A burnout

A burnout is a condition, that develops as a consequence of prolonged work stress. Extremely high goals, strong commitment to the job and an enhanced feeling of obligation predispose to a burnout. Additionally, if the working conditions are overwhelming, goals aren’t achieved, the worker nor the work community have enough skills or means to solve problems and conflicts, the risk for a burnout is possible.

A mild burnout is common. About a fourth of working age people in Finland suffer from it. About 2-3% suffer from a serious burnout. There are efficient methods for treating burnouts. It is important to get help in the early stage, so, that the burnout doesn’t progress to a difficult stage.

Symptoms of a burnout

The symptoms of a burnout are strong general fatigue, cynicism and the decrease of professional self-esteem. A general fatigue is when rest and sleep don’t reinvigorate, nor a clear reason is found for the fatigue. Cynicism is when one’s job does not feel important at all anymore compared to previously. Attitude towards the job changes. When professional self-esteem decreases, the worker begins to think, that they aren’t as good of a worker as others and what they used to be.

Usually, the fatigue shows up first, then cynicism and lastly the decrease of professional self-esteem. A person can still be exhausted, even if they only experience one of these symptoms. A burnout causes somatic symptoms, such as sleeping difficulties, cardiac arrhythmias or back pain with many people. A sleeping disorder is considered official, when one sleeps poorly for two continuous weeks.

Burnout test: How is it tested?

The Bergen Burnout Indicator BBI burnout test is a good basis for a discussion and estimating burnouts in occupational health care. The worker can fill in a test form for example during a visit to the occupational health doctor or online. The test gives an estimate about fatigue, cynicism, decrease of professional self-esteem as well as total exhaustion. The result can be a mild, moderate or a difficult burnout or no burnout at all. The result of the test isn’t the truth, it is information supporting the evaluation.

Mapping out and treating burnouts 

The occupational health doctor is responsible for treating burnouts, but the doctor can also direct the worker to an occupational health psychologist for advice and guidance, where the client’s situation is mapped out.

Together with the client, the occupational health psychologist can go over what kinds of requirements the worker has in their job and in life in general and how they could be affected. Because exhaustion is chronical stress caused by the fact, that one doesn’t have enough competences to fulfill the requirements, the requirements need to be changed or one needs to get more competences.

Often exhausted people also have other stress factors in their life than just work-related factors. That is why in the consultation, all stress factors are handled as their own bits. An exhausted person often does not see clearly or far. That is why it is important to clarify the life situation, so that, the person can feel like the can have an effect on matters again.

Additionally, to the stress factors the occupational health psychologist can examine the client’s resources, such as lifestyle, social relationships and ways to solve problems together with the client. First beat - heart rate variability measurement can also be a big help in mapping out burnouts. The range of the heart rate given by the device will tell if the person recovers from stress or not.

Burnout and sick leave

A burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis, but it can be written down with the diagnosis as a relating factor to the health problem. A burnout increases the risk to get depression, as well as stress based somatic diseases. A burnt-out worker may also suffer from a sleeping disorder and may try to relax with drugs.

A difficult burnout is a very serious condition. Recovering from it may take months and it can change brain activity permanently. That is why, it is important to determine a burnout in the early stages.

A sick leave prescribed by a doctor may be needed if the worker doesn’t have time to recover on their free time.

Additionally, to the worker’s own recovery, it is crucial to change the conditions at the workplace. Occupational health care can organize a discussion, in which the boss will also participate. In the discussion, the participants can for example agree, that the worker’s workload will be temporary reduced. When the workload is fitting and the working conditions support occupational well-being, working is beneficial for a person’s mental health.

Anxiety from a new job?

If a new job is giving you anxiety or a new start is exhausting, it is important to pay special attention to getting well briefed about the job. Also, a mentor can help with starting a new job.

Experiences of burnouts

A typical burnout experience can for example happen as a consequence of cutbacks. If the workload is divided among a smaller group of people, individual workers cannot hold on to the same quality of work, which they are used to. For a very diligent worker, cutting from the quality of the work and having to deal with more unfinished work than before are risk factors for a burnout. As the organization and job descriptions change, individual workers should also review their mindset about their job and change it if necessary.

Another risk factor of a burnout can be over achieving in free time as well. It is important to remember, that competence decreases, and recovery takes longer, as a person gets older.