Counteracting Burnout

Counteracting Burnout

Counteracting Burnout by Rob Fitzpatrick

The first appearance of the term Burnout was in the mid 1970’s related to the helping professions (doctors, nurses, social workers, etc). As is often the case, in the time since then there has become a long list of terms to describe more specific situations. For the purpose of this article, I would like to separate these into two categories: Burnout and Compassion Fatigue. While the end results look quite similar, the path to these feelings is quite different and as such the solution is equally different.

Is It Burnout?

In the case of Burnout, the cause is generally linked to dissatisfaction with an organization or its practices. For example, the way work is divided or the process of promotion in a company. The individual feels as though no matter what I do, I cannot get ahead or my voice is unheard and therefore meaningless. In this case there is a feeling of disconnection and isolation and these trigger a number of other behaviors. A common theme would be taking more time off than ever before, low output and lack of interest in connecting with co-workers (even though this is the core issue). An employer’s first instinct may be to take something off the worker’s plate or suggest taking a vacation, with the hope that the employee will return to work the following week with a renewed vigor. The fact is, one of the most common times for people to quit their job is upon returning from vacation. When an employee is losing touch with their job and workplace it is off most importance to engage the individual and pull them back in to the fold.

Or Compassion Fatigue?

On the flip side, Compassion Fatigue takes place when an employee becomes too invested in the consumer and their needs. Particularly in a helping field, employees are at a risk of crossing boundaries in the name of going above and beyond. Sometimes we see a part of ourselves in a particular client or we have a long term relationship that crosses from professional to shades of friendship and familiarity. In contrast to an employee feeling burned out, an individual with Compassion Fatigue tends to overwork, picking up extra shifts or putting more effort into certain roles or clients, because they feel as though more needs to be done and that particular employee is the only one capable of executing the role. This category of difficulty is in need of separation from a job before an ethical or even legal boundary is crossed. For an employer, this can be a difficult call to make as the employee is a star on paper, but for the long term health and vitality of a company that professional space is necessary.

Questions To Ask Yourself

For individuals, we must be aware of the reasons for our actions. Are we working harder from a place of health, or is it to cover the feeling of ineffectiveness that comes from feeling Burnout or Compassion Fatigue? Is our passion at a healthy level, or are we trending toward obsession that is having an effect on ourselves and our loved ones? For companies, is there health and wellness in our policies and practices or are there expectations that leads to employees feeling overworked and under-appreciated?

I want to invite you to the Non Board Board’s November 13th meeting to explore Burnout, Compassion Fatigue and related issues that face workers today. I will be talking about organizational and personal characteristics that put one in danger of experiencing Burnout, how to deal with symptoms as they arise, and of course how to prevent issues in the first place. (

READ PART 1 HERE: Burnout by Rob Fitzpatrick

Rob Fitzpatrick is a Masters Level Counselor for The Refuge Center For Counseling in Franklin, TN.


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Burnout by Rob Fitzpatrick

During the seasons of life, seemingly everyone has to deal with feeling burned out. That moment when you and those around you know what you need to do, but for some reason you cannot muster the strength to cross the next hurdle. For some, this may look like putting off a phone call even though it is a guaranteed sale that just needs to be finalized. For others, it may look like lying in bed in the morning dreading going to work at a job just months, weeks, even days ago brought you joy and fulfillment.

When it’s a problem…

Now these feelings are natural to many of us, and at certain times we are going to feel spent, I think of a teacher at the end of the school year, an accountant just before the end of tax season, and any number of examples that fit any profession. A problem arises when the feeling of being burned out, transforms into a more permanent case of Burnout. When long after the deadline, presentation, or missed promotion passes the resentment and bitterness still remain, there is a need to refocus and reenergize to move forward.

The Origin

The origin of the term Burnout came from Dr. Herbert Freudenberger, who felt a similarity to the feelings he experienced as an overworked Psychologists and the images of the burned structures where houses used to stand. What were once strong structures built to perform well in many circumstances, now stood without use and as barely a reminder of what they once were. While a professional may do his or her best to cover the effects of burnout, underneath the surface they are just as ineffective as the metaphorical burnt out structure that Dr. Freudenberger described.

Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

In a more recent trend, there seems to be a disconnect between efficiency and effectiveness of the actions that individuals take. The first time that I was introduced to this was in comments from Rickson Gracie, a legendary Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athlete and forefather of what is now known as Mixed Martial Arts. In the context of martial arts, efficiency would measure how quickly you can perform a task or move, while effectiveness dictates the result. Being efficient in one particular move is nice, but at the end of the day, how well does it protect you from an opponent or help you to perform in a stressful situation? In many clients, I see a clear connection to this principle in everyday life. While people are becoming more efficient every day, how effective are we truly becoming in our work, our roles as friends, family and so on? The first misstep in counteracting Burnout generally focuses on becoming more efficient, focusing on one tiny step and doing it over and over again. Often an individual needs more than anything else to step back, remember the goals and desire to become more effective overall.

Why Wait?

While Burnout is an all-encompassing group of symptoms, the fact is we can get through the problem on our own, but why wait to see how bad the effects become? There are a number of ways to prevent ourselves and our employees from dealing with the feelings of exhaustion, low motivation and ineffective work on an organizational level. On a personal level developing awareness and resilience toward these feelings will help not only with job performance and satisfaction, but also with overall satisfaction in life. I invite you to read the next blog post that will highlight ways to identify and counteract symptoms on Burnout and related conditions such as Compassion Fatigue, and also join me on November 13th when I will be speaking with the NonBoardBoard (

Rob Fitzpatrick is a Masters Level Counselor for The Refuge Center For Counseling in Franklin, TN.

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