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bunout stress 448

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, www.freedigitalphotos.net

By Sunita Sehmi, Walk The Talk

Burn•out /ˈbərnˌout/ Noun
Ref: Merriam-Webster - The Free Dictionary

This blog entry is a little different this time and I hope you will enjoy it. Over the last four weeks I talked to three professionals, (with three completely different roles), regarding their understanding and thoughts about “burnout”.

Next week we will look at their views on how stress can be managed more effectively and how to listen out for the alarm bells before it’s too late.

Question: What are your views on burnout?

HR Professional “ I think it is something that we are definitely seeing more and more in businesses and I believe it is something that we need to be very concerned about. I think, despite it being an emotive issue, very often we forget about the human factor. People do have stressful periods in their professional and personal lives and they need the resources from work and from home to help them. I do think, very often, burnout is due to an accumulation of stress and not confined to an isolated incident at work…very often something is not going well at home. The good thing is nowadays we are talking about it. I have been in HR for over 25 years and it’s only in the last few years we realize it as a genuine concern for the individual, the team and the organisation. In a report published in 2010, the Federal Statistics Office highlighted the exposure of workers to psychosocial risks: 41% of those interviewed said they were under strong psychological pressure at work and we all have to be concerned about that. I encourage employees to come to me with any difficulties they are having but I don’t always have the power to change the situation, and that’s frustrating.”

Psychiatrist “I see patients who have experienced some form of personal professional burnout. Without generalising, these types of people are often smart, kind, and sensitive and so are at higher risk for burnout. The burnout fogs logical thinking and reasoning and even the most intelligent individual can find it hard to think straight. Unfortunately, frequently they do not demonstrate or confide in anyone until its too late…. We know that stress manifests itself in different ways, namely psychological, behavioural and physical. If the duration of the stress is sufficiently long, the body eventually enters a stage of exhaustion; a sort of aging due to wear and tear - prolonged or intense stress could sometimes lead to disease even death. The problem is when the accumulation of stress, and the reluctance to use the resources available to patients, results in a gradual depletion of energy and eventually burnout. I understand that deadlines have to be met and the changing method in the way we work now means it doesn't even matter where you do your work any more…So now you can work around the clock. Crouter et al. (1989) coined the phrase Work-Life spill over and this is exactly what is happening now.”

Burnout survivor “In 2008, I began an assignment with a very difficult and demanding client. I began to notice that I was not sleeping well, I was irritable and I was starting to get bad headaches. The client whom I was working with was very controlling and demanding. He expected over and above what was required from me. In September 2008 I felt the increased strain of working with this client and thus went to consult a doctor. The doctor advised me to take a week off work but I took only two days off work. This enraged the client even further and thus decided he would not pay for the services that I had provided. A legal battle began and I gradually became tired, withdrawn and fatigued by the situation. I knew I did not have the right technical skills to manage the project and told my company that I was not going to deliver what they had promised to the client. I felt physically and emotionally drained, and isolated, and the situation made me feel frustrated, misunderstood and angry.

I tried to signal to my colleagues at my company that there were a series of core issues with the project and that the problems would worsen if not dealt with collectively. Physically I was beginning to feel increasingly tired and mentally exhausted due to my professional situation. I also began to feel irritable at home as a consequence of the stressful situation at work. I started questioning the purpose of my role in life and feelings of worthlessness and despair began to surface - these were manifested by me through anger and irritability at home.

The situation did not change for me despite my protests and everyone was dissatisfied with the progress I had made. From all sides I felt I was getting all the blame for the failure of a project.

The climax came in February 2009. I woke up but could not get out of bed… I was washed out, kaput, completely defeated, I felt physically ruined. Never did I expect that the emotional stress and my working conditions would lead me to this physical state. So many times the alarm bells went off but I did not listen to any of them.”


If you now feel that you are completely fed up with work and that you lack the energy to do anything about it, the first solution is to:

  • Step back from the situation; take a day off.
  • Focus on those important priorities and put them into action at once
  • Refuel your energy
  • Think about what you expect of yourself, what others expect of you and what you have committed to fulfill
  • Talk about how you feel to someone you trust and listen to their response
  • Give yourself positive feedback as you succeed in achieving your revised goals
  • Listen to your body before you surpass your limits, to return to normal

Ref: Geneva Business News | Actualités: Emploi, RH, économie, entreprises, Genève, Suisse.
Ref: Crouter, A. C. (1984). Spillover from family to work: The neglected side of the work–family interface. Human Relations, Crouter et al. (1989) Work-Life spill over


sunita blogphoto 150Sunita Sehmi was born in London and is of Indian origin. She has a Psychology degree and a Post Grad in the Development and Training for Adults from the University of Surrey.

She began her career in the recruitment industry where she worked in Executive Finance Recruitment in the city of London. Upon her arrival in Geneva, she completed the advanced level Cambridge University training certificate (CELTA) and thus began a career in teaching, training and development. She has taught English and Communication skills both in companies and in educational institutions for over twenty years. She is now the founder of Walk The Talk. www.walkthetalk.ch

Sunita lives in Geneva with her husband and their two boys. She has a Masters from the University of Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchatel and Fribourg, specializing in Career Management and Coaching