Economics/Business

Burnout syndrome definition/causes/characteristics/identification

Burnout syndrome is a psychological or emotional condition linked to excess and working conditions capable of causing the professional to leave or even retire due to disability. Burnout syndrome definition

Have you ever heard of burnout syndrome? There are those who do not know the term, but have already lived – who knows are living – or know someone who has gone through this disorder related to a burnout that workers can go through.

From 2022, this mental and professional exhaustion will integrate the official list of diseases or health conditions of the World Health Organization (WHO). Something that may be enough for you to understand why a company needs to pay attention to the matter.

It is worth knowing, burnout syndrome is not only bad for employees because it tends to harm the whole, as it affects productivity and can undermine the organizational climate. Continue reading the post and learn more!

What is this syndrome and why does it happen?

While some companies still resist getting involved with the topic, others are already embracing and giving increasing attention to the importance of mental health at work . Burnout syndrome definition

It is likely that, among those involved with the issue, there is already an understanding of what burnout syndrome is . In any case, however, we are going to present it so that the disorder is increasingly understood by agents in the labor market.

The burnout syndrome

In free translation into Portuguese, burnout syndrome can be understood as burnout syndrome or, as it is more commonly said, burnout syndrome.

The definition presented by the Ministry of Health indicates that this syndrome is an “emotional disorder with symptoms of extreme exhaustion, stress and physical exhaustion resulting from stressful work situations, which demand a lot of competitiveness or responsibility”.

Also understood as a psychic disorder, burnout syndrome was first described in 1974 by the American psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger.

Currently, the disorder is classified as ICD-10 Z73 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems), being defined as a factor capable of influencing health and related to problems related to employment and unemployment. Burnout syndrome definition

Data from the Special Secretariat for Social Security and Work, from 2017 to 2018, p number of sick pay benefits granted due to the ICD 10 in the comparison between the years 2017 and 2018, the growth of sick pay benefits with the ICD 10 Z73 reached 114.80 % .

Classification change

Experts explain that “although burnout represents an exacerbated level of stress, people remain in their jobs for fear of unemployment. A worker in that state is more likely to make serious mistakes.”

With this, there is an understanding that the change in the classification of the disorder will benefit both workers and companies. This is because the new CID classification can contribute to a burnout case being better evaluated by judges who decide on labor issues.

Thus, an employee who is dealing with the disorder can feel more confident to seek the support they need instead of continuing to work with low performance out of sheer fear.

Namely, from 2022 onwards, the burnout syndrome is classified as a work-related “phenomenon” that is capable of affecting the health of individuals.

The causes of burnout syndrome

The main cause of burnout syndrome is overwork. Although there is no rule about it, the disorder tends to be more common among professionals who work under constant pressure, such as doctors, police officers, teachers, journalists and others. Burnout syndrome definition

It is important to emphasize that stress and emotional exhaustion do not only occur due to the nature of the activity performed. Burnout syndrome can also be associated with poorly managed work and this is not always the worker’s demerit or fault.

Employees who deal with inadequate leadership, for example, may have problems performing their tasks and develop the syndrome. The same goes for those who work in an environment where the organizational climate is poor or where internal communication is poor and nothing seems to flow correctly.

It is, above all, with this in mind that a company cannot disregard that it may have a role in the situation experienced by its employees and, as a consequence, inform itself on ways to avoid the problem or deal with it.

To make it easier, we list below some of the main reasons behind a case of burnout syndrome:

  • excessive charge;
  • constant pressure;
  • excess of responsibility;
  • high workload;
  • long journeys and little rest;
  • conflicting relationship with co-workers;
  • excessive contact with the public;
  • intense traffic and delay to get to work.

Did the last point cause you any doubts? Later on, we’ll see that even factors that seem beyond the company’s reach can be considered in their strategies to avoid employee burnout. Burnout syndrome definition

Before that, let’s learn a little more about burnout syndrome to focus on the problem before presenting possible solutions.

What are the characteristics and how to identify burnout

Do you have or have you ever had the feeling that stress at work is common? A challenge anyone has to deal with?

Certainly, the exercise of any professional activity involves situations that can be stressful, including because it is impossible to run away from problems. At times, such as due to a crisis or a period of high demand, the increase in stress can even be natural.

In these situations, as in everyday life, emotional intelligence is very welcome and so is the understanding that stress at work is normal, but only up to a point.

We made this brief reflection just to point out that it can happen that an employee is experiencing burnout syndrome and simply doesn’t know it. Something that would make it impossible for you to seek help, whether within the company or outside it.

