This week food writer and activist Jack Monroe asked "What does burnout look like?". It's a brave question, one that we're sometimes afraid to ask out loud.

What Does Burnout Look Like?

This week food writer and activist Jack Monroe asked “What does burnout look like?”. It’s a brave question, one that we’re sometimes afraid to ask out loud. At Koru we’ve recently seen an increase in burnout for our clients. With the addition of a global pandemic on top of every day pressures, it’s hardly surprising. We’re all feeling more stressed.

Burnout is something that most of us will experience at some point. A recent Gallup survey found that 76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes, and 28% say they are burned out “very often” or “always” at work. We take a look at what’s going on when we experience this phenomenon.

Reasons for Burnout

It’s a myth that burnout is all about the hours we work. It’s multi factorial and often framed by how we view our workload. The top 5 factors for burnout in Gallups survey were;

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Unclear communication from managers
  4. Lack of manager support
  5. Unreasonable time pressure

More than simply overload, the study found that leaders and managers are pivotal to the causes of burnout for employees.

Signs & Symptoms

More than just a bad day, the signs of burnout can vary for each one of us. There are, however, some typical signs that you may recognise. It saps your energy and leaves you feeling helpless. Left unchecked, it leads to exhaustion resulting in lack of motivation and low productivity. These are all ways that burnout shows up. We just lose interest in things and stop caring about work, ourselves and those around us. The negative effects of burnout spill over into other areas of your life. Burnout creeps up on you. These five stages of burnout can offer a useful way of identifying burnout.

The 5 Stages of Burnout

Veninga and Spradley’s (1981) developed this useful 5 Stage model of workplace burnout. It’s a helpful model to enable you to reflect on exactly where you might be, right now.

Stage 1Honeymoon:
When we begin a new task we experience the honeymoon stage. This is marked by high job satisfaction, commitment, energy, and creativity, the key issue is what patterns of coping strategies you begin to develop when facing the inevitable stresses of the job. In theory, if the patterns of coping are positive, adaptive, then you it’s possible to remain in the honeymoon stage indefinitely. For most of us, this doesn’t happen often – we just don’t have the coping strategies to remain here.
Stage 2Balancing Act:
The clue is in the title. You begin to juggle your workload. This is the stage where that initial optimism dissipates. You become aware that some days are better than others regarding how well you are handling the stress on the job. You” start being aware of;
job dissatisfaction
– tasks begin to take you longer than they usually do
– work inefficiency, including avoiding making necessary decisions
– reduced productivity
– anxiety
– palpitations
– paralysis of decision making
– increased heart rate
– irritability
– withdrawing socially
– “losing” things
– fatigue
– sleep disturbances
– escapist activities
Stage 3Chronic Symptoms
In stage 3 stress becomes more frequent and more intense. You’ll see an intensification of the stage 2 indicators along with;
chronic exhaustion
– an increase in cynicism
– feeling pressured
– a decrease in self care
– reduced sexual desire
– a feeling of panic
– an increase of maladaptive strategies e.g. alcohol, drugs
– apathy
– physical illness (stress is a risk factor in many diseases)
– missed deadlines
– anger
– depression
Stage 4Crisis:
All of the previous symptoms now become critical, along with;
– physical symptoms intensify or increase
– obsession about work
– feeling empty and increase in pessimism
– self-doubt dominate thinking
– negative self talk increases
– self neglect
– you frequently want to escape
Stage 5Enmeshment or Habitual Burnout:
This is when the symptoms of burnout have become so embedded in your life that you will experience significant physical or emotional issues. The highest stage, this results in;
– burnout syndrome
– chronic mental fatigue
– chronic physical fatigue

The Thee Rs

The three Rs offer an effective approach for dealing with burnout. Paying attention to each R will help you to manage stress so that when it begins to escalate towards burnout, you can manage it.


Building resilience can be done, incrementally, each day. Create a network of support, connect with people. Social connection is one of the greatest buffers against stress that we have. Maintain activities that renew and energise you. Making the effort will help you to weather challenges that come your way. Developing your resilience takes time and effort but it can be done. Take a look at our free resilience resources and building resilience training courses.


Learn the signs and symptoms of burnout. When you know what to look for, you’ll recognise it earlier and be better placed to take action. Familiarise yourself with the 5 stages.


Talk to someone. Begin to reverse the impact of burnout by managing stress, paying attention to your self care and getting support.

Limit your contact with negative people and take small steps each day to reduce your stress and build your energy levels. Revisit your values, set boundaries and learn to say no. Take a look at our blogs and resources on assertiveness.

If you think that you might be experiencing burnout, press pause and take stick. Talk to someone, or visit your GP for advice. Take a look at our free resilience toolkit. Koru also offers a free weekly online session designed to build your resilience using neuroscience, mindfulness and stress reduction strategies. We work with individuals and businesses to create sustainable performing, providing resilience training courses and coaching. Get in touch to discover more about how we can work together

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