The Six Stages Of Burnout
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
There has been a lot of talk about burnout, but what is it really?
Burnout is physical, mental and emotional exhaustion stemming from prolonged stress.
That's what it means in a nutshell.
Burnout can change everything.
The way our bodies digests, fights off illnesses, the way we communicate with people and the way we view ourselves.
On top of that, it changes our cognitive function as well as drain us emotionally, making it easy for us to either disengage or become increasingly more frustrated.
Burnout is becoming the number one issue to tackle within the workplace.
Before I get too heavy, let's cover something off really quickly. This stress does NOT have to be negative. What?!
I know, I know. I'm hearing you now ask yourself "if the stress doesn't start off as a negative how can it be so detrimental?"
I will absolutely answer this in Stage One Of Burnout.
Before I start, I also wanted to share some really concerning statistics about burnout.
From a recent Gallup study of 7,500 employees, they found that 23% of those full-time employees have felt burnt out very often.
On top that, 44% also mentioned they felt burnt out sometimes.
These were pre-pandemic statistics.
The new numbers now are quite scary and if you yourself are worried about burnout, or looking at your team, now is the time to take burnout seriously.
At the beginning of this year, there was a 45% increase in people Googling the signs and symptoms of burnout.
Anyone else a little bothered by that?
Not only that but feeling burnt out also leads to:
A 63% increase in the likelihood of taking a sick day.
2.6 times more likely to resign.
23% more likely to visit the Emergency Room.
That is quite unsettling. Not only for the people who are suffering but also for companies. A lot of employees who end up burnt out are top performers, high achievers and the highly motivated.
Losing a top performer to burnout is preventable.
What can we do?
We need to understand the stages of burnout. Burnout is something that can and does creep up on you. In saying that there are warning signs. The sooner you recognise those warning signs and understand the stages, it will become a lot easier to prevent.
Let's get started.
Stage One Of Burnout: Excitement.
Yes, you read that correctly.
A lot of the time burnout starts with excitement and optimism.
Maybe it's due to a new job, a new goal, a new target or even an exciting life event.
This excitement and optimism make it easier to concentrate, there's an increase in energy, productivity and output.
16 hour days? No problems at this stage!
Working overtime? It's a breeze.
Getting up after 4 hours of sleep still motivated? Absolutely!
Feeling like a superhero? Most definitely.
Not taking care of yourself? This is for certain. However, you still feel great. It's as if nothing can get in your way.
This is what I call the "I'm getting addicted to adrenaline" phase. Which is really difficult to break.
Not only that, but a lot of people also end up getting positive feedback in this stage and they start associating certain behaviours with success. Which is usually not be sustainable.
Stage Two Of Burnout: Let's Work Harder!
This is when small cracks begin to show. Maybe the initial energy is starting to wear off.
You are becoming a little tired. However, you have associated certain behaviours with success.
Maybe these behaviours are working long hours, not resting, working weekends and not caring for yourself.
Instead of taking this as a warning sign, you keep pushing through. Fighting to get back to Stage One.
I've seen this time and time again. Instead of seeing this as a sign to rest, people push through.
I was even one of those people. That's a different story for another time.
Also in Stage Two, you may start to see relationships suffer. Loved one become frustrated and this can cause a strain on significant others.
This is when health issues may arise.
Insomnia and poor sleeping patterns can occur also.
Stage Three Of Burnout: Frustration
You have been fighting a losing battle. You have tried incredibly hard to get that initial energy and euphoria back, to no luck.
In Stage Three you are becoming increasingly more frustrated, fatigued and forgetful.
Concentration usually declines, increasing the likelihood of mistakes. It's a very vicious cycle.
Not only that, but your productivity can also slip leaving you impatient and anxious.
Stage Four Of Burnout: Illness and Denial.
This is when your body is starting to really give up. It's wanting to tap out and you're not letting it.
You've most likely pushed it past its limits and your starting to become quite unwell.
From my experience, a lot of the health issues are from a decrease in immunity, increase in inflammation and digestive problems.
I have seen a lot of health issues that have arisen from burnout including IBS, intolerances, allergies poor digestion and severe inflammation. Not to mention an increase in the frequency and severity of viruses.
However, another phenomenon can occur at this stage, which is denial.
Yes, denial can absolutely happen at this stage. I've seen people blame their health issues on their decrease in focus and productivity. Rather than seeing it as a symptom.
For a lot of people, it really is hard to understand how something can from feeling really good to causing so many issues.
Not only that, a lot of people don't want to admit they're not coping.
Stage Five Of Burnout: Lack of Drive and Apathy.
That original drive and motivation you started off with are nowhere to be found.
You can become apathetic and withdrawn.
This is when anxiety can really become an issue.
A little side note, anxiety can be present at any stage throughout the stages. However, I typically see it more within the later stages.
And the next thing you know you are in Stage Six.
Stage Six Of Burnout: Burnout Has Me Now.
You are completely and utterly mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.
This is the stage where people quit jobs or get signed off.
Whether it's from being overwhelmed or not physically being able to do the job. Either way, this is when people are forced to slow down or stop because of burnout.
You might not be able to cope with simple pressures around you. It's as if everything is too much.
Burnout can completely change the way you work, think and feel.
The hardest part about burnout is seeing warning signs and not doing anything about it.
Not only do I see people do this daily, I personally went through the same scenario.
Take the warning signs seriously. Our bodies are AMAZING at telling us what we need. All we have to do is listen.
If you are feeling tired, REST.
If you are starting to suffer from digestive issues, SLOW DOWN.
If you need help, ASK.
All of those things are simple.
For companies, become aware of the signs of burnout within your team.
This can look like:
Changes in performance.
Changes in behaviour (withdrawn or showing more aggression).
Changes in appearance.
Understand the stages and look at encouraging your employees to rest. Encouraging them to switch off.
If you or your company lack the resources or education, bring in specialist or professional.
Educating yourself on how stress and anxiety can directly impact physical health is beneficial.
One of the key areas that are needed right now is understanding what an organisation can do for their employees.
Understanding what small changes you can make within your company to have a big impact on your staff is important. I have been working tirelessly on creating a Framework for companies to follow to make these changes easy.
I've recently set up a second business (OMNIA) to tackle the overarching need for well-being within organisations.
For more information, head over here.