5 things you should know about burnout
October 14, 2019
By Ana Maria Sedletchi
Dr. Susana Banerjee talks about how to recognize burnout and how to avoid it when you work in high-stress environments
© istock.com/Alexmia Burnout is a stress-induced syndrome characterized by mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. The misery and loss of meaning caused by a burnout can negatively impact your job, everyday life and health. Characteristic symptoms include feeling tired most of the time, lowered immunity, sense of failure and social isolation. It is not a new phenomenon, but the issue has been in the spotlight since statistics are concerning, especially in high-stress fields like healthcare. For example, more than 70 percent of young oncologists in Europe reported experiencing symptoms of burnout, according to a 2013 study led by Dr. Susana Banerjee(opens in new tab/window), a Consultant Medical Oncologist and Research Lead for the Gynaecology Unit at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust(opens in new tab/window). Burnout is a significant mental health issue and should be treated as such. In recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week 2019(opens in new tab/window), Elsevier’s Researcher Academy(opens in new tab/window) has collaborated with the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO)(opens in new tab/window) to develop a module addressing the rising issue of burnout. As a member of ESMO’s new Resilience Task force, Dr. Banerjee helped develop their best practices. Now, in a webinar for the Researcher Academy(opens in new tab/window), she presents what a burnout is, how can you recognize it and how can institutions support their specialists in avoiding or recovering from a burnout.
Here are the main take-aways from the webinar.
1. Am I at risk?
Burnout can occur at all stages of career development and evolves over time. There are many risk factors that are applicable to different specialties, especially to those which involve high stress environments. Increased workload, administrative requirements, legal issues and reduced autonomy are extremely underestimated common threats that many of you may experience at work. If you have a high achieving type A personality or live in a country with an over-working culture, it can be difficult to recognize how poor your work-life balance is. It’s important to acknowledge that you’re at risk to timely implement prevention measures.
2. What can potentially happen to me?
Symptoms of burnout are easy to ignore when you are doing something you love or when you think you don’t have a choice. However, pushing through exhaustion is not the best strategy as it can lead to even more damage. Potentially you will see direct consequences on your professionalism, such as a decreasing quality of work and a higher amount of errors (which can be crucial in healthcare). Ignoring warning symptoms of burnout can lead to substance abuse, depression and suicide.
3. How to prevent burnout
It would be too ambitious and unrealistic to state that there is one approach that fits all situations.
Multiple strategies and tools need to be suited to respond to the individual and organizational risks, such as raising awareness and promoting potential aids; assessing the current situation and measures to combat it; implementing programs with a range of support like online modules, face-to-face coaching and seminars developed with the help of psychologists; and always assessing the impact of interventions. The good news is that burnout can be prevented and is not irreversible — consider a complex interplay with engagement, stress and depression. Most importantly, you need to realize the importance to reach out for help if you have already passed the breaking point.
4. What is psychological resilience?
A potential approach for addressing and preventing burnout is “psychological resilience” – the ability to mentally cope and quickly recover from a crisis. Growing evidence shows that this is a skill that can be trained and developed. Resilience training is already being used in corporate environments. Dr. Banerjee quoted a 2010 paper by Jane Clark & John Nicholson(opens in new tab/window), who define psychological resilience as “the ability to bounce back from tough times, or even triumph in the face of adversity: to develop tenacity, but not at the expense of reason.”
5. We need change now!
Solutions need to be refined and selected individually depending on the field, type of organization, and even country. Institutions need to set their values towards creating more employee-centric cultures. Building communities and organizing programs and trainings with psychologists can help avoid social isolation. Reducing the workload and time pressure and encouraging fairness and rewards for your employees can help in preventing a burnout while creating brand ambassadors, loyalty and non-toxic work environments.