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Illustration of factors contributing to stress Too much stress and worries may lead to a “burnout” syndrome.
© Colourbox

Here we will discuss a specific example of the consequences of negative factors in the psychosocial work environment: a condition called “burnout”.

a) Definition- cause

This expression is often used to describe how professional “helpers” may develop a depression-like condition. Persons who help other persons at work, are particularly at risk for developing “burnout”. In the diagnostic system ICD-11, burnout is found under “problems associated with employment or unemployment” (QD85). The reason for this condition is a reaction to a high-stress level at work for long periods, particularly in work situations with high emotional demands.

b) Who is at risk for developing burnout

People at high risk for burnout include, for instance, health personnel, priests, police and social workers. In addition, highly ambitious people are especially prone to developing this type of problem.

A worried man with his head in his hands A worried man. © Bente Moen

c) Typical symptoms

After long periods of this type of work, some people become exhausted. They may manifest sadness, tiredness, a lack of motivation and may become cynical. They become less effective at work, something that is often noted by their colleagues, who can sense that something is wrong. Burned-out workers no longer function optimally. The symptoms are quite similar to depression.

d) Individual treatment of a patient with burnout

In treating burnout, a change of working conditions may be useful. Many of these patients need to be away from work for a while, or need to find a completely different job. In addition, these patients often need counselling; learn how to better cope with life, as well as tips on stress management. People who are burned out need someone to talk to; someone who can council them. Some patients of this type need to learn how to take better care of themselves. Some need to learn how to relax, to develop healthier eating, to learn how to exercise better or more, and develop better sleeping habits. Some people who have developed burnout also develop problems with drug abuse as a method of coping with the situation, and this must also be treated.

e) Preventing burnout

An organization that employs workers who help others, needs to be aware of the employees’ risk of developing burnout. It is a syndrome that can be prevented by understanding the contributing factors:

At the workplace

  • The workload needs to be balanced and rewarded
  • The workers need to have control of their work and the demands must not be too high
  • The workplace must have a supportive and fair leadership

On the individual level

  • Stress coping: Learn to balance work and family life. Helpers need regular contact with family and friends. They need to have a regular life when it comes to diet, exercise and sleep. Smoking and alcohol/drug abuse should be avoided.

A wall with the words Make time for what matters! painted on It is important to know that family and friends are very important for your own life, not only the work. Make time for what matters! © Colourbox

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This article is from the free online course:

Occupational Health in Developing Countries

University of Bergen