Job Burnout a Threat to Professional Well-Being, Productivity

The modern workplace, characterized by relentless demands, extended hours, and constant connectivity, is fertile ground for a sinister foe: burnout. This insidious psychosocial affliction transcends specific professions, plaguing individuals across a broad spectrum of fields. Its consequences are far-reaching, impacting not just individual performance and job satisfaction but also physical and mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Burnout’s tentacles reach far and wide, manifesting in impaired job performance, absenteeism, and even presenteeism (working while unproductive). The toll on physical health is equally problematic, with research linking burnout to hypertension, heart disease, and other medical complications.

On a personal level, the emotional burden is considerable, marked by headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances, irritability, anxiety, and depression. In extreme cases, left unaddressed, burnout can culminate in substance dependence, marital discord, and even suicide. The economic repercussions of widespread burnout are undeniable. Increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, and high turnover rates translate to significant financial losses for organizations. Moreover, the human cost of burnout, measured in individual suffering and personal hardship, is priceless.

In this article, EBR’s Dr. Brook Genene explains that burnout is timely and critical. He shed light on the complex interplay of workplace factors, individual vulnerabilities, and coping mechanisms contributing to this growing epidemic. By raising awareness and fostering open dialogue, there is a possibility to empower individuals and organizations to recognize the early signs of burnout, implement preventive measures, and develop effective intervention strategies.

Addressing burnout requires a multi-pronged approach. Organizations can prioritize employee well-being by promoting healthy work-life balance, establishing clear boundaries, and fostering a supportive work environment. Individuals, in turn, can be equipped with tools and strategies to manage stress, maintain healthy boundaries, and prioritize self-care. Open communication, access to mental health resources, and flexible work arrangements are crucial components of an effective burnout prevention plan. By tackling burnout head-on, creating a professional landscape conducive to optimal performance, robust well-being, and genuine employee satisfaction is possible. Dr Brook argues that addressing this issue paves the way for a healthier, more fulfilling future for professionals from all walks of life.

After Helen Girma graduated from Gondar University in Accounting and Finance, she dreamed of landing a job in a bank. After a two-month wait, she got a role at one of the biggest private banks in the country. But her joy was short-lived. After only three months on the job, she started having anxiety. She was overwhelmed with the tasks assigned to her. She barely had time for rest or social life, and she usually had to stay until 8 or 9 PM while working all day on Saturdays.

She always needed to be alert because she was working at the front desk. However, she started noticing that her concentration was dwindling, negatively affecting her performance. “I started making counting errors and losing cash,” she says, recounting that horrific period.

The only time she could take a breather was during lunchtime. But that was only for one hour and didn’t offer her enough time for herself. In addition to the anxious feeling, she also started having headaches and stomachaches.

People around her also showed little interest in the jobs they routinely do. The way her colleagues communicated wasn’t ideal and hindered productive relationships. After a while, she started thinking about leaving the job before her symptoms got worse and resigned after a year.

Burnout is a state of exhaustion, cynicism, and depersonalization in professional interactions. It also involves decreased personal accomplishment that can affect anyone due to excessive work under stressful circumstances.

The term was coined in 1970 by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. At the time, it was used to describe the frequently observed negative consequences like exhaustion and difficulty coping caused by severe stress and high ideals in helping professions (predominantly medical fields). The term also included people in different sectors like finance and entrepreneurship.

Burnout is not a disease but a syndrome- a collection of symptoms. Three dimensions characterize it. These are feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.

Losing energy, emotional depletion, enthusiasm, tension, and frustration characterize emotional exhaustion. Depersonalization represents interpersonal relationships with others in the workplace that lead to negative interaction. The sense of reduced professional achievement is defined as a tendency for workers to judge themselves negatively, making them feel less competent. It displays unhappiness with their work performance.

Besides the psychological burden, burnout also manifests itself by affecting physical health. Headaches, stomachache, indigestion, tiredness or fatigue, loss of appetite or, in some cases, increased appetite, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, muscle cramps, and abdominal pain are indicators of the possible presence of burnout. Insomnia can be a risk factor for burnout as well as one of its symptoms.

Studies done among people working in the financial sector overseas also showed that the main reasons for burnout were heavy workloads, time-consuming manual processes, long work hours, tight deadlines, and increasing demand from management.

Several studies were done on burnout among health professionals in Ethiopia. Healthcare professionals (HCPs) are commonly grouped into health professions such as nurses, general practitioners, anaesthetists, pharmacists, and laboratory technicians. The primary responsibility of HCPs is to provide a wide variety of care to patients seeking healthcare services.

One study was by Anbesaw, T., Zenebe, Y., Abebe, M., & Tegafaw, T. (2023). It assessed Burnout Syndrome and associated factors among 251 Health Care Professionals in Dessie Comprehensive Specialized Hospital. According to this study, 31.6% had symptoms of burnout. Moreover, 42% of respondents were highly emotionally exhausted. In addition, 43% and 45% of respondents experienced depersonalization and low personal achievement, respectively.

The study showed that being male, having no interest in their job, encountering physical violence, and not being satisfied with their job contributed to burnout syndrome.

“The topic is not well studied in Ethiopia, while the available literature only shows the prevalence among health professionals”, explains Dr Bereket Tsegaye, a Psychiatrist at Alert Hospital. Dr Bereket conducted a study on burnout among mental health professionals in 2021. His finding was that about 18.5% of the study participants had mild to moderate symptoms of burnout.

He states, “Those professions that demand high emotional and physical involvements are at risk. Worldwide, firefighters and diving rescuers are at high risk. Among medical professionals, anesthesiologists and emergency medicine seniors are at high risk.”

Helen believes finding the right balance between work and other aspect of life is essential. While work is important and an integral part of one’s life, work that does not allow sufficient rest exposes one to numerous health risks and overall well-being. She also states that from conversations with her friends, the problem she encountered at her previous job is also the case elsewhere. Helen has now found a job she enjoys and is taking it easy while she strives to further her career.

“Hobbies can help to treat burnout because they primarily target self-care, vacation, and taking rest,” says Dr. Bereket. Professionals recommend self-care to combat burnout. Activities like good sleep habits, nutrition, exercise, social connection, meditation, journaling, and enjoying nature are all said to bring positive changes. It is also important to take vacations when possible.

An intervention is needed if the symptoms persist even after these steps. It will then be essential to visit a mental health professional. Several types of therapy can help individuals address the negative feelings they are facing.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) enables the patient to identify and change negative thought patterns and beliefs contributing to burnout. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) focuses on improving the patient’s relationships with others, which can help reduce stress and prevent burnout. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teaches the patient to concentrate on the present moment and be more aware of their thoughts and feelings, which can help reduce stress and prevent burnout.

While burnout is a syndrome that can be treated with therapy, It can also be accompanied by psychiatric illnesses like depression and anxiety. In this case, consulting a Psychiatrist is essential to explore other means of treatment like medication.

These days, work environments are demanding. The working hours are long, and the tasks are numerous, as that is how to make it in our competitive world our competitive world. However, prioritizing one’s mental health and well-being to stay productive and achieve personal goals is essential.EBR

12th Year • February 2024 • No. 126

Brook Genene

Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Ethiopian Business Review (EBR). He can be reached at

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