Burnout – The Biggest Occupational Hazard of the Twenty-First Century

Burnout Is A Bigger Problem Then We Think


If you wake up one morning and suddenly you don’t have the vision, energy or reason to get out of bed, you might just be suffering from burnout! It is estimated that burnout has gone up 500% in the past ten years!

Burnout is a phenomenon that has been increasing everywhere, creeping into every corner of our modern life. Burnout is growing like a virus. Burnout is poisoning the increasingly alienated, disillusioned, even angry relationship people today have with the world of work – and more often, with their personal lives ~ Professor Christina Maslach

As more and more of my friends and colleagues suffer burnout, I decided to look into it a bit deeper. Here is what I found…

BURNOUT IS LOST ENERGY. You are constantly overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted. You rarely have a good nights sleep and even if you do, you don’t feel well rested.

BURNOUT IS LOST ENTHUSIASM. Your original passion has faded and has been replaced by a negative cynicism. Your job or life’s work now irritates you and has become a heavy burden. You no longer feel creative, ideas fail and your sensitivity is gone.

BURNOUT IS LOST CONFIDENCE. Without energy and active involvement in your work, it’s hard to find a reason to keep going. The less effective you feel, the more you will have nagging doubts about your self-worth.
Burnout is not the same as stress
What’s worse, if you don’t get some help, your physical and mental health are likely to deteriorate and you are more likely to get sick or depressed. This all spills over into your relationships with family and friends.

Burnout In Ministry

Academic research testifies to the enormous increase in corporate stress and burnout statistics, with one newspaper even referring to workplace stress as reaching “epidemic proportions”. The bottom line is that this is very costly for companies and organizations, especially as burnout tends to target those who are highly dedicated and enthusiastic – just the ones who are needed!

According to the New York Times (August 1, 2010), 45% of pastors suffer from burnout. Even in 2008 CNN quoted CareerBuilder.com saying one-half of workers in the USA reported they felt high levels of stress on the job which can often lead to burnout.

Negative Physical and Psychological Factors

Burnt-out people become disillusioned, frustrated, resentful and aggressive. They may “give-up” and their work performance may shift from “impressive” to “barely adequate”. A range of negative physical and psychological factors can also occur – at an extreme including alcoholism, drug taking, suicidal tendencies, and coronary heart disease.

Causes of burnout

“There are many causes of burnout. In many cases, burnout stems from the job. But anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout – from the hardworking office worker who hasn’t had a vacation or a raise in two years to the frazzled stay-at-home mom struggling with the heavy responsibility of taking care of three kids, the housework, and her aging father.

But burnout is not caused solely by stressful work or too many responsibilities. Other factors contribute to burnout, including your lifestyle and certain personality traits. What you do in your own time and how you look at the world can play just as big of a role in causing burnout as work or home demands.”

Work-related causes of burnout
  • Feeling like you have little or no control over your work
  • Lack of recognition or rewards for good work
  • Unclear or overly demanding job expectations
  • Doing work that is monotonous or non-challenging
  • Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment
Lifestyle causes of burnout
  • Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing
  • Being expected to be too many things to too many people
  • Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Lack of close, supportive relationships
Personality traits can contribute to burnout
  • Perfectionistic tendencies; nothing is ever good enough
  • Pessimistic view of yourself and the world
  • The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others
  • High-achieving, Type A personality
    ~ Harvard Health Publications

What The Experts Say About Burnout

Technically, burnout is long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. Burnout is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with people in some capacity. A key aspect of the burnout syndrome is 1) increased feelings of emotional exhaustion — as emotional resources are depleted, people feel they are no longer able to give of themselves at a helpful, meaningful level. 2) Another aspect of the burnout syndrome is the development of depersonalization, that is, negative, cynical attitudes and feelings about those around them. 3) A third aspect of the burnout syndrome, reduced personal accomplishment, refers to the tendency to evaluate oneself negatively, particularly with regard to one’s work with others. Workers may feel unhappy about themselves and dissatisfied with their accomplishments on the job.

The Consequences of Burnout

The consequences of burnout are potentially very serious for workers, their clients, and the larger institutions in which they interact. ~ From the Maslach Burnout Inventory Manual

A Fuller Institute study found that of the 1,050 pastors they surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary friend who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure. The result is that some 49% of pastors or those in ministry leave their call within 10 years.  ~ Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development

In Canada, one worker out of four has mental health problems due to stress or burnout. According to a Statistics Canada study, there were 3,400,000 Canadian workers suffering from burnout and 35% of the labor force said they were stressed by overly-heavy workloads or by having to work too many hours. The costs on the healthcare system are enormous!

