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The Three Kinds of Burnout

A crayon writing 'stress'.

We talk a lot about burnout around here because we know that this is a top concern among changemakers. It’s all too easy to work long nights, volunteer for additional projects, and lend a hand when needed, all in the spirit of supporting our cause. It’s not too surprising, then, that many of us end up overwhelmed and exhausted.

However, given the wide range of work we do and the diversity of our experiences, is this an adequate view of burnout? Is it really just a matter of having too much work to do? New research shared by the Association for Psychological Science states that there are actually three different kinds of burnout and we tend to cope with each kind very differently:

Burnout from work overload (what we’re most familiar with):

The frenetic employee who works toward success until exhaustion, is most closely related to emotional venting. These individuals might try to cope with their stress by complaining about the organizational hierarchy at work, feeling as though it imposes limits on their goals and ambitions.

Burnout from lack of development:

These under-challenged workers tend to manage stress by distancing themselves from work, a strategy that leads to depersonalization and cynicism — a harbinger for burning out and packing up shop.

Burnout from day-to-day stress:

Seems to stem from a coping strategy based on giving up in the face of stress. Even though these individuals want to achieve a certain goal, they lack the motivation to plow through barriers to get to it.

Read the rest of the study here.

This study brings up a few points to consider for organizations and individuals: an emphasis on work/life balance may not always be the solution to burnout; we have to actively ensure that work is challenging but not so much so that we lose control; and we have to acknowledge signs that the work we’re doing may not be a good fit for us. Also, here are a few tips on dealing with each type of burnout.

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by Allison Jones

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