Stages of Burnout

Our adaptation of Veninga and Spradley's (1981) very helpful model of stages of job burnout is briefly presented as a means to do an armchair assessment of the intensity of burnout risk which you now face.

Stage 1

Honeymoon -- marked by high job satisfaction, commitment, energy, and creativity, the key issue is what patterns of coping strategies you begin to develop when facing the inevitable stresses of the job. In theory, if the patterns of coping are positive, adaptive, then you will remain in the honeymoon stage indefinitely. But few persons do.

Stage 2

Balancing Act -- as opposed to the unbridled optimism and positiveness of Stage 1, you now are clearly aware that some days are better than others regarding how well you are handling the stress on the job. An awareness of a noticeable increase in the following is indicative of Stage 2:

2.1 job dissatisfaction

2.2 work inefficiency, including avoiding making necessary decisions, "losing" stuff at work (even on your desk!), etc.

2.3 fatigue (a general fatigue, often accompanied by deep muscle fatigue)

2.4 sleep disturbances (often that you are so "busy" in your head that you can't get to sleep)

2.5 escapist activities of choice (including eating, drinking, smoking, zoning out in front of the TV, etc.)

Stage 3

Chronic Symptoms -- marked by an intensification of some of the same indicators cited in Stage 2, including

3.1 chronic exhaustion

3.2 physical illness (remember that stress is a risk factor in many diseases)

3.3 anger, depression

Stage 4

Crisis -- the symptoms become critical

4.1 physical symptoms intensify and/or increase in number

4.2 obsessing about work frustrations

4.3 pessimism and self-doubt dominate thinking

4.4 you develop an "escapist mentality"

Stage 5

Enmeshment -- The symtoms of burnout are so embedded in your life that you are more likely to be labeled as having some significant physical or emotional problem than you are to be called a burnout case.

Despite the sobering implications of the model, the hopeful issue is that, short of death or some incapacitating physical or emotional illness, it is always possible to take action to strengthen your coping skills and to move back up the chart toward Stage 1.

The wiser course of action, though, is to be actively involved in positive self-care as a primary prevention issue. As you already have learned throughout this website [especially in the "Sustainers" section], there is not a "formula" way to do this -- each of us goes about it differently, and needs to.