When 29-year-old Olga was offered to head the marketing department in a large Russian holding, she agreed without hesitation: “For me it was a test of creativity and professionalism – such a chance is given once in a lifetime. The work captured me entirely – it seemed that even in my sleep I continued to think about promoting new products, and on weekends I often stopped by the office to work in silence. “
However, after a couple of months, Olga began to notice: much of what used to cause her excitement is now tiring and annoying. “By the evening I was falling off my feet, and in the morning I got up just as tired and did not recover over the weekend. But what is most unpleasant – in the midst of an important meeting, I felt complete alienation: it seemed as if everything was not happening to me and had no meaning. “
The feelings Olga describes are not unique: according to the sociological company Harris Interactive, 47% of successful professionals experience similar symptoms.
“At the peak of their interest in work, they develop a strange indifference and even a desire to turn around and leave,” says psychotherapist Ekaterina Mikhailova. – The doctor wants to put off the scalpel in the middle of the operation, and the teacher is visited by a fantasy: to skip today … If this feeling repeats again and again, the professional discovers: what was important for him yesterday to do well, today becomes indifferent and, moreover, begins to repel …
This condition is called “burnout syndrome”: among its signs are chronic fatigue, a drop in efficiency and interest in work, an indifferent and even aggressively irritated attitude towards what you are doing and towards your colleagues. A person suffering from burnout constantly feels their own inadequacy and the excessiveness of the requirements presented to him.
Sometimes this syndrome also manifests itself bodily. “I was sure that I had gastritis,” says 42-year-old Anatoly. – Every morning began with nausea and pain in the stomach. However, medical examinations showed that everything was in order with the stomach. And later I noticed: my stomach hurts only on weekdays – on weekends I feel fine. “
The crisis of faith
The term “burnout” was first used in 1974 by the American psychotherapist Herbert Freudenberger. His article “Staff burnout”1, investigating the causes of mental and physical exhaustion of workers in a narcological clinic, became the starting point in the study of this phenomenon.
It seemed that people in helping professions: doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers, suffered more from emotional burnout. Immersed in communication with dozens of patients, clients and students, they experience the strongest emotional stress and often unexpectedly notice that sympathy and empathy are replaced by apathy, irritation and a sense of meaninglessness of their own efforts.
Burnout symptoms suggest: we shouldn’t waste our only life on our current occupation.
But no less than doctors or educators, bank workers and entrepreneurs, programmers and students, engineers and scientists, in short, all those who put a lot of effort into their work and devote a lot of time to it, suffer from emotional burnout.
“Emotional burnout is a sign that there is a latent conflict between work (or some aspect of it) and our personal attitudes,” explains existential psychotherapist Svetlana Krivtsova. – Intellectually, we understand that work is very important, and we live in accordance with this conviction.
However, the symptoms of burnout suggest: in fact, we need something else, we should not waste our only life on our current occupation … And this can happen to a person of any specialty if work as a process does not give him something really important for his personality, for his self. “
In other words, if you compare the work of religion – which, in essence, is what happens in modern society – then burnout syndrome can be compared to a crisis of faith.
The temptation to “do more”
Each of us is prone to emotional burnout. Australian researchers Mark Pierce and Jeffrey Molloy have shown that burnout rates are not related to education, intelligence, or even pay.
Sensitive and emotional people notice its symptoms earlier, but the intensity of the process does not depend on either the mental organization or personal history.2… The only thing that matters is the situation at work and our attitude towards it.
Overload is hardly the first cause of burnout. “People who have little work may complain of boredom,” says American psychotherapist Christina Maslach, “but they don’t suffer from burnout.”
However, overload is often not an obligatory attribute of our activity – in many cases, we ourselves take on unbearable responsibility.
“A paradoxical situation arises: the more exhausted we feel, the more cases we strive to hang on to ourselves,” notes Svetlana Krivtsova. “Trapped in guilt for being” dishonest “, we try to compensate for the lack of enthusiasm with the amount of work, continuing to increase the load until it becomes unbearable.”
The risk of burnout is significantly higher for those who are sure that they should always be restrained, have no room for error
Resisting the temptation to “do more” is indeed very difficult. “The state when a person constantly thinks only about work is one of the symptoms of an incipient emotional burnout,” explains Ekaterina Mikhailova. – The trouble is that this state does not immediately begin to be felt as uncomfortable – so it is insidious. If work becomes a drug, the prognosis is disappointing: like any drug addict, such a person will constantly increase the dose. “
However, a lot of work is not the only reason for burnout. It may also be related to our attitude to business: the risk of burnout is significantly higher for those who are sure that they should always be restrained, have no room for error and are obliged to serve as an example for colleagues.
