The Three Stages Of Burnout – Wholeness at Work

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The Three Stages Of Burnout

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The Three Stages Of Burnout

Three Stages Of Burnout: How To Catch The Symptoms Of Burnout Early

Does your job deplete your energy and negatively affect your ability to regulate your emotions or enjoy your personal life? If so, you might be experiencing burnout. If you’re feeling this way, you’re far from alone. A recent Gallop study found that as much as 76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes, and 28% say they experience burnout “very often” or “always” at work.

Burnout is a severe modern-day epidemic of physical and emotional exhaustion that can isolate you from the people and things that you care about. And unfortunately, burnout is far from uncommon. While it can be easy to assume that stress and burnout are different sides of the same coin, the truth is that burnout is its own “occupational phenomenon” with unique symptoms and solutions.

Curious to see where you currently fall on the burnout spectrum? Take our free burnout quiz to recognize your individual symptoms. Awareness is the first step towards improvement.

Understanding the intricacies of burnout and how it differs from everyday stress can help us to better understand ourselves, our workplaces, and how we interact with the world. So how can we soothe burnout before it burns us? Let’s dive in.

First, Let’s Pause and Do a Brief Body Scan.

How Are You Feeling?

  • First, we notice.
  • Second, we meet what’s there without judgment.
  • Third, we meet what’s there with kindness.

Suppose you find that you’re currently feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, getting cynical and snarky, isolating from those you care about, and becoming less effective at your job. In that case, it’s probably good that you are here now.

So, What Are The Characteristics of Burnout?

Burnout, by definition, is chronic or prolonged workplace stress, typically unmanaged, and characterized by three aspects:

  1. Energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job (detachment); and
  3. Decreased job performance or efficacy.

How Are Stress and Burnout Different?

Our innate biology is equipped with a “fight or flight” response system, which protects us from danger and keeps us alive. While the everyday stress we experience isn’t always fun, it is NOT the same as burnout. In fact, stress can be a very healthy driving force that allows us to push beyond our limits and achieve new goals. Temporary experiences of pressure, say, to complete an important project deadline or speak in front of a large audience at a conference, can actually fuel us to perform better.

Although this biological stress response is foundational to our survival as a species, our modern-day lives and the systems surrounding us have created an environment in which our “survival mode” is triggered at a frequency that our biology was not built to handle. Without adequate rest, play, and renewal time, our bodies, minds, and spirits can suffer in very real and tangible ways.

What Are the Three Stages of Burnout?

At Wholeness At Work, we look at burnout through the I-We-It framework. Borrowing this helpful lens from integral theory, it analyzes burnout from a holistic perspective which addresses all three dimensions: the individual (I), the relational (We), and the systemic (It).

"I We It" Framework Graphic

1 | Individual (I)

The most well-studied symptoms of burnout occur here, with the individual. These are proven, time and again, as clear signs that you’re in a state of active workplace burnout.

  1. You Feel Emotionally Exhausted: This usually looks like chronic fatigue, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, emotionally dysregulated, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, physical illness, depleted energy.
  1. You Feel Cynical and Isolated: This is one of the lesser-known but serious side effects of individual burnout. This can feel like the loss of enjoyment, pessimism, anger, isolation, detachment from personal or work relationships.
  1. You Are Less Effective at Work: The standard of your productivity and performance is taking a hit, and you may not even have the emotional capacity to care. This can feel like apathy or hopelessness, loss of productivity, and poor performance.

2 | Relational (We)

Symptoms of burnout can occur in the relationships and culture of our workplace. In our decades of coaching and organizational development consulting, we’ve discovered that rampant burnout *at all levels* has to include addressing team and leader dynamics from the very top.

There are ten specific symptoms of relational burnout. To discover all ten symptoms, check out our complete self-guided coaching program for overcoming burnout: Wholeness at Work: Free Yourself From Burnout for Good. Below is a summary featuring four of these categories of symptoms:

  1. Poor Leadership: Leadership in the workplace can feel negative, emotionally reactive, and ineffective.

  2. Poor Boundaries: There is a general aura that “taking time away from work is not okay” (ex: meetings, calls, and emails all weekend, replying on vacation, etc.); unsustainable workload, pace, and expectations from management.

  3. Conflict and Lack of Safety: The workplace dynamic can be self-protective, aggressive, and even exemplify sabotaging behavior. Psychological safety is low or non-existent, and genuine trust is difficult to come by.

  4. Employee and Leadership Dissonance: Team members begin to withdraw, resulting in increased numbers of absenteeism and presenteeism.

3 | Systemic (It)

Symptoms of burnout also show up inside systems and structures. For a more extensive list of the systemic symptoms, browse through our current book offerings. A few crucial systemic symptoms can look like:

  1. Being Spread Too Thin: There are way too many “priorities” across the organization and too little strategic focus to succeed.

  2. Unrealistic Pressure: The leadership/board expects team members to get it all done yesterday.

  3. Lean Resources and Declining Growth: There aren’t enough people or tools to get the work done well, on time, and to meet goals. Results aren’t reflecting tremendous efforts, even sacrifice, of its people, which can result in high turnover rates among employees and difficulty requiring top talent.

Do You Recognize Burnout?

Do you see yourself, your team members, or your organization reflected in any of these three stages of burnout? If any of these stages of burnout sound familiar to you, it’s not too late to turn things around. Whether you recognize all of these burnout symptoms and stages or just a few, there are still things in your control that you can do to change for the better and help encourage an environment and dynamic that thrives.

An excellent place to start is to ask yourself these Three Questions That Will Help You Prevent Burnout. It’s helpful to remember that although much of life falls outside our control, we can intentionally control and regulate our thoughts and emotional patterns.

If you find yourself feeling burnt-out today, know that you are not alone. We are here to help you on your journey and encourage you to be gentle and compassionate with yourself during this time.

Should you need assistance as you move forward, please contact us for more resources on navigating burnout in your workplace or your personal life. You can beat burnout for good. And we are here for you every single step of the way.

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