The Three Types of Burnout

What are the types of burnout? How do I identify burnout? These are common questions and so we asked Emma in our team to answer them.

Most people don’t realise that there are three types of burnout.

1. Overload burnout

It is the type of burnout that most people are familiar with and it’s often associated with volume: too much work, too much pressure. There is just too much work and not enough time as you move from back-to-back meetings with no time to stop.

Ironically, with overload burnout, people work harder and ever-more frantically search for success. Without acknowledging it, they are willing to risk their health and personal life to pursue their ambition. They tend to cope by venting frustrations and complaining.

2. Under challenge burnout

Burnout can also happen when we are not challenged enough or feel bored and need a change. Psychologists call this “boreout” and it can be just as detrimental to your health in the long term as overload burnout.

The signs of under-challenge burnout include not feeling appreciated, boredom, and a lack of learning opportunities. Because this can lead to finding no passion or enjoyment in work, people tend to cope by distancing themselves from their work, leading to cynicism, avoiding responsibility, and disengagement.

3. Neglect burnout

This subtype of burnout results from feeling professionally helpless; the feeling of incompetence creeps in, and the job demands feel unsurmountable. Neglect burnout can lead to passive and unmotivated behaviours.

A team at the Department of Psychiatry in Spain built on these three types of burnout.

They found that burnout manifests in different ways according to how a person copes with work-related tasks and identified three different types of workers:

1. The frenetic worker

Highly engaged, driven and ambitious people are at the core of any leadership development and top talent initiatives. However, throw prolonged stress and a heavy workload into the mix, and these sort-after characteristics lead to what most people typically think of when they imagine burnout.

In the words of the researchers, frenetic workers “work increasingly harder, to the point of exhaustion, risking their health and personal life in the pursuit of success and results at work.”

2. The under-challenged worker

Just as a heavy workload can lead to burnout, so can a lack of challenging work. This type of burnout is typically associated with occupations high in mundane routines and tasks that lack opportunities for growth and appear indifferent, bored, and disengaged.

People need to feel the right amount of stretch in their role. In the researchers’ words, the under-challenged workers’ “lack of development is the absence of experiences of personal growth.” Without personal growth, people lose interest and disconnect.

3. The worn-out worker

This type of burnout often results from feeling helpless or inadequate at work, inevitably leading to a breakdown in dedication and commitment at work. In simple terms, if employees feel like there is too much to do or that nothing they do makes a difference, they lose their sense of purpose and agency and burn out.

In the researchers’ words, “the worn-out workers’ lack of control is the feeling of helplessness as a result of dealing with situations that are beyond their control and the belief that their employer fails to take their efforts and dedication into consideration.’

So how do you know if you are heading for burnout?

Well, you may recognise the signs, and psychology can help. A classic Scientific American article (subscription required) describes a 12-stage model of burnout developed by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North. 

three types of burnout : 12 stages of burnout

Stages of Burnout

Burnout takes time to build up to harmful effects on your mental, physical and social health. If symptoms keep piling up, you can begin to experience the stages of burnout. The twelve stages are:

  1. Wanting to prove yourself – constantly. You want people to know your worth and be one of the best employees. 

  2. More work – working consumes all your time you find it hard to switch off.

  3. Neglecting needs – not sleeping and eating and your social life is deteriorating.

  4. Blaming others – the situation is not your fault, including the stress. 

  5. Revision of values – values are skewed; you lose sight of friends, family and hobbies.  

  6. Problem denial – you perceive everyone as lazy and quickly lose patience.

  7. Withdrawal – you start to spend more time alone and less time with friends and family.

  8. Odd changes- you become a different person, much more impatient and aggravated.

  9. Depersonalisation- you lose value in yourself and others.

  10. Feeling empty- you begin to try and fill the void.

  11. Depression- you start feeling signs of depression. Lost, tired, and helpless.

  12. Burnout Syndrome – Mind and body begin to collapse. Now you recognise it; it is time to seek help.

It’s easier to do something about any condition if you catch it early, and that includes burnout. So don’t shrug off early warning signs just because they seem mild or rationalise symptoms because you think your situation will get better in time. If you ignore them, far more significant problems could be lurking around the corner.

At its simplest, when we are battling against a strong current of pressure and high workloads or even feel under-challenged or bored, it can make you feel unsatisfied and stuck—that awful feeling of not knowing how to find a way forward.

If you feel like you are at any burnout stage, it is okay to ask for help. It’s a strength, not a weakness.

The team at Resilience Development Co. are all experienced coaches. We’ve supported CEOs right through to parents. We’re passionate about helping people find their strength, and well-being and performance is something we are passionate about.

The Three Types of Resilience

If you enjoy understanding people and what powers them, you might like to read about the three types of resilience.

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