Burnout Syndrome in Health Professionals
Nowadays, there are countless jobs that require contact with other people, such as health-related ones. These jobs, in particular, require constant interpersonal exchanges with patients. These exchanges can have negative side effects. One negative effect is burnout syndrome in health professionals.
Burnout is defined as an emotional reaction to a work environment. It has three main symptoms: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal fulfillment. In this regard, burnout syndrome in health professionals can have serious and negative consequences, both for the company where the person is employed and for the professional’s own physical and mental health.
Consequently, this syndrome affects a wide range of health professionals. Anyone from nutritionists, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, and psychiatrists to occupational and family therapists, social workers, marriage counselors, and administrative staff can be affected.
How does our mood affect our work?
Our mood has a direct impact on our thoughts and behaviors. Our judgments and decisions can be impaired depending on the emotional state we’re in. A good mood can make employees feel empowered and able to perform tasks or tackle problems effectively. A bad mood can create situations where professionals feel unable to do their job competently.
Personal problems can cause anxiety. This anxiety can, in turn, negatively affect our professional performance. This can happen even when our problems have nothing to do with our work. We can become distracted, have difficulty concentrating, be susceptible to mistakes, etc.
Trying to concentrate on your work when you have other things in mind is difficult. And when your job requires a high level of concentration, this complicates the situation even further.
“Positive mood is associated with higher levels of creativity, innovation, and greater cognitive flexibility.”
We have a limited ability to focus. Due to this, when we’re completing tasks that require greater cognitive effort, we’re more affected by sadness or depression. This worsens when we add obsessive thoughts that can be caused by anxiety or depression.
Burnout syndrome symptoms in health professionals
Symptoms vary from person to person, according to their personal circumstances and the characteristics of their job. However, one of the first signs is difficulty getting up in the morning or chronic fatigue.
In addition, this syndrome causes other symptoms:
- Psychosomatic symptoms: headaches, stomach problems, insomnia, palpitations, chronic fatigue, chest pain, hypertension, frequent colds, or allergy-like symptoms.
- Behavioral symptoms: frequent work absences, cynicism, apathy, hostility, sarcasm, pessimism, irritability, generalized anxiety, and work-related anxiety.
- Emotional symptoms: frustration, boredom, emotional distancing, anxiety, impatience, disorientation, and a continuous feeling of impotence.
Factors that can lead to burnout
Work-related factors can cause burnout syndrome in health professionals. Health professionals are constantly treating people who are emotional or dealing with difficult situations. Jobs that require intense, lasting, or frequent human interaction can cause spikes in stress levels.
In addition, people who are deeply committed to their work or are hard on themselves workwise are more likely to experience burnout. Also, women experience burnout syndrome more frequently than men.
According to Pines, Aronson, and Kafry (1981), the main cause of this syndrome is occupational tedium. This occupational tedium can cause a series of emotional consequences. The causes of these consequences are:
- Job characteristics: work shifts, schedule, stability, security, professional seniority, incorporations of new technology in a company, level of autonomy, salary, feedback, etc.
- External and personal characteristics: Low tolerance for failure and frustration, a high need for control, ambition, impatience, or excessive perfectionism and competitiveness.
“Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.”
-Pines, Aronson, and Kafry-
The three burnout factors
Maslach and Jackson, through their Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), believe that burnout syndrome in health professionals is the combination of three different factors:
- Emotional exhaustion: exhaustion on an emotional level due to job demands.
- Depersonalization: a degree of indifference and apathy towards society. This often means professionals feel as if they’re an external observer of their own experiences rather than an active participant.
- Low levels of personal fulfillment: a lack of feelings of success, fulfillment, autonomy, and self-realization.
However, a differential diagnosis of burnout syndromes is usually made in conjunction with two other syndromes: depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. In recent years, burnout syndrome in health professionals has also become more common. This change reflects that healthcare professionals are more stressed out in their workplace.
To prevent burnout syndrome, it’s important to understand the syndrome fully, especially if you work in the healthcare industry. In addition, it’s also important to work on different tools that can help us manage burnout. Tools such as coping strategies or better communication skills can help make us more resistant.
On the other hand, companies should encourage teamwork and supervise working conditions periodically. They can also do workshops on preventing and dealing with burnout. They can be helpful for those who have a lot of responsibilities and are constantly interacting with others.