How often do the following statements describe the way you feel?

• I deal very effectively with the problems I’m faced with:
• I feel I treat people as if they were impersonal objects:
• I feel emotionally drained from my work:
• I’m tired in the morning and don’t want to face the day:
• I’ve become more callous towards people since I took this job:
• I feel I’m positively influencing other people’s lives through my work:
• Working with people all day is really a strain for me:
• I don’t really care what happens to some people:
• I feel exhilarated after working closely with others:

~ Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

Symptoms of Burnout

Source : Symptômes du burnout [Symptoms of Burnout] – Comité sur la santé psychologique du personnel – Université Laval

The Twelve Phases of Burnout

Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North have theorized that the burnout process can be divided into 12 phases. (Not necessarily in this order of occurrence)

(1) The Compulsion to Prove Oneself – Perfectionism

Often found at the beginning is excessive ambition which turns into a compulsion – impossible to achieve of course.

(2) Working Harder

Because they have to prove themselves, the person begins to focus only on the work which will prove themselves better.

(3) Neglecting Their Needs

Since they have devoted everything to work, they now have no time and energy for anything else.

(4) Displacement of Conflicts

Now, the person has become aware that what they are doing is not right, but they are unable to see the source of the problem, leading to personal crisis. This is when the first physical symptoms tend to show up.

(5) Revision of Values

At this stage, people isolate themselves from others, they avoid conflicts, and fall into a state of denial towards their basic physical needs while their perceptions change. They also change their value systems. The work consumes all energy they have left, leaving no energy and time for friends and hobbies. Their new value system is their job and they start to be emotionally blunt.

(6) Denial of Emerging Problems

The person begins to become intolerant. They do not like being social. Social contact becomes unbearable. Aggression and sarcasm are usually strong at this stage.

(7) Withdrawal

Their social contact is now at a minimum, soon turning into isolation, a wall. Alcohol or drugs may be sought out for a release since they are obsessively working “by the book”. They often have feelings of being without hope or direction.

(8) Obvious Behavioral Changes

Coworkers, family, friends, and so on can now see visible signs of change.

(9) Depersonalization

Losing contact with themselves, it’s possible that they no longer see themselves or others as valuable. Life becomes a series of mechanical functions.

(10) Inner Emptiness

They feel empty inside and to overcome this, they might look for escape via overeating, alcohol or drugs. These activities are often exaggerated.

(11) Depression

Burnout may include depression. In that case, the person is exhausted, hopeless, indifferent, and believe that there is nothing for them in the future. To them, there is no meaning of life. Typical depression symptoms arise.

(12) Burnout Syndrome

They collapse physically and emotionally and should seek immediate medical attention. In extreme cases, usually only when depression is involved, suicidal inclinations may occur.

Twelve Ways to Reduce Burnout…

• Learn you aren’t superhuman, but you are very valuable, more so if you are fit.
• Learn to say no – without feeling guilty.
• Learn to set limits and respect them.
• Schedule time for yourself and make it as important as time scheduled for others.
• Learn relaxation techniques and practice them daily.
• Learn to be satisfied with your life right now by being thankful.
• Create a positive social-support network.
• Invest in yourself – take up a hobby and focus on healthy relationships.
• Eliminate negative self-talk and catastrophic thinking.
• Engage in some vigorous physical activity and exercise regularly.
• Learn to identify the difference between things you can control and things you can’t.
• Don’t wait to ask for help, whether from friends or from a professional.

Bottom Line

If you think you might be burned out or close to it, slow down, get help and re-evaluate. You need to start by getting out of your situation, either by taking a holiday or changing your environment. But it is important at this stage that you also seek appropriate counseling and help. Come to terms with the situation, then re-evaluate your goals and think about what you want to achieve with your life.

Watching my friends and colleagues go through burnout has not been fun. I certainly hope you don’t get so stressed you burnout, it’s a bigger problem then you think!

Further Reading Resources / Sources:

Video: Tip Against Burnout


  1. henri says

    Very good post. I have several friends in ministry who are suddenly facing burnout, including some ppl I never thot could burnout, just cause of their personality. Perhaps if they had received more encouragement they would have been fine. The details here helped me get a much better perspective and hopefully they can get better soon, tks.

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  3. pin terest says

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