Burnout; the workplace epidemic Part 2: How to identify workplace stress and burnout

How to identify workplace stress

We continue on from last week’s introduction to burnout to looking for ways to identify it in ourselves and others.
Researchers have found that 9/10 workers reported feeling stressed at work.  One-third of them stated that they found these stressors were unsustainably high.

Burnout is the psychological syndrome emerging as a response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job.  Doctors and teachers are among the types of employees who most commonly experience work-related stress, leading to being diagnosed with burnout.  It has been subsequently been very well studied in the healthcare and military settings, but unfortunately not so much in other professions.

No industry is immune to it.  It results from an imbalance in your job demands, your job resources and how you take time to recharge your batteries outside of work.

Experiencing work-related stress, becoming burned out and feeling overwhelmed to the point of ill-health, due to the demands of one’s job or work environment, can happen to any employee, in any job, and at any stage of professional life.


Identifying Burnout

So, how do you recognise it? Spotting the early warning signs of burnout in a partner, friend, or work colleague can be difficult, as their own personal response to work-related stress can evolve in a unique way and timeline. A variety of different signs and symptoms can insidiously develop over weeks or months, making it difficult to know what to look out for.

For instance, John and Jane may work in the same job role but may respond to their same stressors in different ways; one may become burned out and the other may actually thrive under pressure.  Alternatively, they may both become burned out, but end up displaying different signs and symptoms from the wide range of possible symptoms that can characterize mental and/or physical burnout.

People affected by burnout from work-related stress may experience mental burnout, and present with some or all of the following psychological symptoms:

  • Reduced performance and productivity
  • Anxiety
  • Detachment
  • Feeling listless
  • Low mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of creativity
  • Fatigue
  • Negative attitudes towards one’s coworkers or job
  • Low commitment to the role
  • Loss of purpose
  • Absenteeism
  • Quickness to anger
  • Job turnover
  • Cynicism
  • Emotional numbness
  • Frustration

Physical symptoms of burnout may include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Generalised aches
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Hypertension
  • Difficulty sleeping and/or a disrupted sleep cycle
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Muscle tension

Identifying Burnout for you:

It could be that you have or are heading towards burnout, and you don’t even know it. Stress can become such a ‘status quo’ that we overlook the real dangers that are prevalent with burnout. So, here is how to identify burnout for yourself.  You can start by asking yourself some of the following questions:

  1. Do you ever wake up with a sick feeling in your stomach about what you are about to face at work that day?  
  2. Do you spend your weekends dreading Monday?
  3. Do you have disturbed sleep as you are stressing out about all the tasks and responsibilities weighing you down?
  4. Does your sense of anxiety ever get so severe you feel panicky, even in a pleasant situation?  

If we lose the ability to enjoy the moment as we are too busy worrying about the future or fretting about our past performance, then it is time for an intervention, as this is no real way to live.

And if left unchecked, burnout symptoms can lead to a complete breakdown in mental and physical health, with many people having to take prolonged time off work with ‘stress’, reduce their working hours or even completely change careers.

However, it doesn’t have to be a spectacular affair with a total change in career.

It could be feeling disengaged with your current job and spending lots of time looking for alternative employment.

Denial can lead to people pouring more and more of their mental and physical energy into trying to force a situation to work, pushing and pushing themselves to breaking point, rather than getting help early on and aborting a destructive process.



Testing Burnout

There are several recognised self-assessments for identifying burnout. We have listed a couple of the tests below. A critical appraisal of all the different burnout assessment tools does not form part of this article but may be included at a later date.

  1. MBI Burnout self-assessment (Manual)
  2. Mindtools Self Assessment (Automated)

In the next blog of our three-part series, we take a look at the employers’ duty of care responsibilities in ensuring the mental health of their employees.

Where you can get help:

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354

SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666

YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

1737 NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737

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