No one goes to work to be become ill. No one goes to work to burnout. Yet every day that’s exactly what is happening to millions of people.

Are you feeling the burn? Are you burning out?

Asmita loved what she did

Asmita was a HR director for a multinational company. She loved the cut and thrust of her role, how things were constantly changing and how she had to respond immediately to those changes. She loved that she travelled overseas visiting the business all over the world.

It felt like flu

One day Asmita woke up and struggled to get out of bed. She felt as if all of her energy had been sapped out of her. Perhaps she was getting flu? After taking some paracetamol she had a few cups of coffee to jumpstart her body and mind. With the release of energy she got on with her day. As the day went on she felt better and put it out of her mind, thinking no more about it.

Two days later she woke up with her body hurting so much she couldn’t get to the bathroom unaided. There was no chance she could make it to work. She was bed bound. She was in pain all over. Her brain felt like mush.

She thought she had a virus but after a week in bed she was no better and all tests had come back normal. She was burnt out!

Asmita was suffering from Burn Out.

It turns out Asmita was suffering from burnout. The relentless work load had caught up with her body and now she was really quite unwell. She now had no choice but to listen to what her body was saying.

Her body was saying – “No More. It’s Time to Stop!”

Burn Out doesn’t go away with a few days of rest

The trouble with burn out is that it isn’t something that goes after a few days of rest. It can cause prolonged and extensive harm to your body and mind. Some people never recover. Some take months to recover.

And recovery from Burn Out is made more complicated by returning back to the very role that caused the problem.

So what is “Burn Out”?

The World Health Organisation define burn out as “a state of vital exhaustion”.

It’s regarded as a severe form of workplace stress. Many countries record it as occupational injury.

Who gets Burn Out

High Achievers


People who are exhausted from the emotional demands of their role eg health professionals, teachers

People who ignore and shut off their body’s warning signs

How would I know if I have Burnt Out?

  • You’ve become very cynical
  • You have compassion fatigue
  • You have complete physical exhaustion
  • Your mind feels chaotic and overwhelmed
  • You feel disconnected from others
  • You stop socialising and withdraw from others
  • Even small tasks feel overwhelming
  • You feel intensely angry at others or yourself
  • Apathy consumes you
  • You are so frustrated because you are putting lots of effort in but not getting anything achieved

What causes burnout?

For some people it is constantly trying to deal with a high volume of work that causes burnout.

For some it is the workload combined with the scrutiny that comes from being in roles that are highly regulated.

Certain individuals may be more likely experience burnout because of their personalities. They are competitive or perfectionists or high achievers. Sometimes known as Type A personalities.

Some research even shows there may be a genetic component that makes particular individuals and those in their family more likely to experience burnout.

Certain occupations have high levels of burnout

About 50% of GP’s are estimated to be burnt out. Many of them leave the profession as a result. Others stay. But they suffer from a strong lack of compassion and apathy about what they are doing.

So how would a GP burning out affect me?

GPs who are burnt out affect all of us. They are more likely to be rude, have a complete lack of compassion or care, and make mistakes that impact lives, even cause deaths.

Nurses are another professional group that often experience burnout. As are teachers and social workers.

The figures show that the public sector is rife with people who are burnt out.

Although they are not the only sector. The legal, banking and financial sector are also high risk.

An issue for everyone

Figures from some research says that burn out is an issue for everyone – not just those in the public sector. That about 15% of the general working population is burnt out.

Many of these people will also end up with depression and anxiety.

Supervision can help stop burn out

Some occupations do recognise that burnout is an issue for their people and that they must do something about it. They provide supervision. The aim of this is for their staff to help deal with the emotional toll from their role. Issues like child safeguarding, domestic abuse and end of life decisions.

Others just ignore the signs.

Lecturers burnt out

When I was a lecturer I saw lots of great colleagues burn out. Many left their posts but a lot of those that didn’t had become “Retired in Post”. They were cynical beyond belief!

They lost their compassion and care for both their colleagues or their students. The very thing as health professionals they were meant to be role modelling to the next generation of health professionals!

Toxic organisations cause burn out

It might not be your work load that causes you to burn out. It might be because you work in a toxic organisation. One that uses fear to drive everyone and everything.

It could be that your values conflict with that of your organisation.

It’s No Wonder People Become Cynical within Organisations

Despite the huge amounts of data organisations now collect many refuse to acknowledge what is obvious. The data says it and the people show it.

Is it any wonder people become cynical within organisations?

The organisation just keeps churning it out whilst their people keep on burning out.

It might be that your organisation revels in working everyone to the bone and no one can say “no” and speak out because of the oppressive culture.  That they are seen as weak.

It could be because you are expected to be always connected and so you cannot switch of and relax when you are at home.

Whatever it is this is something that Human Resources needs to be doing something about!

 So what happened to Asmita?

 She attempted to return to work a number of times but wasn’t able to manage it. After 6 months off work she came back on a phased return.

She needed to monitor her workload and stress carefully to stop the same thing happening again. She had coaching to help her develop awareness of how to respond to her body’s early warning signals.

Her immune system had been damaged and she now picks up infections very easily.

She used this experience to look at the role of HR. She sought expert help to tackle the role of the organisation in employee wellbeing. She spoke out about her experiences. Often.  

What’s your experience of Burn Out been?

Adelle Shaw-Flach is Director of The Sweet Potato Consultancy. Formerly a public health nurse and lecturer she now works with leaders to tackle the stigma, cost and waste from workplace stress and mental health. 


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