Things you should know:
- Burnout is a common occupational syndrome characterised by feelings of exhaustion, cynicism and low personal accomplishment at work.
- Burnout affects people emotionally and physically, and their behaviour can also change.
- While closely related, burnout and stress are different phenomena, and it is often much harder to notice when burnout occurs.
- Work, personality, and lifestyle related factors can contribute to burnout, and among these factors, poor sleep is one of the biggest contributors.
- The relationship between sleep and burnout is likely to be bi-directional, so improving sleep may help to recover from or even prevent burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is characterised by feelings of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. It can also involve cynical or negative attitudes towards one’s work, reduced personal achievement and satisfaction at work and feeling overwhelmed and unable to meet work demands (1). Burnout is not a medical condition but is an occupational syndrome (2). It is often the result of chronic and poorly managed workplace stress (1). Recent research indicates that up to 88% of workers experience burnout (3–5), making it a common syndrome.
Burnout can affect people emotionally and physically, and their behaviour can also change (6–8). We have highlighted some of these common symptoms below.
People may experience all, or some of these symptoms. Catching and addressing these symptoms early may help to prevent the worsening of burnout over time (9).
Burnout vs Stress
Stress and burnout are different. Stress is usually characterised by emotional and physical hyperactivity and over engagement (10). Burnout, on the other hand, is an outcome from the long-term build-up of stress, as a result of which, an individual’s physical and emotional resources become depleted (11). People are usually aware of being under a lot of stress, whereas the signs of burnout can be harder to notice as they tend to emerge over a longer period of time.
Causes of Burnout
Burnout can be caused by a variety of different work-related factors or stressors. Evidence also suggests personality and lifestyle related factors may impact on one’s risk of developing burnout. Below we have highlighted some of the key work-, personality- and lifestyle-related factors shown to increase the risk of burnout (12).
Burnout and Sleep
As with other mental health conditions (see Mental Health and Sleep), sleep and burnout have a bi-directional relationship (15). This means poor sleep can affect burnout as much as burnout can impact sleep. Regularly having less than the recommended amount of sleep (see our How much sleep do you really need? fact sheet for further information), or having a sleep disorder, are two factors that are strongly related to burnout (13,14,16).
Dealing with Burnout
Research investigating the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing burnout symptoms (e.g., mindfulness, cognitive-behavioural therapy) are still emerging and conclusive recommendations universally applicable to all occupations have not yet been identified. Nevertheless, there are a number of general strategies based on current research that may help to alleviate burnout symptoms and guide towards recovery. We have highlighted some of these strategies below.
It is important to recognise that burnout has occurred (17). Having an awareness of our own mental state and the signs of burnout, such as poor sleep (14), can help. It’s also important to self-reflect and examine the factors which may have led to the occurrence of burnout. Identifying these factors is vital as they may need to be addressed to prevent further worsening of burnout. It is also important to be aware that because burnout is a complex issue, the factors and causes contributing to burnout may vary significantly from person to person and between workplaces (17).
Talking to others about your burnout
It is important to notify the workplace about your burnout because addressing organisation-related causes of burnout might be even more important for recovery than individual interventions (18).
For individual support, seek support through an Employee Assistance Program or talk with a mental health or primary care professional.
Looking after yourself
Lastly, looking after your basic needs when experiencing burnout is more important than ever, so taking a break from work to reset might be essential.
Due it’s restorative function, sufficient and good quality sleep (19) might be particularly important. Try to aim for 8 hours of sleep per night (20) and implement healthy sleep habits (see Sleep Hygiene: Good Sleep Habits).
Try to eat healthy meals, drink plenty of water and aim to exercise regularly. Exercise has benefits for physical and mental health and can help improve sleep (21).
Although we may wish to isolate when feeling burnt out, it’s important to maintain social connections (22). Connecting and socialising with family, friends, co-workers or with other like-minded people can be a good way to relieve stress (23).
Burnout is often associated with depression (24), so doing meaningful and enjoyable things can help improve our mood (25). Seek out activities that bring you joy and pleasure.
When returning to work, it’s important to make long lasting changes by removing or reducing factors contributing to high stress. Re-evaluating priorities/standards at work and setting boundaries around work commitments is important, as well as ensuring regular breaks in your work schedule and relaxation time outside of work.
- Workplace mental health hazards
- Black Dog Institute’s self-care plan
- Pearlman, L. (2013). Preventing burnout. The Headington Institute
- Pearlman, L. (2012). What to do about burnout: Identifying your sources. The Headington Institute
- Jimenez, J. M. (2021). The Burnout Fix: Overcome overwhelm, beat busy, and sustain success in the new world of work. New York: McGraw Hill.
