Understand How Burnout Develops and the Measures That Can Be Taken to Prevent It“Burnout” is a term that was first coined in 1974 by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in his seminal book, “Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement.” In the decades since, the definition of burnout has been refined to “a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion brought on by repeated and chronic stress when the job is in control of the person performing it.”
The experience of burnout and its impact on people and organization has driven many professional associations to look at the factors that contribute to this dysphoria. While some experts feel burnout is an extension of depressive symptoms, the World Health Organization announced in May 2019 the ICD-11 classifies burnout as an occupational and not medical condition.
Given the complexities and demands of care management jobs in healthcare settings, it is crucial that care managers and case management leaders understand how burnout develops and the measures that can be taken to prevent it.
Risk Factors and Implications
The ICD-11 describes burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress and characterized by work-induced feelings of exhaustion, increased mental distance from work, and reduced professional effectiveness.
It is a common misconception that burnout is triggered from the simple act of working too many hours or too hard. Instead, research finds that individual and organizational factors may be just as detrimental.
A combination of high demand at work, low perceived sense of control, and an imbalance between effort and reward, can increase the risk of burnout.
In one Gallup poll, employees identified unreasonable time pressures, lack of communication from managers, a lack of role clarity, and unmanageable workloads as the top four factors affecting burnout. At least three of these factors may affect care managers working in high stress environments.
Practicing Self-Care Minimizes the Risk
Recognizing the risks and taking steps to reduce stress can help prevent burnout and improve the potential for effective work performance.
Self-care is an often overlooked and underappreciated factor in the ability to be effective and improve work performance. Scientifically proven strategies for practicing self-care include:
- The generally accepted standard is seven to nine hours of sleep each night. However, it isn’t just the number of hours, but also the quality of sleep, that builds health and resiliency. Sleep in a darkened room, keep a consistent schedule, get sunlight in the morning to shut off melatonin production, and reduce blue light exposure after 8 p.m.
- Reduce the amount of processed foods and beverages consumed. Learn more about how nutrition affects mitochondrial health, disease, and longevity, and take steps to incorporate healthier, nutrient-rich foods into your diet.
- Walking can be good for mental and physical health, but to qualify as exercise there must be an increase in heart rate and breathing rate. Strive for 30 minutes of exercise each day as it helps reduce stress and the risk of a significant number of health conditions.
- Meditation, exercise, yoga, walking, and several other strategies are effective means of reducing stress. Visualization, counting and breathing are strategies can be used to immediately reduce stress at work.
How to Stop Burnout in Its Tracks
If you feel burnout coming on, take additional steps to neutralize it while continuing to practice the self-care strategies previously described. Steps to help keep burnout from advancing include:
- Recognize the symptoms. Addressing burnout is nearly impossible if you have not identified it. Examine behaviors, feelings, and physical health parameters that can indicate a state of burnout.
- Take action. Burnout doesn’t resolve spontaneously but requires action. Be intentional about addressing stress,
- Practice balance. Have a realistic expectation of work/life balance that includes setting boundaries, taking care of your health, and leaving work at work.
- Don’t believe the misconceptions. Many popular fallacies about work/life balance include working less leads to happiness, what works for one will work for everyone and no one else ever experiences burnout.
- Get peer support. Support groups will inspire resiliency, be a place to draw strength and to learn new habits to prevent burnout.
For more information and education on preventing burnout in care managers, see Care Excellence’s online Case Management Principles course for care managers working in health plan settings, or the Principles of Care Management course for care managers in acute care settings.
Bianchi, R., Schonfeld, I., Laurent, E. (April 2018) A Neglected Problem in Burnout Research. Academic Medicine. 93(4):518
Hakanen, J. J., & Bakker, A. B. (2017). Born and bred to burn out: A life-course view and reflections on job burnout. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(3), 354–364.
Lorman, S. (June 30, 2017) What 40 Years of Research Can Teach Us About Burnout. Thrive Global
Michel, A. (February 2016) Burnout and the Brain. Association for Psychological Science
World Health Organization (May 28, 2019) Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. World Health Organization