Burnout : quand le travail se transforme en véritable fléau

Burnout: when work turns into a real scourge

Aug 01, 2023

What is burnout?

Burnout is also known as burnout . To date, there is no single definition, but several all converge towards the same major axes. This is professional burnout induced by work situations experienced as demanding. Exhaustion is physical , emotional and psychological . The person's usual resources then appear to be insufficient. This word comes from the American psychologist Freudenberger's metaphor “burned from the inside”. An etymology revealing the discomfort of its patients.

No, it’s not a “little bout of depression”

In addition to being false, this collective thought often aspires to trivialize the suffering of others? or even make it illegitimate. Yes, not all discomfort is burnout. But burnout is a serious and painful syndrome . Far from being harmless, it is likely to lead to pathologies such as depression . In severe cases, burnout may even require hospitalization, particularly due to the risk of suicide.

Known, but not recognized?

Curiously, Burnout is not the subject of an official diagnosis. Indeed, none of the references to medical classifications mention it: DSM V, ICD-10, WHO, etc. Thus, Burnout is recognized as a syndrome (that is to say a set of symptoms) but not as a clinical diagnosis. Furthermore, and against all expectations, few French organizations have actually looked into this subject.

In fact, only the Ministry of Labor ultimately took up this public health issue. Result ? To date, there are few national data and statistics on this subject. For example, no study has been conducted to establish causality between burnout and suicide, the percentage of people hospitalized for burnout, etc.

How does professional burnout manifest?

This is not a pathology that appears suddenly, quite the contrary. It must in fact be considered as the final phase of a long and insidious process , preceded by warning signals. These symptoms, for their part, impact different dimensions.

On an emotional level

The person suffering from Burnout feels like they no longer have control . Failed, she gradually loses her confidence and self-esteem, thus devaluing herself. In addition, we note the presence of internal tension , irritability , hypersensitivity or even fears .

Conversely, the person may appear detached . In this case, she does not show any emotion , sometimes giving the sensation of being totally disinvested . Even going beyond the emotional dimension, it is also the cognitive aspect which is then impacted. Indeed, the person may at the same time suffer from an impairment of concentration abilities . These symptoms, taken together, lead to emotional exhaustion .

On the physical level

Symptoms are also observed on a physical level . Indeed, internal tension results in particular in muscular tension , causing pain and discomfort . At the same time, we frequently find sleep disorders . Chronic fatigue then sets in, with sleep no longer restorative. As if this were not enough, other physical manifestations may occur such as nausea , dizziness or even headaches .

Socially and behaviorally

Burnout also leads to social isolation linked to withdrawal . Already existing social bonds are undermined: as a result of irritability and internal tension, the person will tend to be less tolerant and empathetic, or even exhibit aggressive behavior. This hostility is all the more marked in their work : negative, detached, pejorative attitude... The person can therefore disinvest from this professional environment and these associated values, thus losing their motivation . At the same time, burnout increases the risk of addictive behaviors . So many symptoms which constitute a vicious circle that is sometimes difficult to break. We then understand that they can have a heavy impact on daily life.

What are the causes of burnout?

Six areas were identified by the College of Expertise on monitoring statistics on psychosocial risks at work. These work-related factors are:

- Work requirements. The first criterion corresponds to the incompatibility between the work requested and its feasibility. Work overload, unrealistic goals, excessive hours…

- Emotional demands. These are different emotionally trying situations: violence, frequent discontent, etc.

- Lack of autonomy and room for maneuver.

- Bad social and work relations.

- Value conflicts. In other words, not (or no longer) finding meaning in your work.

- Insecurity of the work situation. This corresponds in particular to the fear of losing one's job, to the uncertainty of the future of one's profession...

There are also individual factors that increase the risk of burnout. This is particularly the case for certain personality traits such as emotional instability. It is also the commitment that the individual has to their work that will have an impact. Indeed, by placing his job as a priority in his life, he will more easily risk burnout.

person holding a sign with a sad face drawn on it

How to treat burnout?

Express your suffering

The first step towards treating burnout is to verbalize this discomfort. This is actually a means of alerting loved ones and professionals. Unfortunately, not everyone manages to cross this threshold: fear of judgment, trivialization of symptoms, etc.

Furthermore, to finally express oneself, one must benefit from a space allowing exchange. By remaining in the professional sphere, interviews can be set up. However, discussing your difficulties with your supervisor or colleague is not always easy. This is why the intervention of the occupational physician plays a crucial role. The employee can, at any time, request a consultation with this doctor. This consultation is governed by an obligation of confidentiality, where kindness and listening are essential.

Multidisciplinary support

Then, the medical consultation constitutes the obligatory step. Indeed, only the doctor will be able to make the diagnosis and offer treatment.

It is also capable of ruling out differential diagnoses: work stress, work addiction, chronic fatigue, depression, etc.

Among the main areas of burnout management, we note:

- The prescription of a work stoppage. The objectives of this are multiple: take the time to rest and rebuild, reflect on your job…

- The initiation of drug treatment. Treatments such as antidepressants or anxiolytics can indeed be considered.

- Support from other professionals. It is often beneficial to supplement treatment with consultations with a psychologist or psychotherapist. These professionals play a role of listening and helping with reconstruction.

At the same time, simple techniques can be used to relieve stress.

However, it is important to understand that the treatment of burnout is individualized. As such, the actions implemented will be different depending on each person's condition and will result from the medical evaluation.

Return to work

Treating burnout alone is not enough. Indeed, it is also necessary to properly prepare and organize the return to work . To do this, it is imperative to consider a gradual return . Here again, support is necessary in order to adapt to the needs of the person. During this stage, the role of superiors is essential. This is why this situation must lead to a questioning of the employer and more broadly of the work team: risk factors, work environment, monitoring of employees, etc. Concrete actions must therefore result from this analysis. Done well, appropriate recovery support will limit the risk of recurrence of Burnout.

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Ministry of Labour ; National Agency for the Improvement of Working Conditions; National Institute for Research and Security (2015). Professional exhaustion syndrome or burnout: understand better to act better. Prevention guide . https://travail-emploi.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/Exe_Burnout_21-05-2015_version_internet.pdf

High Authority of Health. (May 22, 2017). Clinical identification and management of burnout syndrome. https://www.has-sante.fr/jcms/c_2769318/fr/reperage-et-prise-en-charge-cliniques-du-syndrome-d-epuisement-professionnel-ou-burnout

National Academy of Medicine. (2016). Burnout. http://www.academie-medecine.fr/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/26-fev-2016-RAPPORT-ACADEMIE-Burn-out-V3.pdf

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