Emotional exhaustion and depersonalization at work can lead to feelings of a decreased sense of accomplishment. Mindpath Health’s Julie Killion discusses what triggers workplace burnout and what to do about it.

Burnout is a term that is frequently used and can be applied to both professional and personal settings. But what does “burnout” really mean? The term coined in 1975 and was defined by three components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and decreased sense of accomplishment.

Emotional exhaustion

  • We reach emotional exhaustion when we get “stuck” in an emotion for a long period of time
  • Sometimes we call this feeling “drained” or even chronic stress
  • Being stuck in an emotion can look like not getting a break from the emotion, or experiencing that emotion frequently without any resolution


  • Depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion
  • We can feel disconnected from work, life, other, or ourselves
  • This can look and/or feel like “robot mode,” just going through the motions of the day or life

Decreased sense of accomplishment

  • Feeling that nothing you do matters.
  • No internal drive due to external stressors for an extended period of time
  • Can happen when things feel out of control and/or unpredictable
  • Can happen when your workload feels seemingly never-ending, or never sees to decrease
  • Feelings associated with a decreased sense of accomplishment can be feeling helpless, or feeling trapped

Workplace burnout conditions and triggers

Burnout can happen to anyone and everyone experiences it differently. There are several workplace conditions that are more likely to lead to burnout than others. A few examples of these are:

  • Feeling that things are not fair
  • High pressure deadlines
  • Increased workload
  • Long hours
  • Low morale
  • Low pay and high stress
  • Low support
  • Perceived lack of control
  • Perceived unrealistic expectations
  • Poor boundaries
  • Unpredictable change

Any of these can lead to someone experiencing burnout if they continue over a long period of time. It is important to consider your own workplace dynamics and circumstances to increase awareness of your potential for burnout, or the burnout of others.

Symptoms of burnout

Everyone experiences burnout differently and under different circumstances. The following are some common signs and symptoms to look for and can be an indicator that you may be experiencing burnout:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping and/or waking in the morning
  • Feeling tired
  • Feelings of dread about work
  • Finding yourself cutting corners
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Work performance decline

Burnout tends to happen slowly, over time, which can make it difficult to detect. It is important to increase your awareness of what you are experiencing to be able to either prevent burnout or catch it before it becomes a significant problem.

Share this Article