Demystifying burnout: six key sources of stress

Understand these six stressors and develop effective strategies to address them.

Written BY

Helen Lawson Williams

PhD in psychology, 15+ years in consulting and corporate leadership, respected coach and mentor, committed to solving burnout

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November 20, 2023

Burnout starts with stress. To effectively combat burnout, it's crucial to understand the key sources of stress that are most likely to cause it.

Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter have been researching burnout since the 1990's. They've identified the following six key stressors as critical contributors to burnout:

Workload: Excessive workload, characterized by long hours, unrealistic deadlines, and a constant influx of tasks, can lead to feelings of overwhelm and mental exhaustion.

Control: Lack of control over one's work, including limited autonomy and decision-making power, can breed frustration and a sense of helplessness.

Rewards: Inadequate recognition and rewards for one's efforts can contribute to feelings of undervalued and demotivation, further fueling burnout.

Community: Lack of social support and connection within the workplace can lead to isolation and a sense of detachment, exacerbating the effects of stress.

Fairness: Perceived unfairness, whether in terms of workload distribution, recognition, or promotions, can breed resentment and dissatisfaction, contributing to burnout.

Values: Misalignment between personal values and the values of the organization can lead to a sense of conflict and cognitive dissonance, further straining one's mental and emotional resources.

By addressing these six key stressors, you can prevent burnout and help create a more supportive and fulfilling work environment for yourself. Here are some practical tips:

Reduce workload and increase your sense of control by setting boundaries, and negotiating reasonable goals and timelines so that you can work within them. Drop low-value tasks, and delegate where possible.

Align your work effort with the recognition and reward you receive, or negotiate fairer rewards for the effort you want to put in.

Invest in work relationships to create community so that it's easier to provide support for each other. Everything feels more manageable when you're in the same boat with others facing the same challenges.

Check your values and find ways to refocus your workday on activities that are aligned with them. This is not only a great way to reduce stress, it's also the only way to achieve a sense of purpose and fulfillment at work.

Tackling burnout means tackling the stressors that cause it. By understanding and addressing the six key causes of burnout, you're setting yourself up not just to beat burnout, but to thrive.

Further Reading
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