Burnout: recognizing alarm signals

Exhaustion, apathy, psychosomatic disorders… professional overload and a private life gone out of balance often end up in a burnout. In order to minimize the risk of letting it get this far, it is of vital importance to identify the symptoms at an early stage.

The number of burnout diagnostics has increased drastically over the last few years. While the causes may be varied, they are usually primarily related to an overload in the work situation.

Burnout: total exhaustion

Indeed, the work environment has changed in a significant measure over the recent years, and has become more demanding – longer presence time, more responsibilities, constant availability, longer stress phases, all of which can contribute to a lasting overload, at the end of which there is a total emotional, psychological and social exhaustion. However, not only are employers becoming more demanding, but employees also put more pressure on themselves as well.

Early signals of a burnout

Prof. Matthias Burisch is a leading burnout expert. He describes various early signal symptoms that can be easily identified by the persons concerned and their superiors.

1. Warning signs in the early stage, such as a brooding mood or sleeping disorders.
2. Attention or concentration deficit.
3. Feeling of time shortage or restlessness
4. Social withdrawal
5. Reduced emotional control
6. Drops in performance
7. Propensity to being sick

In case of a burnout, both employer and employee are challenged

In the early stage of a burnout, employers have a good opportunity to stop the downward spiral of stress and overload. However, the best is still not to let it come this far. Not least because of the increasing absences and the costs that ensue, many employers are beginning to realize that they must not only stimulate their employees but also protect them, sometimes from themselves as well.

In this sense, burnout prevention does not concern the employer alone; the employee also needs to consider preventive measures. Perfectionists, as well as ambitious and performance-minded people are particularly at risk; indeed, they tend to push the limits to the point of “burning” themselves.

What employers can do

  • Speak openly about burnout, exhaustion and mental stress; integrate these themes into the prevention program of the enterprise
  • Try to find out about the stress limits of each employee
  • Realistic goal setting
  • Is overtime really a necessity?
  • Verify the work organization and the distribution of responsibilities
  • Ensure sufficient free time for each employees
  • Reduce the constant availability of the employees
  • Offer flexible, socially acceptable and family-friendly working time
  • Appoint the employee to a position on the basis of his qualifications and capacities
  • Show perspectives that can contribute to the development of the employee
  • Promote a health approach (fitness, coaching, stress-management)
  • Demonstrate appreciation of the employee’s contribution
  • Ensure a good work climate, where fun and humor are welcome
  • Openness for dialogues

What employees can do:

  • Question their own behavior and perceptions
  • Set priorities, structure daily work organization and time-management
  • Realistic goal setting
  • Address problems
  • Concentrate on one task at a time
  • Make place for moments of relaxation in a day’s work
  • Find balance between private life – with family and friends – and professional life
  • Do not allow constant availability through smartphone or email
  • Question which future perspectives does the current work allow: what do I want to do? What is important and valuable for me?

Anyone and everyone can be concerned by a burnout. Employers as well as their employees must develop a preventive approach to it and take warning symptoms seriously.

Text: Patrick Gunti - 10/2013
Translation: MyH – 03/2015
Photos: pixelio.de