Burnout in the workplace, an individual problem?


In my previous post on burnout I’ve described the core symptoms of a burnout and the difference with depression. Burnout is an emotional response which is huge. You ask yourself who you have become, a concept known as depersonalization. Burnout is a very big problem in society overall, it isn’t preserved for certain professions but it can be seen in mental health care very often. As I worked for 13 years in the mental health field, I’ll zoom in on the outcomes of burnout in that specific field.

What can happen to a mental health worker and to the organization when burnout shows up?

We see poor quality of work. The work itself suffers. At a certain point, you’ll do the work but don’t check on it anymore. The problem is that you really care about your job but you don’t have the (mental) energy anymore to do all the steps that are required to say ‘I’ve done a good job’.

A low morale. Burnout is clustered in the workplace, it is contagious when nothing changes. I felt like a canary in a coal mine. Low morale can be spotted when people start to talk more negative about certain aspects of the job and they usually find each other quickly.

Absenteeism. People take more mental health days and more sick days. This puts more strain on the other employees. When you’re feeling good that doesn’t pose a problem as long as it doesn’t become the norm. My last workday I was called into the boss’ office. Someone was ill and the late shift on Monday needed to be covered. As I was there he asked me to do it. It was a ‘polite’ question with the undertone of ‘that’s no problem is it?’ I accepted but felt that it was going to be too much, my head was spinning already because I needed to make adjustments at home, again. I found it very unfair that people ‘on the floor’ and who are willing to turn up are asked first. The more you are present (you’re supposed to be present for your patients in my opinion) the more shifts you’re asked to cover.

More turnover. Employees tend to switch more to other wards or we see more people choosing other jobs for a variety of reasons (better hours, no shift work, closer to home …)

Health problems due to stress like heart disease are more likely to happen.

Burnout can lead to depression. Maybe you’re not ‘just’ annoyed with the job or the circumstances. You can’t do the bare minimum anymore to hold on to your job and try to have a life outside the job, now you’re thinking: ‘Take the job and shove it’. Not only the job is ‘dark’ but the light goes out everywhere. Everything becomes dark. Clinicians report severe clinical depression related to work. It is a real thing.

Burnout is like an oil stain in the ocean. It doesn’t solely touches you as an ‘employee’. When you’re burnout you don’t leave your illness at the workplace. (If only!) No, it spills over to your private life and you as a person. You don’t have the energy anymore to meet up with friends or to do fun things. It’s sad to say but I ‘unlearned’ to do fun things to the point that I need to force myself to do them. With burnout you’re not the most lovely person to be around, you’re irritable, short tempered, withdrawn. You feel like you don’t have the time to do anything except the things that ‘need’ to be done alternated with alone time to cope with the stress in your system. This made me think about the ‘Shining’ especially the scene where you see the sentence ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’



Understanding Job Burnout by Dr. Christina Maslach on YouTube.

Picture 1 click here.

Picture 2 credits: China Crisis [CC BY-SA]

22 thoughts on “Burnout in the workplace, an individual problem?

  1. When I’ve been in workplaces before with really low morale, it was always blamed on the clinical staff, with management never taking any responsibility. One team I used to work for was doing great, and then there was a change of manager, and it went to hell in a handbasket. But of course it was supposedly the staff’s fault.

    At that same job, the health authority had sick police, essentially. If you went over the average number of sick days for all members of the same union, you got hauled in for a meeting with the manager and the sick police to explain why you were taking so much time off. I never had one of those meetings, but I heard they were awful. If someone wasn’t burned out already, they certainly would be after a meeting like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow that is some vile action! A meeting because you’re ill, well well, with the sick police damn!
      I know they monitored our sick days too at work, the times you’ve been late and so on. When you’re absent too much, eyebrows are being raised. I don’t think they see it as a signal that they can improve though. I see a missed opportunity there.
      I wasn’t ill a lot, very little days but I made that up big time. Even in sickness I’m dedicated and a perfectionist it seems 😅

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes people do last there more than 13 years. But not everybody, there are teams where it’s hard to work because of turnover.
      It was drip-drip with me but mostly lack of management and vision + difference in the population. I wanted to go forward with the new population but they didn’t act upon it and it was all up to me. A lot of freedom but no support, no vision and no clear tasks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for you Kacha. It does sound as though your workplace / management lacked compassion for their staff so god only knows how they felt about patients. And how they expected you to do your job well after putting more pressure on you to do extra shifts.

