The 12 Stages of Burnout

Recently Dominion hosted a webinar called "Avoiding Burnout", conducted by Michelle Steffes. During the webinar, Michelle shared valuable information on how to avoid stress and burnout while at work. Steffes mentioned that 8 in 10 employed Americans are stressed, and according to a Work Stress Survey conducted in 2013, the number increased by just 10% in one year. Some of the main reasons employees are stressed are increased demands, endless tasks, and not getting enough help at work. The burnout process has been divided into 12 phases by psychologists  Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North.

Excessive Ambition

The beginning of the process is often an obsession to prove oneself. This phase tends to affect employees who are willing to accept responsibility at any time. They have a desire to prove themselves at work not only to their co-workers but also themselves.

Push Yourself to Work Harder

During this stage, the feelings from the first phase become exaggerated. In order to meet their personal high expectations, employees take on more work they think they can handle.  Because of this, the employee feels obligated to do everything on his or her own and finish it before the deadline. During this stage, the employee also finds it hard to prioritize tasks.

Neglecting Personal Care & Needs

Because of the amount of work the employee has taken on, their schedule leaves no time for anything else other than work. The employee, therefore, neglects important daily activities such as sleeping, eating, and spending time with loved ones. The employee sees the situation as being normal and some have actually described it to be comfortable. During this phase the employee’s lifestyles becomes unhealthy and the first small errors start to appear.

Displacement of Conflict

More conflicts develop such as forgotten appointments, tardiness, etc. Also, the first physical symptoms may emerge during this phase.

Changes in Values to Validate Self Worth

During this phase, the way the employee perceives things changes. Values, friends, family, and hobbies are dismissed and irrelevant. Work is the only focus.

Denial of Problems & Blame

During this phase, more problems emerge but are denied. The affected employees start becoming more annoyed and bitter. The employees view the problems to be caused by time pressure and work, and not because of life changes.

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Social Withdrawal

This phase is where the employee reduces social contact to a minimum and become isolated. Their spouse, family, and friends are seen as a burden rather than a support system. During this phase, the employee becomes more stressed and in order to feel good, they turn to other means of gratification; this can sometimes be alcohol or even drugs.

Obvious Behavior Changes

This phase is when friends and family become concerned about the affected employee. At this point, nothing matters to the employee, and their lifestyle changes are more obvious and apparent.

Confusion of Identity

Individuals in this phase feel a loss of contact with themselves. They neither see themselves nor others as valuable, and they don’t even perceive their own needs. Their perspective of time narrows to the present, they start to see their lives as meaningless, and they may even start neglecting their own health.

Inner Emptiness

During this phase, the affected individual feels completely useless, anxious, and tired. To overcome those feelings, the individual seeks other activities, which are sometimes exaggerated. These activities may be increased sexual activity, overeating, or alcohol and drug use.

Depression Sets In

This is an increase of the previous stage, and the individual becomes depressed. He or she becomes indifferent, hopeless, and exhausted.

Mental or Physical Collapse

Nearly all individuals experiencing burnout have suicidal thoughts at this point. Physical, mental, and emotional collapse occurs and the situation becomes an emergency.