HR & Personal Development

What is burn out?

Being burnt out or having a fatigue depression is a work related type of stress that comes from ongoing mental or physical overload. Most often it affects people who work with other people professionally. Especially skilled and committed people who demand a lot from themselves, are often affected. 

How burn out progresses

Your employee burning out goes through several stages and often happen over several years.

As mentioned, it typically affects the most committed employees, who get disappointed because they can't do their job in a way that meet their own expectations.

The development of being burnt out often goes through five stages:




Source: The Danish Working Environment Service


1. Commitment
The employee is committed and finds the work meaningful. He or she experiences results and achieves a certain amount of acknowledgement and respect.

2. Doubt
The employee is challenged by experiences that may make it more difficult to achieve the results he or she hoped for. The employee is challenged on his or her commitment and experience a pressure for time and emotional stress. Management’s focus on quantity instead of quality means that the employee have to compromise his or her own standards of quality.

Either the employee adapts by changes his or her own expectations or by changing the job. If this doesn't happen, there's a chance that the employee moves to the next stage.

3. Frustration
This stage is characterized by a sense of frustration and powerlessness. This is a situation of crisis, which is marked by exhaustion, and that the employee attempts to preserve energy by minimizing external contact, and by emotionally retreating.

4. Retreat
At this stage the employee has given up on reaching his or her goals or trying to make the goals fit a realistic level of expectations. Now, the employee experiences a lack of purpose, resignation and depression. The employee is stuck in the dilemma between his own ambitions and experienced realities.

If a leader and colleagues intervene on this stage, the commitment of the employee can still be recreated. But if not, the employee may risk ending up in the final stage.

5. Apathy
Here the employee experiences neither value nor purpose on the job, and a sense of apathy and cynicism spreads. There is a complete emotional distancing to the job.

Do you know the symptoms of burn out?

The earlier a leader is able to intervene, the easier it is to turn things around. That's why it's important to be able to recognize the signs of an employee or colleagues burning out.

Below, is not a finite list, but it is a list og the 22 most typical symptoms of burn out.

22 symptoms of being burnt out

  • Tiredness
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Sleep interruptions
  • Headaches
  • Problems with digestion
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Feeling of hopelessness and loneliness and crying easily
  • Isolates oneself from colleagues and the people who need help
  • Clients are referred to in impersonal and increasingly negative ways
  • Reacts with outbursts of rage more easily
  • Can show suspicion and paranoia
  • Becomes more closed, rigid, hardheaded and inflexible
  • Blocks constructive changes at work
  • Often has a negative attitudes towards work, oneself and life in general
  • Feels cynicism, pessimism, intolerance and can have a “defensive” behavior towards other people
  • Can lose the motivation for working
  • Feel reduced personal efficiency and self-esteem at work


Source: The Danish Working Environment Service