Other useful links:
- Fatigue as an Occupational Hazard
- Mental Health and Sleep
- How much sleep do you really need?
- Common Sleep Disorders
- Anxiety and Sleep
- Depression and Sleep
- Sleep Hygiene: Good Sleep Habits
- Shift Work
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)
- Maslach C, Leiter MP. Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World Psychiatry. 2016;15(2):103–11.
- World Health Organization. QD85 Burnout [Internet]. ICD 11: International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th revision). 2019.Available from: https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http%3A%2F%2Fid.who.int%2Ficd%2Fentity%2F129180281
- Gullap. Employee Burnout: Causes and Cures [Internet]. 2020. Available from: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/282659/employee-burnout-perspective-paper.aspx
- Deloitte. Workplace Burnout Survey: Burnout without borders [Internet]. 2015. Available from: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/burnout-survey.html
- Van Bommel T. Remote-work options can boost productivity and curb burnout [Internet]. Catalyst; 2021. Available from: https://www.catalyst.org/reports/remote-work-burnout-productivity/
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- Weber A, Jaekel-Reinhard A. Burnout syndrome: A disease of modern societies? Occup Med (Chic Ill). 2000;50(7):512–7.
- Demerouti E, Bakker AB, Peeters MCW, Breevaart K. New directions in burnout research. Eur J Work Organ Psychol. 2021;30(5):686–91.
- Koolhaas JM, Bartolomucci A, Buwalda B, de Boer SF, Flügge G, Korte SM, et al. Stress revisited: A critical evaluation of the stress concept. Neurosci Biobehav Rev [Internet]. 2011;35(5):1291–301. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.02.003
- Maslach C, Schaufeli WB. Historical and Conceptual Development of Burnout. Prof Burn.2018;1–16.
- Aydemir O, IcenlliI. Burnout: Risk factors. In: Bährer-Kohler S, editor. New York: Springer Science+ Business Media; 2013. p. 89–98.
- Wolkow AP, Barger LK, O’Brien CS, Sullivan JP, Qadri S, Lockley SW, et al. Associations between sleep disturbances, mental health outcomes and burnout in firefighters, and the mediating role of sleep during overnight work: A cross-sectional study. J Sleep Res. 2019;28(6):e12869.
- Söderström M, Jeding K, Ekstedt M, Perski A, Åkerstedt T. Insufficient sleep predicts clinical burnout. J Occup Health Psychol. 2012;17(2):175–83.
- Armon G, Shirom A, Shapira I, Melamed S. On the nature of burnout-insomnia relationships: A prospective study of employed adults. J Psychosom Res. 2008;65(1):5–12.
- Weaver MD, Robbins R, Quan SF, O’Brien CS, Viyaran NC, Czeisler CA, et al. Association of Sleep Disorders with Physician Burnout. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(10):2020–3.
- Abedini NC, Stack SW, Goodman JL, Steinberg KP. “It’s Not Just Time Off”: A Framework for Understanding Factors Promoting Recovery From Burnout Among Internal Medicine Residents. J Grad Med Educ. 2018;10(1):26–32.
- De Simone S, Vargas M, Servillo G. Organizational strategies to reduce physician burnout: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2021;33(4):883–94.
- Assefa SZ ,Diaz-Abad M, Wickwire EM, Scharf SM. The functions of sleep. AIMS Neurosci.2015;2(3):155–71.
- Hirshkowitz M, Whiton K, Albert SM, Alessi C, Bruni O, Don Carlos L, et al. National Sleep Foundation’s updated sleep duration recommendations: Final report. Sleep Heal.2015;1(4):233–43.
- Dolezal BA, Neufeld E V., Boland DM, Martin JL, Cooper CB. Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017.
- Holt-Lunstad J.Social connection as a public health issue: the evidence and a systemic framework for prioritizing the “social” in social determinants of health. Annu Rev Public Health. 2022;43:193–213.
- Mickley Steinmetz KR, Gaudier-Diaz MM, Huber EC, Edwards BH, Muscatell KA. Investigating social connection as a protective factor against exam stress in college students. J Am Coll Heal. 2022;0(0):1–4.
- Bianchi R, Schonfeld IS, Laurent E. Burnout syndrome and depression. In: Understanding Depression: Volume 2 Clinical Manifestations, Diagnosis and Treatment. 2018. p.187–202.
- Pressman SD, Matthews KA, Cohen S, Martire LM, Scheier M, Andrew B, et al. Association of enjoyable leisure activities with psychological and physical well-being. Psychosom Med. 2009;71(1):725–32.