Likewise, managers and the Human Resources (HR) department itself , if inattentive to this issue, may find it difficult to notice signs of burnout in their employees and teams. Burnout syndrome definition

If the company is not open to relating the work environment and conditions to the mental and emotional situation of its employees, it may fail to understand how work can be related to workers’ burnout.

For all these reasons, the starting point for identifying burnout , even before knowing its characteristics, is to assimilate that this relationship between working conditions and the health of professionals exists.

Signs of burnout syndrome

The idea that stress is part of work without any consideration of an eventual limit can make many – professionals, managers and HR – not understand its signs.

A misconception is that the characteristics of burnout are the same as those of “ordinary” stress, so to speak, or that they reveal other things about the professional, such as their lack of commitment to work. The truth is not quite that.

Among the characteristics of burnout , we can highlight:

  • Frequent tardiness or absence from work – there are certainly other reasons for this to happen. Demotivation, for example, is one of them, but it is up to HR and the leaders involved with each professional to analyze the circumstances of the change in behavior to try to understand its reasons;
  • Difficulty concentrating ― It is difficult, if not impossible, to find someone who can maintain high levels of concentration every day. Personal or professional problems and even achievements can be reasons for a day of distraction, for example. Burnout syndrome definition

When the situation becomes constant, however, it is necessary to analyze it more carefully because it can be a sign of burnout syndrome ;

  • Memory lapses ― It is also interesting to observe if the lack of concentration is associated with memory lapses or if these lapses happen even though the employee seems to maintain their normal levels of concentration at work;
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, aggression, depression, irritability, anxiety ― it is important to remember that burnout syndrome is a psychological or emotional condition.

For this reason, the emotions of the professional who is suffering from the disorder can fluctuate a lot or take on specific characteristics;

  • Low self-esteem ― we have already mentioned depression before and it is common for the condition to be associated, at some stage, with lower self-esteem. Burnout syndrome definition

However, it is important to emphasize this characteristic because, as we will see later, it can translate into behaviors that more easily reveal that something is not going well with the professional;

  • Isolation ― the act of isolating can be understood as an escape from conflicts or even from interactions that were previously perceived in a positive way, but which have become unpleasant or unimportant due to burnout ;
  • Insomnia, muscle aches, headaches or migraines, and gastrointestinal problems – factors that are associated with intense stress, such as excessive worry that impairs sleep and muscle tension can be signs of burnout .

Gastrointestinal problems also because they can arise both as a result of emotional factors and the lack of self-care that results in an unregulated or low quality diet.

The stages of burnout syndrome

So that your company is even more prepared to identify the burnout syndrome , let’s go through the 12 stages of the disorder that a person can go through.

In this way, you will better understand the evolution of burnout until the moment when mental exhaustion reaches its peak. Look:

1. Need to assert oneself capable or to prove one’s worth

At this stage, there is not much to be said other than the fact that the professional begins to feel that there is a need to show that he knows what he is doing and that he does it with excellence. Burnout syndrome definition

Relating this to the causes of burnout syndrome , we can make an association with excess responsibility and an eventual fear of not being able to fulfill one’s tasks and being fired or passed over in a promotion process, for example;

2. Intensified dedication linked to the inability to disconnect from work

Employees who want to prove their worth in a way beyond what can be considered beneficial tend to be intensely dedicated, making themselves available to work at any time of day.

This behavior can be evidenced even by actions considered simple, such as checking the professional e-mail before going to bed or putting work ahead on weekends without having received any request to do so;

Still, it is common that in this situation, the worker also prefers or tries to handle the tasks that are presented on his own, without the help of his team or other professionals.

In addition to being a concern due to mental exhaustion, a situation like this should draw the attention of HR and leaders also due to the right to rest and the legal limit of hours in a working day; Burnout syndrome definition

3. Neglect or denial of personal needs

Remember the demos highlighting low self-esteem? This characteristic of the burnout syndrome can be evidenced by the absence of self-care.

Even in companies with a free and relaxed dress code , it is possible to notice if someone deviates from their “normal” and appears sloppy to the point of raising questions about their emotional situation.

In addition, the excessive dedication to work associated with burnout can also make the professional begin to forget or ignore the need to eat, sleep well or have a social life;

4. Escape from conflicts

The normalization of the idea that stress is always common at work may be associated with the idea of ​​escaping from conflict. Another reason is the fear of assuming that there is a problem to be faced and, as a consequence, facing possible prejudice or lack of support from the company (and also from family and friends).

