Stop Saying You’re Burned Out: It Only Trivializing Real Workplace Issues

The term “burnout” has become ubiquitous in today’s workplace culture. It is a term used to describe people’s negative emotions and job experiences. As a mental health advocate, I hear the term burnout more than you can ever imagine. So, that made me wonder, are people really burned out, or are there other issues that are causing them to be unmotivated and unhappy at work?

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While burnout is a legitimate psychological condition, it is often overused and misused by individuals experiencing stress, harassment, toxicity, and other forms of triggers and stressors from their work environment. While these things can cause burnout, it has become easier to attribute mental health struggles to burnout rather than identify and address what’s really happening. With that, let’s explore why people should stop saying they are burned out and instead focus on identifying the sources of their stress.

First, it is essential to understand what burnout is and what it is not. 

Burnout is a syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. It is typically seen in individuals who have been working in the same job or profession for an extended time and have become disengaged and cynical about their work. Burnout is a serious condition that can lead to physical and mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. In my new book, Crazy A.F.: How To Go From Being Burned Out, Unmotivated & Unhappy to Reclaiming Your Mental Health at Work!, I identify four phases of burnout.

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Phase 1 is when an individual is ignited by the fulfillment, passion, motivation, and promise of beginning a new job, project, or other workplace endeavors. However, as time progresses, more fuel is added to their fire. This new fuel, however, is ignited by other not-so-desirable factors brought on by bad leadership, being overworked, and feeling underappreciated. Eventually, individuals reach Phase 4, the decay stage, and are officially burned out. Have you ever tried to relight a match once it burns out? Not only does it not reignite, but it also loses its ability to ignite others.

Now, let’s discuss what burnout is not and why that is important.

Some people incorrectly confuse stress for burnout because the symptoms can be similar. Both can cause physical and emotional exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. However, there are some critical differences between the two. Burnout is a chronic condition that develops over time, whereas stress can be acute and short-lived. Burnout is typically associated with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, while feelings of overwhelm and anxiety often accompany stress. Burnout can also lead to a loss of interest in work and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, while stress does not necessarily have these effects.

Another reason people may incorrectly label their stress as burnout is that burnout has become a cultural buzzword in the workplace. In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness of the importance of mental health in the workplace. Burnout has become a catch-all term to describe any negative experience related to work. While this increased awareness is a positive development, ensuring that our language accurately reflects our experiences is important.

When people say they are burned out, they may inadvertently trivialize the experiences of those genuinely experiencing burnout. This can normalize stress as an inevitable part of work life rather than recognizing it as a sign of a potentially toxic work environment. It can also prevent individuals from taking the necessary steps to address the root causes of their stress, such as advocating for better work conditions or seeking support from a mental health professional.

Instead of using the term burnout as a catch-all for workplace stress, individuals must take the time to identify the specific sources of their stress. This may involve reflecting on their work environment, workload, and personal values and goals. Once these sources of stress have been identified, individuals can take steps to address them, such as setting boundaries around their work hours or seeking support from their colleagues or supervisor.

It is also essential for organizations to take responsibility for creating a healthy work environment that promotes employee well-being. This may involve providing resources and support for mental health, such as counseling services or mindfulness training. It may also involve creating a culture of respect and support where employees feel valued and appreciated for their contributions.

In conclusion, while burnout is a serious condition that should not be trivialized, individuals must distinguish between burnout and stress to address the root causes. If you want to learn more about whether you’re burned out, unmotivated, or unhappy at work or how to deal with a toxic and abusive work environment, I encourage you to order Crazy AF: How to go from being burned out, unhappy & unmotivated to reclaiming your mental health at work.

The Natasha Bowman Consulting Group would love to work with you and your organization to cultivate cultures of mental wellness and psychological safety. Contact us today to get started!

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