Help your colleague: How to Identify Job Burnout and 4 Ways to Fix It – Part 1

LasWhat is job burnout and how to fix itt week, a friend of mine left for a five-week rehabilitation center in Southern Germany after being diagnosed with burnout last year. She has been off work for several months, has had various weekly appointments with doctors, psychotherapists and coaches etc who try to help her to get back on track.

Do you know someone who suffers from job burnout?

In this post as well as the next one, not only background information on Burnout will be provided, but also 10 critical signs to identify burnout and stress. And what if I showed how you can help a colleague or friend who you believe is too stressed out these last months?

In simple terms: What is Burnout?

Back in 2005, there was a colleague of mine who did not turn up to work from one day to the next. I was told that he was on sick leave. A few weeks later, the news of the corridor was that he will not be coming back to the office for a while as he is suffering from “Job Burnout”. I have to admit I was surprised, that guy always seemed pretty relaxed to me (as far as relaxed you can be on the job). He did not seem to be totally stressed and worn out to me. I was wrong. Nobody knows what he really went through during those months.

Last year, this close friend of mine was “diagnosed” with burnout, and that’s when I finally started to look into the topic more deeply. I wanted to understand and I also wanted to prevent myself from being burnt out one day.

“I have a theory that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful.” – Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!

So, what is a Job Burnout, really?

The term “Burnout” was defined by the German-American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974 as follows: “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” (source)

In other terms, people who are “burned out” are individuals who are much more than ‘just’ stressed. They are totally exhausted. These people are not motivated, they do not have any energy left and they often do not have a big perspective of the future. Moreover, they do not seem to know where they are at right now and where they are heading.

Did you know that there are up to 12 phases that lead to a burnout?

As Burnout commonly develops over months to years, Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North identified common stages through which stressed people can go. In simple terms, it starts with working too hard and neglecting oneself and ‘ends’ with a depression phase (details).

A little-known aspect about Burnout

Burnout is not a myth. There have been many discussions around the term “Burnout”, from ‘being a myth’ to a ‘popular diagnose’ by medical practitioners and others. Fact is that “Burnout” is not an officially recognized disorder, such as Depression. However, it is part of the officially international classification of diseases and related health problems (source).

 “Leadership is an active role; ‘lead’ is a verb. But the leader who tries to do it all is headed for burnout, and in a powerful hurry.”
– Bill Owens, US Congressman

How to Identify Job Burnout: 10 Clear Signs

Below I listed some common indications on how to know whether someone is close to a burnout. I am writing this from a colleague point of view, deliberately, as, to my experience, there are quite a number of concerned people who are continuing to run forward without being aware nor looking to at the signs of burnout and stress.

10 Signs: How to Know Whether Your Colleague is Close to a Burnout    

These points below are from my personal experience critical signs of a more than just stressed out person. These points are to be regarded into addition to common sleeping and health problems associated with Burnout. Please note that there can be different signs of burnout for women and men. Some of these “symptoms” can apply more than others and usually in combination, it depends on the person and the circumstances.

For simplification purposes, I pretend that the colleague is male:

  1. He tells you that he hates going to work at least once per day, while he is staying there for more hours than needed.
  2. He yells at people several times for no apparent reason.
  3. He doesn’t know what to say when you ask him how he is doing.
  4. You notice that he withdraws himself, that he does not want to talk to anyone. Only about superficial topics, like the weather.
  5. His wife tells you that he is not relaxing when having a downtime. And you notice that he is constantly replying to emails during weekends and vacation time.
  6. For the first time, you see him shaking and fiddling with a pen (or similar) frequently.
  7. He is usually a very social person and you notice that he is no longer interested in common drinks or dinners. Maybe he even tells you that he just wants his peace and quiet time.
  8. He is saying “Yes” to all new projects, despite him being fully overbooked. Can he usually say ‘No’ to new workload and now he cannot?
  9. Some people put more stress on him when they walk in the office than before.
  10. He is denying or ignoring the consequences of his behavior when you talk to him.

Now, are you seeing some of these signs in one of your colleagues? If no, great!!

If yes, is this person aware of his own behavior? Feel free to share some of your thoughts in the comment section.

This is it for now. In Friday’s post, I will look into the detailed tips on how you could help your colleague or anyone else who is potentially showing these signs. Check it out!

Image credit: iStockphoto


  1. Burnout has been something that has become a very big problem.

    I teach government employees and with constant cuts people are always on edge.

    The liklihood of burnout happening has increased dramatically. It is scary.

    Hopefully using these tend points we can be more proactive.
    Iain recently posted…The zen of organic container gardeningMy Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      I totally agree! The percentage of people diagnosed in Germany alone has doubled in a very short time, so, one can only imagine what is happening else. Fortunately, more and more companies and institutions are investing in prevention programs.

  2. It sounds like Burnout only affects people working in large corporations – is that correct?
    Working for myself I feel I take on too much occasionally, rarely say no to more work and do long hours but always look forward to the challenge. The work excites and motivates me.
    Is burnout a risk for self employed or small business owners too?

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Andrew, to my information, it can affect anyone, no matter what job we are doing and how many co-workers or business partners we have. Detecting the symptoms might be easier through the help of others though, this is why I have listed the 10 points from that angle, but one can easily apply it himself.

  3. Very interesting stuff. Marissa’s comment about the burnout/resentment connection is so fascinating to me. I’ve never heard this idea before, but I think she’s right! I work in human services, and while I’ve never made big bucks at it, some jobs have paid better than others. We all know that people get into a service profession to help others, not to get rich, however, it is definitely true that being paid a competitive rate goes a loooong way toward preventing burnout, and now it makes perfect sense to me why – not because you expect to get rich being a social worker, but because you resent when a company isn’t paying you what you’re worth. I also like the way the definition is worded. I think the phrase, “the extinction of motivation…” sums it up extremely well.
    Jennie recently posted…{this moment}My Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Jennie, there are so many factors that combined or just alone can do more than just stress us. I agree, the resentment factor is certainly linked, I have been there as well. For different reasons though, not because of the money. Lack of career perspective can cause resentment too, I believe. ! I have never been in the situation where my base salary did not cover my basic needs, so I cannot relate to your last point, but you might be very well right!

  4. When there is no opportunity anymore to move up the ladder within an organization, combine with dissatisfaction of the pay, chances are that people will eventually loss their motivation to produce and perform well. I have seen people that I have known before to be smart and productive individuals but nowadays just seem to coast along or just drift by – day by day, and you start to wonder what’s going on?

    Sometimes also you just notice someone that used to be a dynamic person then seemed to lost the spark. Can that be a sign of burnout too?
    Miraflor Rayla recently posted…How to emotionally cope and move forward from disability?My Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      I certainly believe so! This is for example what I meant in the seventh sign as well. People who are no longer interested or like you say “lost the spark”. Thanks!

  5. This is global problem, but if you do the maths “burnout” happens more in first world countries. Most people are doing job that they don’t want to do, the reason are many, but if you look around more of our income goes for material stuff, keeping up with technology, etc. I am not saying this is the cause of “burnout” but is one a big causes.
    Marina recently posted…What To Do When Your Business Plans Do Not Go To PlanMy Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Valid point, thank you! To my information, it is one “result” of the modern way of living, trying to keep up, with speed, with technology, with increasing needs etc.

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