Burnout is real, and no-one is immune to it. The path that burnout typically takes is one characterised by chronic, ongoing stress followed by eventual disengagement and inefficacy. Someone who is burnt out is likely to experience intense feelings of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, which is the body’s way of responding to this intense and continuous form of stress.

Although burnout is something that can be prevented and effectively managed with the necessary awareness and intervention, there are several misconceptions about its causes and treatment which can prevent a lot of people from getting the support they need. Here, we explore some of the most common myths about the phenomenon.

Myth #1: “Burnout happens to people who are weak or who can’t handle a lot of stress”

A lot of people are under the illusion that burnout is a sign of weakness or that it’s more likely to happen to individuals who are not used to working in high-pressure environments. This is far from the truth. In fact, research has shown that people who perceive their jobs as highly demanding and stressful report burnout more frequently than those who do not feel challenged in their jobs. However, it must be noted that job-related stress only leads to higher burnout rates in individuals who feel like their hard work isn’t making a positive difference or contributing towards the greater good of the company or society.

Myth #2: “You can clearly see when someone is becoming burnt out”

There is a common misconception that people who are burnt-out (or nearing burnout) are generally more quiet, socially withdrawn, or unenthusiastic at work. Although there are some people who become more irritable, isolated, and sickly when they’re burnt out, it’s often the employees who are most engaged, passionate, and energised who tend to be more likely to develop burnout. It has been shown that even when placed under significant pressure, engaged employees tend to have higher energy levels overall than their teammates who are disengaged. Furthermore, some psychologists have found that when an individual is stressed their brains release chemicals that make them want to connect more with others, which means that their willingness to help and engage with co-workers can remain high even when they’re nearing burnout. It can thus be difficult for employers or colleagues to gage – at surface level – who is on their way to becoming burnt-out, and who is not, which is why awareness and open communication are both so important.

Myth #3: “Burnout is a sign that you need to change jobs or undergo another big life change”

A lot of the time, burnout happens to people who actually love and/or enjoy their jobs. The experience of being – or becoming – burnt out can therefore leave them feeling conflicted, because while they truly value their job, they also find themselves unable to continue with business as usual. The good news is, burnout doesn’t require you to make any drastic or life-altering decisions, because it can be resolved by making a series of small tweaks to the way you work and live. To overcome burnout and prevent it in future, you need to incorporate more boundaries both in and outside of work to protect your precious time and energy. A useful technique to employ is “job crafting,” which requires you to use your values, passions, and personal strengths as a guideline for reshaping how you perform your tasks, how you interact with your teammates, and how you feel and think about your job overall. 

Myth #4: “Burnout is an issue that occurs at the individual level, not at the organisational level”

Because burnout presents itself differently in different people, many organisations consider it to be a very personal issue. This can lead employers and managers to remain oblivious to the larger, external factors in the work environment that may be causing or worsening burnout in team members. The truth is that burnout is an organisational issue and should be treated as such. Leaders can help prevent burnout most effectively when they have a good understanding of what exactly it is, how it works, and the various signs to look out for. Some other great incentives for preventing burnout at the organisational level include open communication, a strong emphasis on work-life balance, encouraging employees to take their annual leave, granting more flexibility and autonomy, and frequently discussing goals and opportunities for growth with them.

Myth #5: “Getting more sleep or taking a few days off will cure burnout”

Although sleep and relaxation both play a vital role in maintaining our mental and physical health, it takes more than that to overcome the exhaustion that one feels with burnout. Taking a few days off of work can help you deal with the symptoms of burnout, but unfortunately this does not get to the core of the problem, nor does it provide you with a lasting solution. The real solution lies in actively addressing the work-related issues that gave you burnout in the first place. Whether it be unmanageable workloads, role ambiguity, unrealistic deadlines, poor communication, lack of feedback, micromanagement, unfair compensation, or exclusion from decision making processes that directly affect you – these are all issues that must be discussed frequently and honestly with your manager, employer, and/or colleagues.

Myth #6: Burnout is only caused by work-related stress

False – burnout doesn’t only happen to working individuals. In today’s world, a lot of people get burnt out from trying to navigate the various uncertainties about the future, whilst also trying to sift through the overload of information at their disposal. Groups that are especially vulnerable to burnout are parents and caregivers, as they often have to juggle multiple responsibilities and deal with a significant amount of ongoing stress.

Reflections

Although these are not the only myths about burnout, they are some of the most common ones, and leaders can benefit significantly from having an awareness and deeper understanding of them. In addition to this awareness, there are several other strategies leaders can also employ to prevent burnout in their people, some of which include: 1) adopting a mind-set that burnout is an organisational issue and not an individual one; 2) carefully studying the causes of burnout and looking at ways to minimise their contributing factors in your company’s work-environment; 3) replacing judgement with compassion; and 4) learning to clearly see the difference between day-to-day stress and burnout.

Here, we have debunked six of the most common burnout myths, not only to give readers insight into the true nature of the psychological phenomenon, but also to help leaders and organisations foster a work-place culture that will keep their most valuable assets — their employees — focused, enthusiastic, and energized throughout the year.