Understanding and Coping with Burnout

Although Burnout is not currently recognized as a mental disorder, it is recognized in many (especially European) countries as an occupational disease that has real-life effects and consequences in individuals’ lives (Nadon, 2022).

The following information is intended to increase understanding of the components, risk factors, controversies, and relevant coping strategies for burnout.

Three Components of Burnout

Burnout is typically understood as consisting of three distinct but related components:

  1. Exhaustion: Exposure to work-related stressors may elicit exhaustion.
  2. Emotional disengagement: As a result of exhaustion, workers tend to (emotionally) disengage from their work (work tasks, co-workers, work organization) to protect themselves from further exhaustion. This may also be associated with cynicism and depersonalization.
  3. Reduced efficacy: Exhaustion and emotional disengagement may then lead to reduced (professional) efficacy.

Burnout Risk Factors

Research (Nadon, 2022) has identified several factors that appear to put workers at risk of burnout:

  • Excessive workload or work demands
  • Lack of control, autonomy, or agency
  • Lack of recognition or rewards
  • Lack of support (e.g., social integration at work, closeness, teamwork, etc.)
  • Lack of fair or respectful treatment
  • Lack of fit between personal and work values

Burnout Consequences

Although workers often experience and display unique consequences to chronic work stress, research (Nadon, 2022) has identified several consistent patterns of consequences:

  • Higher risk of physical and psychological health problems
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headaches
  • Infections
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Anxiety
  • Life dissatisfaction
  • Sickness-related work absences
  • Higher turnover rates

Controversies of the Concept of Burnout

Definition: There are many different theories and conceptions of burnout and no unified, coherent definition.

Mental Disorder: Because of the lack of a coherent definition, some argue that it is premature to advocate for the recognition of burnout as a mental disorder.

Burnout and Depression: Some researchers suggest that in many ways, burnout strongly resembles depression. In fact, some argue that burnout and depression are not distinct from one another, because their manifestations are essentially the same.

Systemic Factors: Finally, another argument is that the concept of burnout distracts from the actual source of the problems (work environment) by making individuals the problem (i.e., the person who struggles with burnout) rather than focusing on blaming the actual source of the burnout, which may in fact be systemic and institutional factors.

Three Strategies for Coping with Burnout

  1. Focus on Agency and Control: Because the perceived lack of control is one of the significant risk factors for burnout, focusing on what workers actually do have control over is an important first step. The concept of agency refers to a sense of envisioning, initiating, and executing actions that are meaningful to an individual.
  2. Clarify Values as Sources of Meaning: Because discrepancies between personal and work values also play a significant role in people’s burnout experience, clarifying values within areas that are under a person’s control may also be an important burnout coping strategies.
  3. Advocate for Change: Having identified areas where individuals can exercise control and agency, and having clarified values as sources of meaning, a final coping strategy may be advocating for change in these areas.


Nadon, L., De Beer, L. T., & Morin, A. J. S. (2022). Should burnout be conceptualized as a mental disorder? Behavioral Sciences, 12(3), 82. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs12030082