Key Stages and Symptoms of Job Burnout

Job Burnout was first described by American-German psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, and has since appeared in thousands of scientific publications (850,000 according to Google Scholar.) Although, the term has a longer history and can also be found in literary texts. For instance, it appears in Graham Greene’s novel A Burnt-Out Case (1960), where the protagonist is portrayed by Querry, a world-famous architect, who moves to Africa to live in a leper colony. Querry is strongly reminiscent of present-day description of job burnout, as it includes fatigue, loss of interest and drive, and sadness, anger or irritability.

Veninga and Spradley’s The Work Stress Connection: How to Cope with Job Burnout (1981) suggests that occupational burnout is a developmental phenomenon which can be categorized into five distinct stages. Each stage will be more serious than the previous stage.

Most Telling Symptoms of Job Burnout

i. Honeymoon State: The first stage is the honeymoon stage in which the individual feels limitless. This is especially true of a new job position, or the beginning of a new venture.

Common Symptoms: Job satisfaction, high energy, unbridled enthusiasm, high productivity levels, commitment to the job.

ii. Balancing Act: In the second stage of the job burnout cycle, the individual begins to job dissatisfaction, inefficiency at work, fatigue, lowered creativity and insomnia. Inefficiency at work takes various forms from mindless browsing on the Internet to avoidance of decision making.

Common Symptoms: Anxiety, forgetfulness, inability to focus, irritability, avoidance of decision making, lower productivity, reduced sleep quality.

iii. Chronic Symptoms: In the next stage, the individuals fails to cope with the chronic exhaustion and falls into depression.

Common Symptoms: Anger, apathy, chronic exhaustion, increased caffeine/alcohol/drug consumption, lack of hobbies, missed work deadlines, procrastination, social withdrawal from friends and family.

iv. Crisis: In the crisis stage, the individual will become pessimistic and struggles to escape from his/her environment.

Common Symptoms: Drastic behavioral changes, escapist mentality, pessimistic outlook in life, self-doubt, social isolation.

v. Enmeshment: In the final stage of the burnout cycle, the individual begins to lose control over his/her career and personal life.

Common Symptoms: Chronic mental-physical fatigue, chronic sadness, depression.

Causes of Job Burnout?

Burnout is not developed as a result of any single factor. Organizational researchers have proposed that several factors are effective in creating job burnout that includes:

Individual factors Organizational factors Environmental factors Social factors Job factors

According to the World Health Organization (1998), organizational factors that can lead to occupational burnout are lack of job security, rigid management rules, management style, and lack of upward mobility.

Dr. Victor Savicki and Dr. Eric J. Cooley’s research (1983) on burnout indicates that personality and mood differences create a greater vulnerability or resistance to job burnout. Not all individuals in the same work environment report job burnout. This explains why some individuals believe they must simply “make do” when coping with stressful conditions.

There are several ways to prevent job burnout. However, an individual needs to notice the signs of job burnout in order to make it manageable and preventable.

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Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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