This escape, it is worth clarifying, is related to the moment when the worker realizes that something is not going well, but decides not to deal with the problem. As a consequence, they tend to start to suffer from the physical manifestations of burnout syndrome ; Burnout syndrome definition

5. Reinterpretation of personal values

What was previously valued by the worker – his home, his personal care, his moments of leisure and others – began to suffer a significant devaluation.

Self-esteem becomes linked purely to work and the results achieved;

6. Denial of problems

Once the person has already refused to face that he is experiencing a problem of mental exhaustion and burnout, he begins to project the problem onto others.

Colleagues start to be evaluated as lazy, incapable or undisciplined. As a result, social contact is avoided (isolation) and changes in behavior such as irritability, aggression and cynicism can gain ground;

7. Social distancing

This other stage of the burnout syndrome is not only a complement to the aversion to social life, it can also be an aversion to meetings because it refers to an anti-socialization. Burnout syndrome definition

Therefore, it can be perceived by changes in the interaction with colleagues, presence at happy hours and even in the sign of unwillingness to deal with work meetings;

8. Obvious changes in behavior

People who are happy and who like to talk can become depressed, opting for isolation, for example. We talk about changes in behavior that can be considered strange or that call attention to the possibility that something is wrong;

9. Depersonalization

The professional begins to have difficulties to see their own value, as well as that of the people around them. As a result, he may start to avoid dialogue and involvement with co-workers;

10. Inner void

At this stage, emotional exhaustion is intense to the point of making work and other issues lose their meaning, causing feelings of inner emptiness, exhaustion and the difficulty of dealing with any issue.

It is common for professionals to resort to unhealthy habits to deal with the situation, such as excessive alcohol consumption, drug use or even binge eating; Burnout syndrome definition

11. Depression

Emptiness evolves into a feeling of being lost or an understanding that nothing else makes sense. Depression is marked by factors such as indifference, hopelessness, and exhaustion;

12. Burnout

Finally, the burnout syndrome is fully established, and can cause the worker’s emotional and physical collapse and even suicidal ideation.

For these reasons, this stage of the disorder is considered an emergency and requires urgent medical and psychological help.

It is true that part or aspects of these 12 stages of burnout can only be perceived by the person himself or by those with whom he has a more intimate relationship. Among them, however, there are the stages that can be perceived by HR, by the direct superior or even by colleagues.

In addition, information about each one of them can be shared with the staff so that a professional can identify the disorder if they experience or suspect that a colleague is experiencing burnout syndrome . Burnout syndrome definition

Other relevant information

Data from the International Stress Management Association (ISMA-BR) indicate that burnout syndrome affects about 32% of people with signs of stress .

In general, it is a disorder more common to people who are more demanding and who are open to new challenges at work.

Be that as it may, the burnout syndrome has its stages because it does not happen suddenly and that is why knowing its characteristics or signs can make the company intervene before the situation is consolidated.

Still, it is important to emphasize that each person can have a different rhythm of evolution or passage through the stages. Therefore, HR’s attention to each employee’s behavioral profile can be crucial.

The consequences of burnout syndrome for the company

Throughout reading about what burnout syndrome is , what its symptoms are and how to identify them, you have already had information to deduce or suspect what the consequences of the disorder are for a company.

A single employee with symptoms of burnout can unintentionally have a number of negative effects not only on their own performance, but also on that of their colleagues. Burnout syndrome definition

drop in productivity

Although, initially, the professional who begins to experience the burnout syndrome is obstinate to give his all in the name of the company, his productivity is eventually affected.

The emotional and physical symptoms of burnout can affect a worker’s ability to think and concentrate. As a consequence, the productive capacity or the ability to hit targets also tends to be affected.

Process failures

The mental and physical exhaustion of professionals with burnout syndrome can lead them to make mistakes in their work that go beyond what would be considered normal.

Also, as the disorder affects the employee’s relationship with his colleagues and even superiors, there are consequences such as the unwillingness to work in a team and to understand the importance of communication between all. In this scenario, the number of failures also tends to increase. Burnout syndrome definition

Worsening organizational climate

Dealing with increasingly constant failures generated by a colleague’s emotional state can be challenging. In addition, those who work with those who experience burnout may be forced to live with cynical comments, displays of irritability and even verbal aggression.

All of this can harm the organizational climate and increase the stress of other employees in the team or in the sector. As a consequence, everyone’s motivation and performance can also be affected to a greater or lesser extent.

