Long-Term Exhaustion and Burnout: What is it, How Does it Happen?

November 12, 2012

What is long-term exhaustion?

Long-term exhaustion, also called burnout, is a difficult phenomenon to pinpoint. However, it can be said that it develops in a process that places the individual and his work environment in conflict. Burnout cannot be diagnosed as a mental illness because it is not yet recognized as such. It is diagnosed instead as an adjustment disorder.

pixHow does burnout happen?

The syndrome settles in gradually. It develops in four phases, which are reached at different speeds, depending on the individual’s tolerance of stress: 

  • The first phase is idealism, where the individual has a very high energy level and is full of ambition, ideals and high objectives. The individual devotes himself entirely to the employing organization. Even if the work is extremely demanding and the working conditions not necessarily favourable, the individual will nonetheless invest all his time and energy.
  • The second phase is hitting a plateau. This is where the individual realizes that despite his constant efforts, the outcomes achieved do not meet his expectations. The organization always demands more. The individual’s efforts are not recognized. In response to this realization, the individual will work even harder, working evenings and weekends to meet the job’s demands.
  • The next phase, disillusionment, is where the individual is tired, disappointed. The organization’s expectations are enormous and recognition is yet to occur. The person will never make it, thus becoming impatient, irritable and cynical. This is a period of frustration where certain individuals will begin to take stimulants to function and sleeping pills to sleep.
  • Finally, demoralization occurs. “At the end of his rope”, the individual loses all interest in his work and those close to him. He burns through all his reserves; there is a strong feeling of discouragement and the individual is unable to work. That’s burnout…

It should be noted that the masculine form used in this document designates women and men alike.