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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Brian Lord

I'm passionate about helping kids internationally, both directly, but also by equipping and encouraging others to do so. I've got a great wife and two little girls who always find cool ways to serve and love others.

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