    I’d say many of our nurses in the UK were burned out but I believe that was their own fault for working far too many shifts. Obviously, this was reflected in the way they treated patients — they couldn’t care less and they shouldn’t be nurses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve shed my tears, lost my sleep and general health. I’m done with that place! It’s just for visits in the future 🙂
      Maybe in another life I can work with your team. I guess I would be truly happy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What is your place of work? You’ve probably told me already but my memory is terrible. Are you a nurse, and if you are what do you specialize in?

    There’s a ton of burnout in the hospital I find. Im a student and have noticed how burnt out the staff is. 😐

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aha! I don’t know the name in English so I’ll give you a broad description.
      I worked in a psychiatric hospital as a psychologist but at the time of burnout I did the work of a psychiatric nurse minus the injections. Working in shifts, handing out medication, helping people with daily life challenges, doing group therapy, individual counselling. But we cooked together, went shopping, I helped to keep the rooms neat with the patients, called family and made appointments with dentists and doctors. It also involves managing a crisis or aggression. Communication with the psychiatrists and so on. Something like that 🙂 What I love doing is to have contact with the patients, but there were so many other tasks that there was little time to have a good conversation with them. Although it said in the job description that it was mandatory to talk every two weeks with the patients to revise their care plan.
      In hospitals and among health care staff there is a lot of burnout, you’re right about that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for providing me with a description.🙂 It sounds like you worked in management (upper level). I deal directly with the patients by their bedside. I’m just a student though, and not working in mental health at the moment. There is a shortage of mental health nurses in Canada and we need more of them, so if you ever decide to move to North America, you’re pretty much guaranteed a job here. I’m sorry you dealt with burnout, but I respect you for the hard work that you do. Your job is not an easy one and it takes a special person to handle the drama in this field of work.🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for your kind words 🙂 If I move so far away, I will let you know!
        A lot of people work in health care and still there are shortages, very strange! I read about it in every country almost.
        Do you have an idea yet in which field you want to specialize?


  4. Very helpful article. Thank you very much for sharing,for the last couple of weeks, I have been trying to figure out if I was suffering from burnout and this post helped me realize that I was not…I am going through something else (still trying to figure out what exactly)

    But I can totally relate: the things you have described happened to me back in the past and it was terrible (at that time I did not actually know it was called burnout I just felt exactly the way you described, like kind of “unlearned to do fun things”)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that my little writings helped you realize that it isn’t burnout. When you see the points written out like that and you have burnout, you’ll know.
      I hope you can figure it out what it is you’re going through and that some relief can be provided. It can be difficult to see what is going on when you’re right in the middle of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Many of the signs you mention are collective, which makes sense. I would imagine it’s rare for only one person in an organization to experience burnout. Most likely, if one person has burnout, there are many who are experiencing the same thing due to work conditions not supporting their mental health. I’m not sure how often work conditions do support mental health, honestly, but you mentioned in your last post only getting a break with shifts of more than 6 hours. That, to me, does not sound like a policy that gives anyone with a normal energy level the time to recollect and recover over the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, there are lot of these ‘rules’ and habits that are implemented.
      I also think of me as a canary in a coalmine. I followed a course on how to deal with stress at work (the course was provided by my workplace) and we couldn’t present nor implement the strategies given!
      I’m not the first and will not be the last to suffer from mental health due to work conditions. Every country I read about (mostly on WP) has a shortage in nurses or other medical staff. In a next post I’ll try to present some form of a solution. Research is still going on but the strategies are not being implemented so it is difficult to evaluate them. 🙄🙄🙄
      I guess my solution at the moment is to put myself and my health first!


  6. There is an ancient say “the doctors save and cure many people but couldn’t save themselves”. Wish you found your way around and have a better life ahead. When I was a kid I always wanted to be a doctor simply because I love biology so much. I still remember there were few papers for biology and I scored all A for all the papers. But due to some other subjects are not As, I had no luck to be enrolled into medical school. In my country, for a Chinese to enrol to government university needs us to score A fro all the other subjects. Hearing all the suffers medicine practitioners have to go through, so I think I have to grateful to miss the chance to get myself into this profession. Wish you all in medicine professions a better life

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes we don’t get the things we wish for and that seems a present in itself looking back. I agree that the (mental) health field isn’t an easy to in. I did enjoy it very much but now I’m looking for other opportunities and I believe that I will have a chance for a happy life. I wish you all the best and thank you for your nice comment.


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