In Germany, the term 'burnout' was first used and introduced by the psychoanalyst Herbert J. Freudenberger in 1974. Until now there is no generally accepted definition of 'burnout'. Although often assumed, 'burnout' affects not only managers. Burnout is much more widespread und can be found in various professions. People with burnout describe themselves as very much achievement-oriented and perfectionist. They set very high goals for themselves. A lot of people with burnout describe themselves as 'workaholics' and '150% people'. Hence the analogy "Who is burned out must have burned before". People apt to burnout look for recognition and appreciation, have problems to define boundaries and often have an increased need to help others. They tend to orientate themselves by what they believe to be the expectations of others. They show a tendency to overstrain themselves and react to work overload with even more commitment. Thus, they are at risk of ending up in a vicious circle. Their psychological and physical efficiency is continuously decreasing. At the same time, the affected people lose their ability to fully recover. They are chronically exhausted. If these factors meet other intensifying conditions, the danger to burn out is extremely high.
Such intensifiers are, for example, business cultures and structures which increase the individual drive to exhaustion:
Permanent time pressure, fear (e.g. of dismissal), strong competitors, financial problems, little freedom, lack of communication, noise, mobbing, problems within the family, double work load, missing feedback, role conflicts and reduced sense of personal accomplishments.
According to Edelwich and Brodsky, the burnout process can be divided into five phases:
Every burnt-out person has physical and psychological symptoms. Matthias Burisch, Professor of Psychology at Hamburg University, has listed a total of 130 non-specific burnout symptoms. They range from sleep disorder, states of exhaustion and anxiety, inner unrest, impaired self-perception, lack of concentration, nervousness, depression, fear of failure, headache, back complaint, perspiration to gastrointestinal problems, tinnitus, cardiac arrhythmia, metabolic disorder, circulatory disorder and a disturbed immune system resulting in frequent or chronic infections. This frequently leads to coffee, alcohol and (prescription) drug abuse. Many affected people neglect these physical symptoms. They are masters of ignoring, often until it culminates in collapse.
According to a Stepstone study, approximately 30% - in some branches up to 50% - of the working population are affected by work-related burnout, especially managers. It is estimated that every third manager has burnout symptoms.
In "Deutsche WirtschaftsChronik 2005", burnout among managers is described as the "Achilles' heel of key players".
The German health insurance DAK recently published a study, according to which 800,000 people in Germany regularly take pills at work to cope with stress and conflict.
According to a 2002 health survey, 47% of the men and 41% of the women suffer from serious nervous stress at work, leading to health problems. The study also shows: the higher the education, the higher the psychological pressure at work.
Especially at risk are managers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, social workers and nursing staff.
- steady, unstoppable decrease in the productivity of former highly motivated and dedicated staff - long inactive periods - double work load for colleagues and new potential for conflict and stress - potential occupational disability of the employee - loss of an employee and important know-how - time and money for finding and training a replacement
Costs and Damages to private persons
- financial losses in case of long-term illness - considerable strain on the personal and family life, possibly leading to a break-up of the relationship or family - reduced quality of life - loss of work and future prospects, possibly leading to occupational disability
The economic damage caused by burnout is tremendous and often underestimated. In 2005, the Swiss State Office for Statistics estimated the economic damage caused by stress and burnout to be 7.8 billion Swiss Francs per year. The cost of necessary medical treatments, drugs and loss of production add another 4.2 billion francs. If you transfer these numbers to Germany, which is 10 times larger than Switzerland, the economic damage caused by burnout and stress amounts to about 27 billion and 52 billion euro respectively. The demographic development until 2015 shows a reduction in the population of working age by one third (Prognos World Report).
A further result is the shortage of management potential. Health management will become a factor of image and success. In 1998 the study "War for Talents" was published. This war has long since started. It is important for companies not only to recruit new talents, but to keep the existing ones.
Normally, it is the key performers who tend to burn out. The employees are the human capital of a company. If this capital is endangered – e.g. by burnout – the company must act in order not to lose it.