The term “burnout” first appeared in the scientific literature in 1974. Freudenberger, who had been involved in the free clinic movement at the time, discussed both physical and behavioral indicators as well as cognitive and emotional disturbances caused by burnout in his article „Staff Burn-Out“. According to Freudenberger, those who want to help other people were most susceptible to burnout.

In addition to high workload and low wages, the work of assistants usually involves self-pressuring and external expectations. [1] This creates a situation where the assisting person is forced to overly exert herself because fatigue and weakness are not acceptable in this role. Although burnout has historically been considered something that mainly affects healthcare professionals, later research has shown that the risk of burnout exists in various professions. [2]

Burnout increases the fluctuation of personnel

Burnout is a long-term reaction to the emotional and interpersonal stressors that persist in the workplace. A burned-out employee may continue to perform his or her duties but may only be doing the minimum. As a result, employee may also leave the workforce altogether, which could lead to unexpected additional problems in the face of a worsening labor crisis. In addition, the burnout of one employee may have negative impact on other colleagues and may accelerate their burnout, for example by frequent conflicts or obstruction of work [5]. This in turn causes a decline in the quality of work, which is detrimental for the employer.

The employee experiencing burnout may feel like the expectations are impossible to meet 

In case of burnout the work pace is hit hard – tasks that were previously solved quickly start to seem insurmountable and very difficult for the employee. This in turn causes the work pace to slow down. Decrease in the employee’s ability to work and in the work pace relatively increase the volume of tasks. For example, if it used to take 5 minutes to complete a task, now it may take 15-20 minutes. Since the number of tasks does not decrease, the requirements seem impossible and new tasks just pile up. At the same time, workload may actually be decreasing. Such a slowdown and incapacity to work is exhausting and costly for both the employer and the employee, who feels pressured day by day.

The employee feels less competent as time passes

Exhaustion is a central feature in case of burnout, it is also accompanied by distancing, professional inefficiency and anxiety. In case of emotional and physical exhaustion inherent in burnout, the employee may also experience other stress-related symptoms: headaches, chronic fatigue, digestive problems, muscle tension, palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, frequent flushing, numbness in the limbs, inability to relax, sleep disorders and fear [3]. As a protective mechanism, emotional exhaustion is often followed by a cynical attitude towards work or distancing oneself from work altogether. Previously friendly and conscientious colleague can become conflicted, emotionally cold and indifferent to their work and co-workers, or miss work altogether. Professional efficiency also suffers – the employee feels less and less competent and productive. He no longer believes in his ability to perform his duties, is insecure and does not consider that he has achieved anything significant professionally. The employee has lost psychological connection to work, and this affects both motivation and identity.

Factors contributing to burnout are related to the work environment

It has been found that without significant changes in the work environment, burnout lingers on the same level for a long time. Burnout is a cumulative stress reaction to work-related factors. Although some associations have been found with personal or demographic characteristics, most of the factors proven to contribute are directly related to the work environment. The employee’s suitability in the current role and the factors of the work environment (workload, decision-making power in work redesign, recognition, belonging, perceived fairness and consistency of values) determine the extent of commitment or burnout. This in turn affects the employee’s health, his or her behavior at work, and also the company’s productivity and profitability. [4] [6]

It is also important to support commitment to work

Employers often focus on burnout prevention strategies, but it is equally important to support commitment. Work environment should support a positive change in the employee’s energy level, involvement and efficiency. In case of a heavy or mentally exhausting workload the employee may be at risk of burnout. The employer should provide the employee with systematic feedback on his or her work and acknowledge success and progress. It is also important to allow the employee to manage their own work and involve them in planning for upcoming changes (inclusive management). It allows the employee to plan their own work and feel involved. This in turn helps to create a sense of well-being and competence. Altogether, it helps to prevent burnout.

Employee who is more likely to be committed to their work:

  • clearly understands the responsibilities and expectations related to his / her work;
  • feels that his personal values ​​overlap with those of the company;
  • is involved in decision-making;
  • receives constructive feedback and is recognized;
  • feels supported by colleagues and immediate leaders;
  • can develop professionally in the course of their work and strive for advancement;
  • can influence aspects of their work (order of tasks, schedule, etc.);
  • participates in the whole work process and sees the work completed;
  • feels that his work is meaningful;
  • is convinced in the stability of their workplace. [5]

Burnout will soon be classified as occupational disease

Bill No. 21-0576 is currently in the approval round.  Within the framework of the bill updates are also expected in the list of occupational diseases. Namely, conditions caused by psychosocial risk factors in the work environment, including burnout, are added to the list. It is known that the diagnosis of an occupational disease can lead to a hefty claim for damages from the employer.  A timely assessment of the psychosocial risk factors in the work environment helps to prevent these unpredictable additional costs. The cheapest and most profitable way to keep employees healthy and committed is by making the necessary changes in the work and work environment in cooperation with occupational psychologists.

References

[1] H. J. Freudenberger, „Staff Burn-Out“ Journal of Social Issues, kd. 30, nr 1, p. 159–165, 1974.

[2] G. Aronsson, T. Theorell, T. Grape, A. Hammarström, C. Hogstedt, I. Marteinsdottir, I. Skoog, L. Träskman-Bendz ja C. Hall, „A systematic review including meta-analysis of work environment and burnout symptoms,“ BMC Public Health, kd. 17, nr 1, 2017.

[3] C. Maslach ja M. P. Leiter, „Burnout,“ Encyclopedia of Mental Health, H. S. Friedman, Toim., 2016, p. 222–227.

[4] J. K. Harter, F. L. Schmidt ja T. L. Hayes, „Business-Unit-Level Relationship Between Employee Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, and Business Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis,“ Journal of Applied Psychology, kd. 87, nr 2, pp. 268-279, 2002.

[5] V. I. Sessa ja N. A. Bowling, Toim-d, Essentials of Job Attitudes and Other Workplace Psychological Constructs, New York: Routledge, 2020.

[6] C. Maslach ja M. P. Leiter, „Burnout,“ Stress: Concepts, Cognition, Emotion, and Behavior, G. Fink, Toim., Cambridge, Academic Press, 2016, p. 351–357.