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What are the five stages of burnout?

Burnout can affect up to 70% of employees – learn to identify the signs and manage or prevent them effectively.

Raquel Rojas
What are the five stages of burnout?

Workplace burnout can shake an organization at its core. While it stems from job-related stress, burnout impacts all areas of an employee's life. And now that many teams are working remotely — and therefore separately — it's crucial to stay in tune with your employees' well-being, so they don't suffer in silence.

But where do you start? The best thing caring leaders can do is understand the signs and stages of burnout and use that knowledge to create a healthy environment where employees feel seen, heard, and supported.

Signs and symptoms of burnout

Burnout is like a silent thief that can steal your emotional, physical, and mental well-being due to prolonged exposure to stress and other factors. Some telling signs or symptoms of burnout are:

  • Exhaustion: Feeling depleted and lacking energy.
  • Irritability: Easily agitated or frustrated.
  • Sense of Emptiness: Feeling that nothing matters.
  • Physical and Mental Drain: Persistent fatigue and mental cloudiness.

The frequency and severity of these signs depend on the stage of burnout you're in. There are five stages of workplace burnout. We detail them now so you can spot the signs before it's too late:

What are the five stages of burnout

In the fast-paced world we live in today, burnout is becoming increasingly common. It occurs when individuals are exposed to ongoing or chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors with no relief, resulting in fatigue, cynicism, and reduced productivity. Whether it's from long work hours, high-demand jobs, or increasing caretaking demands at home, anyone facing chronic stress related to their responsibilities is at risk of experiencing burnout. Here are the 5 stages of burnout according to Kona:

Honeymoon phase

The honeymoon phase resembles the excitement of starting something new. You feel energized, full of ideas, and optimistic. However, this phase is fleeting, and the initial zest starts to fade as stress seeps in.

Stress onset phase

As stress intensifies, tasks that were once manageable become burdensome. Fatigue, irritability, and a sense of being overwhelmed set in gradually. Recognizing this phase is crucial to avoid escalation.

Chronic stress phase

Chronic stress refers to stress that persists for an extended period, while burnout is a condition that can develop when this chronic stress primarily stems from work-related issues. However, recent research suggests that burnout may not be limited to work-related stress but could also extend to other areas of life. It's essential to differentiate between chronic stress and burnout since burnout can arise if chronic stress is left unaddressed.

Burnout phase

In the burnout phase, symptoms peak, and enthusiasm wanes. Each day feels like a struggle, draining you both mentally and physically. Acknowledging the unsustainability of this state and seeking change is vital.

Habitual burnout phase

The habitual burnout phase is the culmination of prolonged burnout. Profound fatigue, cynicism, and detachment become pervasive, hindering productivity and mental well-being. Implementing comprehensive strategies is essential at this stage.

During each stage, individuals may experience various symptoms and behaviors that indicate progression towards burnout. From feelings of enthusiasm and excitement in the initial stages to pervasive exhaustion and apathy in the later stages, recognizing these signs can help individuals address burnout before it reaches unsustainable levels.

The Causes of Burnout in the Workplace

Burnout can occur in any organization, regardless of its perceived quality. While there may be multiple underlying reasons contributing to burnout, it is typically related to job roles and responsibilities within the company. Causes of burnout in the workplace may include:

  • Lack of communication
  • Tasks beyond the scope of work
  • Excessive workload
  • Micromanagement
  • Toxic work environment
  • Interpersonal tension
  • Social isolation

To prevent burnout, fostering a supportive work environment, encouraging open communication, promoting work-life balance, providing mental health resources, and prioritizing self-care is paramount.

In conclusion:

Managing burnout requires a holistic approach, including strategies for employers and employees. Some tips for addressing burnout include taking time off, seeking support from colleagues or mental health professionals, and establishing boundaries to ensure a better work-life balance. 

Employers can play a critical role in preventing and treating professional burnout by fostering a positive work culture, providing resources and support to their employees, and regularly monitoring their teams to identify key burnout symptoms.

Our workshops on Fear of Failure, Difficult Conversations, and Psychological Safety are the stepping stones to creating a culture of resilience and productivity that maintains a healthy environment for all employees. Get more info about them by filling out this form.

Frequently asked questions about burnout

What is the 5th stage of burnout?

The fifth stage of burnout, also known as the Habitual Burnout Phase, marks the culmination of prolonged exposure to chronic stress and burnout. In this stage, individuals experience profound fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and a pervasive sense of cynicism and detachment. Productivity and motivation are significantly diminished, and individuals may struggle to find joy or fulfillment in their work and daily activities. Recognizing the signs of habitual burnout is crucial as it indicates a critical need for intervention, support, and proactive strategies to address and prevent further decline in well-being.

How do you resolve burnout?

Resolving burnout requires a multifaceted approach that addresses both the underlying causes and the symptoms of burnout. Here are some effective strategies to resolve burnout:

  • Self-care: Prioritize self-care practices such as regular exercise, proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and mindfulness techniques to restore physical and mental well-being.

  • Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life to prevent overwork and burnout.

  • Seek support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals for emotional support and guidance.

  • Prioritize tasks: Break down tasks into manageable chunks, prioritize essential responsibilities, and delegate tasks when necessary.

  • Take breaks: Incorporate regular breaks throughout the day to recharge and prevent burnout.

  • Engage in hobbies: Participate in activities you enjoy outside of work to relax and rejuvenate.

  • Professional help: Consider seeking therapy or counseling to address underlying stressors and develop coping strategies.

What is the difference between fatigue and burnout?

Fatigue and burnout are often intertwined, but they represent distinct experiences with unique characteristics:

  • Fatigue refers to physical or mental exhaustion resulting from prolonged exertion, illness, or lack of rest. It is a temporary state that can be alleviated through rest, relaxation, and proper self-care. Fatigue can manifest as feelings of tiredness, weakness, and reduced energy levels.

  • Burnout, on the other hand, is a more profound and pervasive state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by chronic stress, prolonged exposure to demanding situations, and a lack of balance between work and personal life. Burnout is characterized by feelings of detachment, cynicism, and a loss of motivation and passion for work and daily activities. Unlike fatigue, burnout requires targeted interventions and lifestyle changes to address the underlying causes and prevent recurrence.

Understanding the distinction between fatigue and burnout is essential for effectively addressing and managing these conditions to promote well-being and prevent long-term consequences.

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What are the five stages of burnout?
Raquel Rojas
Marketing & Comms Manager
Neurodivergent, antiracist, queer, feminist, vegan for the animals, mother, sister, lover, Mexican, immigrant. Fan of music festivals by the beach, gin tonics, and annoying people with her unsolicited unpopular opinions.


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