about you?

The purpose of this post is to help you recognize if you’re at risk for burning out, or if you’re already burnt out. It was a strange, weird, and horrible feeling. I don’t want you to experience it. You took the time to read this article, so you might as well get something from it.

If you feel at risk for burning out, try to determine which of the 6 risk factors listed above are hurting you. If you’re in a work environment that can help you resolve these issues, then great, collaborate with your boss(es) or whoever to resolve these issues.

If you’re not lucky enough to work with people who are willing to help solve these issues, you may want to consider leaving the organization.

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Last Updated on January 3, 2020

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

Are you waiting for life events to turn out the way you want so that you can feel more positive about your life? Do you find yourself having pre-conditions to your sense of well-being, thinking that certain things must happen for you to be happier? Do you think there is no way that your life stresses can make you anything other than “stressed out” and that other people just don’t understand?  If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, you might find yourself lingering in the land of negativity for too long!

The following are some tips to keep positive no matter what comes your way. This post will help you stop looking for what psychologists call “positivity” in all the wrong places!  Here are the ten essential habits of positive people.

1. Positive people don’t confuse quitting with letting go.

Instead of hanging on to ideas, beliefs, and even people that are no longer healthy for them, they trust their judgement to let go of negative forces in their lives.  Especially in terms of relationships, they subscribe to The Relationship Prayer which goes:

 I will grant myself the ability to trust the healthy people in my life … 

To set limits with, or let go of, the negative ones … 

And to have the wisdom to know the DIFFERENCE!

 2.  Positive people don’t just have a good day – they make a good day.

Waiting, hoping and wishing seldom have a place in the vocabulary of positive individuals. Rather, they use strong words that are pro-active and not reactive. Passivity leads to a lack of involvement, while positive people get very involved in constructing their lives. They work to make changes to feel better in tough times rather than wish their feelings away.

3. For the positive person, the past stays in the past.

Good and bad memories alike stay where they belong – in the past where they happened. They don’t spend much time pining for the good ol’ days because they are too busy making new memories now. The negative pulls from the past are used not for self-flagellation or unproductive regret, but rather productive regret where they use lessons learned as stepping stones towards a better future.

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4. Show me a positive person and I can show you a grateful person.

The most positive people are the most grateful people.  They do not focus on the potholes of their lives.  They focus on the pot of gold that awaits them every day, with new smells, sights, feelings and experiences.  They see life as a treasure chest full of wonder.

5. Rather than being stuck in their limitations, positive people are energized by their possibilities.

Optimistic people focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do.  They are not fooled to think that there is a perfect solution to every problem, and are confident that there are many solutions and possibilities.  They are not afraid to attempt new solutions to old problems, rather than spin their wheels expecting things to be different this time.  They refuse to be like Charlie Brown expecting that this time Lucy will not pull the football from him!

6. Positive people do not let their fears interfere with their lives!

Positive people have observed that those who are defined and pulled back by their fears never really truly live a full life. While proceeding with appropriate caution, they do not let fear keep them from trying new things. They realize that even failures are necessary steps for a successful life. They have confidence that they can get back up when they are knocked down by life events or their own mistakes, due to a strong belief in their personal resilience.

7. Positive people smile a lot!

When you feel positive on the inside it is like you are smiling from within, and these smiles are contagious. Furthermore, the more others are with positive people, the more they tend to smile too! They see the lightness in life, and have a sense of humor even when it is about themselves. Positive people have a high degree of self-respect, but refuse to take themselves too seriously!

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8. People who are positive are great communicators.

They realize that assertive, confident communication is the only way to connect with others in everyday life.  They avoid judgmental, angry interchanges, and do not let someone else’s blow up give them a reason to react in kind. Rather, they express themselves with tact and finesse.  They also refuse to be non-assertive and let people push them around. They refuse to own problems that belong to someone else.

9. Positive people realize that if you live long enough, there are times for great pain and sadness.

One of the most common misperceptions about positive people is that to be positive, you must always be happy. This can not be further from the truth. Anyone who has any depth at all is certainly not happy all the time.  Being sad, angry, disappointed are all essential emotions in life. How else would you ever develop empathy for others if you lived a life of denial and shallow emotions? Positive people do not run from the gamut of emotions, and accept that part of the healing process is to allow themselves to experience all types of feelings, not only the happy ones. A positive person always holds the hope that there is light at the end of the darkness.  

10. Positive person are empowered people – they refuse to blame others and are not victims in life.

Positive people seek the help and support of others who are supportive and safe.They limit interactions with those who are toxic in any manner, even if it comes to legal action and physical estrangement such as in the case of abuse. They have identified their own basic human rights, and they respect themselves too much to play the part of a victim. There is no place for holding grudges with a positive mindset. Forgiveness helps positive people become better, not bitter.

How about you?  How many habits of positive people do you personally find in yourself?  If you lack even a few of these 10 essential habits, you might find that the expected treasure at the end of the rainbow was not all that it was cracked up to be. How could it — if you keep on bringing a negative attitude around?

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I wish you well in keeping positive, because as we all know, there is certainly nothing positive about being negative!

Featured photo credit: Janaína Castelo Branco via flickr.com

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