12 stages of burnout

by rodney on March 31, 2015

Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North have theorized that the burnout process can be divided into 12 phases, which are not necessarily followed sequentially.

 The Compulsion to Prove Oneself

Often found at the beginning is excessive ambition. This is one’s desire to prove themselves while at the workplace. This desire turns into determination and compulsion.

Working Harder

Because they have to prove themselves to others or try to fit in an organization that does not suit them, people establish high personal expectations. In order to meet these expectations, they tend to focus only on work while they take on more work than they usually would. It may happen that they become obsessed with doing everything themselves. This will show that they are irreplaceable since they are able to do so much work without enlisting in the help of others.

Neglecting Their Needs

Since they have devoted everything to work, they now have no time and energy for anything else. Friends and family, eating, and sleeping start to become seen as unnecessary or unimportant, as they reduce the time and energy that can be spent on work.

Displacement of Conflicts

Now, the person has become aware that what they are doing is not right, but they are unable to see the source of the problem. This could lead to a crisis in themselves and become threatening. This is when the first physical symptoms are expressed.

Revision of Values

In this stage, people isolate themselves from others, they avoid conflicts, and fall into a state of denial towards their basic physical needs while their perceptions change. They also change their value systems. The work consumes all energy they have left, leaving no energy and time for friends and hobbies. Their new value system is their job and they start to be emotionally blunt.

Denial of Emerging Problems

The person begins to become intolerant. They do not like being social, and if they were to have social contact, it would be merely unbearable for them. Outsiders tend to see more aggression and sarcasm. It is not uncommon for them to blame their increasing problems on time pressure and all the work that they have to do, instead of on the ways that they have changed, themselves.

Withdrawal

Their social contact is now at a minimum, soon turning into isolation, a wall. Alcohol or drugs may be sought out for a release since they are obsessively working “by the book”. They often have feelings of being without hope or direction.

Obvious Behavioral Changes

Coworkers, family, friends, and other people that are in their immediate social circles cannot overlook the behavioral changes of this person.

Depersonalization

Losing contact with themselves, it’s possible that they no longer see themselves or others as valuable. The person also loses track of their personal needs. Their view of life narrows to only seeing in the present time, while their life turns to a series of mechanical functions.

Inner Emptiness

They feel empty inside and to overcome this, they might look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs. These activities are often exaggerated.

Depression

Burnout may include depression. In that case, the person is exhausted, hopeless, indifferent, and believes that there is nothing for them in the future. To them, there is no meaning of life. Typical depression symptoms arise.

Burnout Syndrome

They collapse physically and emotionally and should seek immediate medical attention. In extreme cases, usually only when depression is involved, suicidal ideation may occur, with it being viewed as an escape from their situation. Only a few people will actually suicide.

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