Burnout and What It Means For Those Who Notice It

May 9, 201410:47 pm1130 views

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Whether you’re a student or employee, you’re bound to have heard of the term ‘Burnout’ at some point in your lives. In today’s high-stress environment, no matter whether we’re a colleague, educator, friend, mentor, parent or peer to someone else, it is absolutely imperative that we recognize what burnout is, where it comes from, and how we can stop it.

So first and foremost, What is Burnout?

Burnout is the prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by three dimensions; exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. Exhaustion deals with the overall fatigue related to carrying out work demands. Cynicism is the indifference to work, which arises as a way to distance a worker from the demands of work. Ineffectiveness deals with whether employees feel they’re capable of fulfilling their professional responsibilities.

Indicators of Burnout

The problem with these qualities is that they are only readily recognizable by individuals and not easily discerned by colleagues or others (i.e. bosses, associates, family). In terms of visibility, there are, in fact, 2 indicators of burnout:

  1. An early warning sign of either exhaustion or cynicismThe presence of either exhaustion or cynicism in an individual relates back to the three dimensions of burnout. It is considered an early warning signal as it sets the stage for a change in employee behaviour. Once an employee is exhausted, it does not take much more to make them cynical, or vice versa. An individual that is both exhausted and cynical is more likely to experience burnout.
  2. The tipping point experience of Job–Person Incongruence.Job-person congruence, or in this case incongruence, is considered the tipping point because by this time, workers have become aware of the significant mismatch between themselves and their organisational environment – whether it is the organisational culture, superiors, peers or any other aspects of the organisation. Significant congruence encourages a person to continue to strive as a member of the organization. Significant incongruence however, leads to workers feeling separate from their organisation. It is widely known that employees that do not feel like part of their firm, and possibly unsatisfied with their jobs, are more prone to burnout.

Satisfaction & Benefits

There are strong incentives for firms and managers to ensure job satisfaction, given the business benefits. Management strategies that monitor and reduce incidences of burnout, as well enhance employee satisfaction, lead to greater productivity and reduced employee turnover.

One method that increases job satisfaction and reduces stress is reducing uncertainty and minimising constant change in the appointments within the organization. Having clarity and focus in worker’s job scopes and performance expectations calibrates attitudes and reduces undue stress outside of their work.

Other benefits of job satisfaction come in the form of greater engagement and volunteering within the company. When staff are on the verge of burnout, the feelings of being unsatisfied and cynical generally lead them to not participate or contribute to the professional community within the organization, lacking the motivation to be involved. Increased satisfaction can manifest in increased volunteering in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives or participation in external projects and operations involving the company.

Recognizing and Reducing Burnout

While important for managers to monitor an individual employee’s welfare regularly, it also helps to ask employees about their peers as well. Employees that are more satisfied with their job and feel like part of the team are more strongly engaged. In short, they are more invested in the organisation.

As a mentor, friend or a peer, recognising burnout in a member of our professional, social or personal community can make all the difference. Sometimes all they need is modest support at the right time, to pull themselves back from the tipping-point. It is at this crucial juncture that one can make the difference between a worker maintaining their job or losing it.

Any questions or comments? You can reach Anil at anil@hrinasia.com

Resources & Further Reading

Gergen, C. and Vanourek, G. (2008). Three Ways to Beat Burnout. Harvard Business Review

Leiter, M. P., Maslach, C., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397

Maslach, C., Jackson, S. E., & Leiter, M. P. (1996). Burnout inventory manual (3rd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologist Press.

Maslach, C., & Goldberg, J. (1998). Prevention of burnout: New perspectives. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 7(1), 63-74. doi:10.1016/S0962-1849(98)80022-X

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2008). Early predictors of job burnout and engagement. Journal of Applied Psychology,93(3), 498-512. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.93.3.498

Yap, S.W. (2014). What Motivates People? HR in Asia



Article Contributed by HR in Asia‘s Team.

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