If you’re feeling so run-down you can barely do your job properly anymore, but so exhausted you’re almost past caring, chances are you may be suffering from burnout.
Burnout is a book you’ll either want to read cover to cover several times for yourself, and/or place into the hands of every overworked and stressed colleague, friend and family member you’re worried about.
“…in our always-on world, burnout has long been a threat. But in 2020 burnout became rampant, seemingly overnight.” (‘The Burnout Crisis’, Harvard Business Review, Feb 2021)
What is burnout, anyway?
Burnout is not recognised as a medical condition. The World Health Organisation lists it as a syndrome rather than a mental health condition, ‘resulting from chronic workplace stress not successfully managed’. It’s also absent from the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
In the U.S., U.K. and Australia we tend to use burnout to describe an ill-defined feeling of total exhaustion due to overwork when no other label will do.
Attitudes towards burnout are changing in some parts of the world. European countries including Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden recognise burnout as an occupational disease. It’s commonly diagnosed and sufferers can even be awarded sick leave and receive insurance benefits.
Burnout: a guide to identifying burnout and pathways to recovery makes a significant contribution to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of burnout.
Burnout is the result of a collaboration between one of Australia’s eminent mental health experts, Gordon Park AO, Scientia Professor of Psychiatry at UNSW, founder of the Black Dog Institute and Director of the Division of Psychiatry at Prince of Wales and Prince Henry hospitals, and co-authors Gabriela Tavella (research officer at UNSW, also completing a PhD on burnout) and Kerrie Eyers (psychologist and writer).
Written for both sufferers and clinicians, Burnout brings together scientifically-researched ways to identify and treat burnout, as well as first-person case studies to illustrate both the condition and the (sometimes long) road to recovery.
How do you know if you’re suffering burnout?
Burnout can be tricky to diagnose as symptoms can overlap with underlying mental health conditions.
Maybe you’d describe yourself as ‘world-weary’, you’ve lost your ‘joie de vivre‘, you don’t want to go out or talk to anyone and your brain feels like it’s entered a permanent fog. Interestingly, women apparently sometimes liken it to ‘baby brain’.
A few days off work doesn’t help, a good night’s sleep does nothing to alleviate it and days seem to go on forever, getting harder and harder to trudge through.
But how do you know for certain you’re suffering burnout?
Professor Parker and his team have developed the Sydney Burnout Measure (SBM), a new diagnostic tool for burnout. A list of 34 statements to which you can agree relate to you ‘slightly, moderately or distinctly’, your final score on a scale of 0 to 103 will help to understand the degree to which you’re burnt out, and the methods which will aid your recovery.
What causes burnout?
We typically associate stressful workplaces, excessive workloads and long hours with burnout. But that’s only part of the complete picture.
Professor Parker &c. have identified two other contributing factors: a perfectionistic personality and a lack of exercise, meditation and mindfulness.
Burnout has an entire section on how to address all three factors separately, including how to moderate your perfectionistic tendencies.
Is recovery from burnout possible?
The great news is that recovery is entirely achievable, though it may be slow and require lifestyle and mindset changes.
Parker is quite blunt in noting that addressing the workplace factors can be difficult and fraught, and that sometimes leaving a job or workplace can be the only way to get better.
Let’s hope that continuing this conversation may lead to better recognition of burnout in Australian workplaces and result in practical solutions.
Caregivers burn out too
It was very pleasing to see that consideration was given to burnout in unpaid workers such as those caring for disabled family members or loved ones with dementia.
I’m sure that parents of young babies and children, or those currently trying to combine supervision of remote learning with paid work, will very much see themselves in this book as well.
Burnout is out now in all good bookstores.