Increase in turnover

If the company does nothing about the situation or takes measures that are ineffective, the climate can become heavy or unpleasant enough to lead to turnover .

In addition, it is important to keep in mind that other employees may notice that something is not going well with the person who is experiencing burnout syndrome .

Faced with this situation, if they perceive that the company does not act to help them, they can understand that they work in a corporation that does not care about the mental health and well-being of its employees. Something that can also motivate the desire to go out in search of a new job. Burnout syndrome definition

Leave for health reasons

A case of burnout syndrome can snowball if not given proper attention. The increase in general stress and the worsening of the organizational climate can contribute to more people walking to their limit.

As a result, the company may end up experiencing a reality of constant absences related to health issues. There is no doubt that such absences are understandable and important for the recovery of workers, but it is also true that they can be challenging for the company.

work accidents

If failures in processes can happen due to the difficulty of concentration and mental exhaustion of those who experience burnout , so can work accidents.

The consequences of an accident can be serious and, depending on the professional’s area of ​​expertise, even fatal. It is, therefore, a situation that every employer wants to avoid.

How to avoid employee burnout and burnout

For employees, there are a number of tips on how to avoid stress at work and even how to avoid burnout . This is information that can be used in the HR strategy to keep workers informed about signs of the disorder and how to identify it before it starts. Burnout syndrome definition

In this post, we will focus on measures that can be taken by the company itself and its managers, with the help of the Human Resources department, to avoid employee burnout. Look:

Invest in good internal communication

One of the goals of internal communication is to improve the exchange of information and ideas between employees and an organization or those who represent it.

Managers and leaders need to be able to communicate easily with each other and with their teams. Likewise, professionals need to feel that there is openness to dialogue not only among themselves, but also with their superiors.

The bet on horizontal communication, which aims to eliminate hierarchical barriers, is important for achieving this objective. Adopting this strategy conveys to workers the understanding that the company is willing to listen to them whenever necessary.

This openness to dialogue is important to avoid burnout because it creates an inviting scenario for any worker who experiences atypical stress to feel comfortable talking about it.

So, before the problem gets worse and burnout takes place, the company receives an “alert” that translates into an opportunity to act early.

Production and dissemination of information

Also consider that the bet on good internal communication also involves the production and sharing of informative content. Burnout syndrome definition

Talking about what burnout syndrome is and what its symptoms and stages are is important for company employees to get to know the disorder and know how to identify it. It also helps them understand that burnout should not be considered a sign of weakness for those who cannot handle serious work.

Also, investing in informative content helps professionals understand that the company is open to talking about the problem, especially if it arises in the lives of any of them.

Something that helps to reduce the fear of dismissal, including based on the understanding that medical leave due to the disorder is possible.

If your company has difficulties in this regard, we suggest that you check out our content on ways to improve internal communication and achieve more effective results.

Monitor and assess the work environment

The work environment and organizational climate are key factors for the emotional state of a company’s employees. Toxic environments generate demotivation, increased stress and can trigger a burnout process .

Therefore, it is essential that the company’s HR have the autonomy to carry out assessments of the environment and climate in the company to detect possible weaknesses and better guide leaders on the treatment given to employees. Burnout syndrome definition

It is worth considering that a positive environment and climate involve from physical factors to relational and emotional factors. Inappropriate lighting and the use of chairs count as well as the way employees relate to each other and how they are approached by their superiors.

It is important to remember that strategies for good internal communication need to be adopted in practice and HR can check if the company is also having success with this issue. 

Adopt human capital enhancement strategies

Last but not least, to avoid burnout and burnout in its employees, a company needs to value its human capital . For this, some valid strategies are:

  • remember the importance and power of positive feedback ;
  • create career plans;
  • consider the use of awards and bonuses as an incentive;
  • have benefits appropriate to the profile of the company’s employees;
  • include mentoring and professional development programs in company policy;
  • encourage or promote moments of relaxation such as corporate happy hour ;
  • bet on a journey with flexible hours ;
  • offer prevention therapies at work or through an agreement with an institution (massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga, collective meditation, etc.) and others.

The combination of these measures tends to reduce stress and prevent employees from feeling constantly under intense pressure. Something that, in turn, favors the improvement of performance, the organizational climate and removes the burnout syndrome . Burnout syndrome definition

Burnout syndrome is a real problem and so serious that, by labor legislation, it can guarantee absence from work and even disability retirement.

In addition to being quite bad for the affected professional, the disorder can also have negative consequences for the company and all this makes it important not to ignore it and, more than that, to understand how to avoid it.

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