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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / December / Identifying and Combating Burnout

Identifying and Combating Burnout

By: Ann Cornell, PsyD.

Katherine used to like her work, but her feelings about it have changed. Katherine works full time as a nurse on an inpatient medical unit, but lately she finds herself struggling to keep up with increased work demands, and feeling emotionally and physically exhausted.  Now she has less control over her schedule and has been canceling several family and social events to accommodate her work schedule.  She used to look forward to going to work, but now she dreads the start of her shift.   Katherine feels detached from herself and from those around her.  Recently, she’s been making sarcastic comments about her co-workers and even some of the patients in her care.  She used to find her work meaningful and took pride in her job. However, over the past few weeks, she has struggled to see the purpose of her role and has been worried about the quality of her work performance.  When Katherine does have time away from work, it never seems enough time to help her re-charge.    Lately Katherine has been wondering if she is experiencing burnout.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that is accompanied by feeling detached from oneself and from those around you and a sense of low personal accomplishment.  Burnout has negative effects on the mental and physical health of employees, as well as negative consequences on work performance including reduced patient satisfaction, decreased quality of patient care, and increased rates of employee turnover.  The difference between stress and burnout is the ability to recover in your time off.   If you are not able to recharge your batteries during your time off, burnout may be the cause. If left unaddressed, burnout can result in more serious mental health issues. 

Types of work stress that can contribute to burnout:

  1. Excessive workload - high levels of physical, cognitive and emotional demands
  2. Lack of control - not being able to influence your work environment
  3. Poor balance between effort and reward - feeling that your efforts aren’t appreciated or rewarded
  4. Lack of community - not having a workplace culture of mutual appreciation and teamwork
  5. Lack of fairness - feeling cut off from workplace resources and fair treatment
  6. Value conflict - experiencing moral distress about having to participate in suboptimal, unethical circumstances


What can you do?

If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout, one of the most important things you can do is make time to practice self-care.  There are many different types of self-care including emotional, physical, and spiritual. Many people enjoy activities such as meditation, writing in a journal, watching a movie, going for a walk or run, getting out in nature, making time to spend with family or friends, or trying a new activity.  If you are experiencing burnout, it is important to take a step back and look at your workload, work responsibilities and hours. Make a list for yourself about the sources of stress in your job. If possible, meet with your supervisor to talk about any changes that could make it easier for you to do your job.  Ask for support from friends, family, or other community members.

You can also do the “Three Good Things” exercise.  Research has shown that this simple exercise can help reduce stress levels for employees.  To do this exercise, make a daily practice of identifying three things that went well, and what your role was in making it happen.  Then identify which positive emotion best describes how you feel as a result of the good thing.  Try practicing this exercise on a daily basis for three weeks and notice how much easier it becomes to reflect on positive experiences rather than focusing on negative ones.

If you think you may be suffering from burnout, the Strong Employee Assistance Program can help evaluate you for signs of burnout. And remember that Behavioral Health Partners provides eligible individuals with mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression.

Behavioral Health Partners and the Strong Employee Assistance Program are brought to you by the YOURhealth employee wellness program.

Looking for additional information?  Please visit these websites:

How to Beat Burnout

Burnout Self-Test

Physician Burnout

Steven P Brown | 12/15/2016

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