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We are all stressed in one way or another, and work responsibilities are a major factor underlying stress in many people. We are tasked to meet deadlines, submit reports, make out proposals, presentations etc. There is no job that comes without its hazards or shortfalls, but we are limited in choice and strive to do all we can to do, because work comes with a very important motivation, which is called Money. Some individuals are unable to achieve work-life balance, which in turn affects major aspects of living such as their quality and quantity of

sleep, their eating habits, physical appearance, and emotional and psychological state. Have you experienced a situation where you are exhausted from work, so much so that you can no longer meet the demands of the job, there are multiple complaints about your performance, and in some cases, your job has been threatened? This is a common occurrence, which arises within the occupational or work environment, and it is referred to as “work or occupational burnout”


Work burnout is a state of psychological tiredness, caused by the stress from the work environment, which often affects their ability to work efficiently, and meet the demands of their jobs. Work burnout is majorly characterised by three responses to work stress. These dimensions or areas include: Overwhelming exhaustion, detaching oneself from the job, accompanied by distrust of others, and perceiving oneself to be unproductive, with a lack of accomplishment.

Exhaustion is the most reported symptom of work burnout, and it involves an individual feeling overused or stretched to their utmost limit, both in physical and mental resources. Most times, individuals feel so empty, with no source of motivation or reward to drive them onwards in their work. There is often a lack of motivation and energy to continue to work. The major source of this exhaustion is the presence of excessive task at hand, which could lead to complaints like “this is too much for me alone to handle”, “i am not myself” “i cannot keep up with the demands of this job”, “this job takes so much from me”, etc.

Exhaustion often leads to the individual trying to Separate themselves from their work, which serves as a coping mechanism when exhaustion occurs. This detachment also occurs in such a way that the interpersonal relationships at work and cognitive effort directed towards work are affected. Detachment occurs when individuals who work too much, try to reduce efforts. This often leads to loss of work identity, and inability to accommodate work colleagues. As time goes on, individuals go from trying to be productive, to just aiming to do what they can, which is most times not good enough.

As a result of work burnout, individuals begin to evaluate themselves based on their productivity. This leads to perceiving oneself to be unproductive, with a lack of accomplishment. Individuals often see themselves as incompetent. The fact that they have proof of their incompetence in the form of their poor productivity, results in questions such as: “what am i doing? Why am I doing this job?” and other question that could lead the to think poorly of themselves and other people


Research has identified some areas of work life which could make an employee burn-out. These areas include: amount of work, absence of autonomy, reward, interpersonal relationship with other employees, perception of justice, and value.

  • Amount of work: Have you felt that the work assigned to you is the job of 10 people? With excess work, employees feel overwhelmed, and perceive time as insufficient to carry out the tasks at hand. Work overload could also mean that the amount of work assigned to an employee is nor proportionate to the capacity of the individual

  • Absence of autonomy: Sometimes work burnout could occur when an employee feels restrained, or lacks freedom to carry out the task(s) assigned. In some cases this freedom could be perceived when they cannot control the activities surrounding their jobs, such as deadlines for projects, perceived threat of losing a job, change in management, mergers etc. Absence of autonomy could also occur if they are unexpectedly called to carry out an assignment with little or no directives or no notice.

  • Reward is unequal to effort: Sometimes individuals could experience burnout, if they feel their effort is more than the reward gotten. Rewards used in work settings include promotions, salaries or bonuses. No one wants to stay on the same level and pay grade longer than what is normal. Positive recognition and feedback also goes a long way, as it helps individuals feel better about the jobs and motivated to do more.

  • Interpersonal relationship with other employees: If there is a good relationship between employees, then when work becomes stressful, there is the presence of social support. But when there is unhealthy rivalry, competition and hostility among employees, then under these conditions would burnout emerge.

  • Perception of Justice: If an employee perceives that a work environment is unfair, it could lead to detachment from work, and relationship with fellow employees and customers and clients. Anger and hostile behaviours are likely to emerge when individuals do not feel respected and treated fairly. Thus trivial situations that do not aim to disrespect anyone could result in negative emotions.

  • Values: We all have our values, and these values guide us in our daily lives. As a result of our values, we may be asked to do something that does not sit well with us, and this could result in an internal conflict within us between what we want to do, and what we have to do. As a result of this clash of value systems, we are bound to be stressed, and this could lead to burnout.


Burnout should be a primary concern to every organisation, as a burned-out employee can be highly ineffective, which could affect productivity of the organisation. Burnout has been associated with job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, presenteeism, it could lead the individual to consider leaving their jobs. Individuals with job burnout, could affect their colleagues negatively, either creating conflict within the organisation or being a disgruntled team member and slowing down the work pace in projects. Burnout has been associated with some forms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, and has been found to affect the self-esteem of individuals affected.


  • When overwhelmed with so much work, it is important to discuss with supervisors. Talk about goals that can be achievable by you. Discuss the amount of workload you have, and set a realistic time frame so as not to pile pressure on yourself.

  • Use your lunch break at work and leave ‘work at work’ at the close of work.

  • Utilize your annual leave judiciously and stay away from work, when you are on leave.

  • When you are experiencing burnout, it is nice to have company around you especially family or friends. It is detrimental to isolate yourself from loved ones.

  • Try engaging in relaxing activities, engage in regular physical activities that would help you de-stress. You should also pay attention to your diet, sleep pattern and Alcohol consumption.

  • If you are feeling depressed, or anxious, or even doubting your capabilities, you should seek help from a therapist.


Employers of labor should not downplay the possibility of their employees feeling exhausted from the work responsibilities. It should be normalised that individuals have their limits, and need time to replenish energy, when overwhelmed with tasks. Work burnout is not a consequence of personal problems although could potentially become aggravated by it. It should be taken seriously, as this condition could affect the mental health of employees, and the overall performance and productivity of the organisation.

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