Job burnout is a serious health issue

Across all industries, burnout is becoming an increasingly prevalent and serious health issue. Amplified by the exhaustion and stress of working through the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout has affected many of us, from stretched-thin essential workers to those navigating the new territory of working from home and juggling homeschooling.


Burnout extends beyond simply being exhausted by work. It’s defined as a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, and has been included in the World Health Organization’s 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’.


It is important to note that burnout is related to work specifically – not other areas of life. It has not yet been classed as a medical condition, distinguishing it from diagnosable disorders such as depression and anxiety. Hence, if the indications of burnout are recognised and the issues addressed, then burnout will resolve.


How do you know if you are suffering burnout? There are three tell-tale signs:

  • feeling depleted of energy or exhausted
  • experiencing an increased mental distance from one’s job, or feeling negative or cynical about one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy – feeling incompetent and inept at work


Understanding the risks

Long-term exposure to stress can lead to burnout, and certain occupations are at greater risk. These include police and emergency service workers, teachers, healthcare workers, and legal professionals. However, anyone can be susceptible to burnout if they experience a high workload or stressful work environment for an extended period of time.


Some common risk factors include having limited support at work, being overloaded, experiencing role conflict/ambiguity, having low work satisfaction, lack of supportive supervision, and being younger or less experienced.


In order to counter such risk factors, workers should endeavour to boost those things that help protect their mental wellbeing.


How can I protect myself?

  • Look after yourself by getting plenty of rest, regular exercise, and eating regular, well-balanced meals.
  • Minimise your intake of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine or other drugs
  • Make time for relaxation
  • Try to schedule at least one enjoyable activity each day
  • Spend time with people you care about
  • Seek peer support at work
  • Recognise your limits and maintain strong boundaries at work
  • Seek professional support if you feel you need it


How can I support my employees’ wellbeing?


Organisations can do a lot to help prevent burnout in their employees, including providing effective leadership, a supportive team environment, realistic workloads, evidence-informed workplace policies, and access to useful resources and training.


Phoenix Australia can support a wide variety of organisations to minimise employee burnout and its impacts by providing best practice advice on service development and policy. There has been increasing interest from organisations aware of the importance of supporting the psychological health and wellbeing of their workforces.


In 2019, a training program was specifically designed and delivered for Court Services Victoria for 100 professionals working within the Children’s Court Family Division. Training was delivered in Melbourne and regional centres. The training provided a framework for wellbeing and resilience to help workers look after themselves and decrease their risk of suffering burnout. Participants explored the elements in their own work and life situations that support wellbeing, considered how to address any risk factors and boost protective factors, and then developed an individualised self-care plan.


Judge Amanda Chambers, President of the Children’s Court of Victoria, said that she was pleased to see the training sessions “focus on how to cultivate and maintain resilience and self-care. Peer support is crucial to wellbeing for many of us, but so too should we seek professional and guided assistance when needed.”


For employees and employers alike, the good news is that burnout is manageable and preventable. With considered interventions both at an individual and organisational level, workers can be supported to prevent or overcome burnout, feel healthy and enjoy their work again.