No less dangerous is the situation in which we constantly feel that we are underestimated, that our efforts do not lead to the achievement of a meaningful goal and we cannot change the state of affairs in any way. “We feel irritation, anger and aggression,” comments Christina Maslach, “and most often they are the ones that contribute to the development of a cynical attitude to work.”
Unjustified expectations are manifested in the fact that a person becomes harsh in communication, constantly criticizes his superiors and belittles the importance of the work itself.
“At some point, it became clear to me that nothing in my company would change,” says 36-year-old Ksenia. – It was as if something clicked inside me – I somehow immediately became uninterested in everything. I didn’t even hide my attitude to work – I talked about its stupidity, ridiculed the director’s orders and thought: “I will do what you want because you pay me. But don’t expect interest from me. “
At the same time, sometimes those of us who work in a benevolent atmosphere among like-minded people also “burn out”. “If we isolate ourselves from the outside world, spending all the time either at work or in friendly communication with colleagues, we risk burning out, and not alone, but as a whole department, editorial office or laboratory,” adds Ekaterina Mikhailova. “So immersing yourself in a reality where there are only colleagues is dangerous.”
Leaving work to be yourself?
Firing or changing occupations may be an adequate response to burnout if it is caused by a serious conflict between what we do and our deepest moral attitudes.
“If all attempts to find the true (existential) meaning in our activity are unsuccessful, it is worth considering whether we are really doing something that, in all honesty, we are ready to recognize as good,” says Svetlana Krivtsova. – After analyzing your own feelings, try to determine how much what you are doing corresponds to your values and the moral picture of the world. And if you feel that the ideals “preached” by your work are in fact contrary to the voice of your conscience, perhaps changing your job will be a smart decision for you. ”
Messenger of Change
When faced with burnout symptoms, many feel they cannot deal with them without drastic measures.
“I felt such hatred for these numbers, these obligatory suits and ties, these meetings,” says Igor, 31, an employee of an investment bank, “that my only desire was not just to quit – I wanted to forget that finance exists in the world” …
However, by changing the field of activity or simply changing the job, we risk losing too much – after all, we have already invested a lot of efforts in a career in this area, which will turn out to be in vain. And then, where are the guarantees that the same will not happen in the new place?
Burnout syndrome is not a danger that lies in wait for every professional, but a coded signal through which our deep “I” tries to communicate its problems. By delving into the meaning of this message, we can understand a lot about ourselves and find a balance between formal success and our authenticity.
Mature, established professionals “burned out”, and more than once. But this does not mean that after the first time only coals were left of them.
And the first step on this path should be … rest. “Give yourself a chance to rest,” advises Svetlana Krivtsova. – Take at least a week of vacation and devote it only to yourself: take care of your body, walk, meditate. After this period, you can better understand what exactly has drained your strength. You may find that you are not tired of the work itself, but of the long road to it. Or that you are not satisfied with the number of job responsibilities that you have taken on yourself and that you can actually delegate to one of your colleagues. “
Another good way to deal with burnout is to temporarily change activities. “Studying helps a lot – try to study a foreign language, master a new skill, or simply improve your qualifications,” recommends Ekaterina Mikhailova. – Any apprenticeship allows you to feel that the world around is far from limited to narrow working frameworks. In addition, the position of the student allows you to satisfy the natural human need to receive, and not just give. “
In other words, burnout is not the final verdict, but only a stage in professional and personal growth.
“If we talk about mature, established professionals, then they“ burned out ”, and more than once,” says Ekaterina Mikhailova. – This does not mean that after the first time only coals were left of them – people are recovering. But at another stage of life, warning signs may reappear. They are messengers that a person is ripe for growth, for development, that changes are asked in his life. “
Social activities can give an additional bonus: by participating in the life of the company, we receive confirmation that it is in our power to change the state of affairs for the better.
For six months, some employees of a US firm participated in weekly meetings to discuss injustice and bias on the part of management, and how to resolve conflicts. It turned out that the participants in these meetings suffered much less psychological and physical discomfort than their counterparts who did not attend the meetings. American psychotherapists Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter, observing this situation, came to the conclusion: when we are involved in overcoming difficult situations at work and we have the feeling that we can change the state of affairs for the better, the intensity of emotional burnout is significantly reduced.
- Viktor Frankl “A Man in Search of Meaning”, Book on Demand, 2012.
- Natalia Vodopyanova, Elena Starchenkova “Burnout Syndrome”, Peter, 2008.
- Richard Gerrig, Philip Zimbardo Psychology and Life, Peter, 2004.
1 H. Freudenberger “Staff Burnout”. Journal of Social Issues, 1974, vol. thirty.
2 M. Pierce, G. Molloy “Relations between School Type, Occupational Stress, Role Perceptions and Social Support.” Australian Journal of Education, 1990, vol. 34.