Back in 2019, the World Health Organization added burnout to the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon (meaning, directly related to work). Now with 2020 behind us and the face of the world of work forever altered, I personally believe the WHO needs to modify that definition.
As a coach specializing in burnout, it’s not “just” an occupational phenomenon. It’s a phenomenon of humanity (or lack thereof).
The clients I’m seeing these days tend to fall into one of the three categories outlined below. Others may have different names for them, these are the terms I use.
All these categories of experiencing burnout can be further broken down into one of two subcategories: ignorance or denial.
First, per the WHO, burn-out is defined as follows: “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- Reduced professional efficacy.”
The three buckets of experiencing burnout I define are my own terms from my experience coaching those in or at risk of burnout. The two subcategories deserve a bit of an explanation.
Ignorance is simply a “lack of knowledge or information.” Denial is simply declaring something to be untrue. So for context, many deny they are in burnout when they are, while others just have no idea until it’s affecting their physical and/or mental health.
Here are the 3 types of burnout clients I see, as a coach.
1. Hyper-achiever burnout
These are the type A high-performing overachievers. They often are high income, work long hours, under high pressure, with high stakes. These folks are always on the run and often put their career before family and self.
Hyper-achievers sometimes medicate (as well as self-medicate) and experience exceptionally high highs, and exceptionally low lows. When they win, they win big, and when they lose — it’s an extreme blow to both ego and motivation.
Ignorance: Consider the hyper-achiever as a frog in a pot of water. Someone walks by and turns the pot of water to a boil. The frog continues to swim happily, enjoying themselves immensely.
Even as the water gets dangerously warm, the hyper-achiever remains — until it’s too late.
Burnout for a hyper-achiever feels like this. While very passionate about what they do, they don’t see others as able to do something as well as them.
They push through and persevere through physical exhaustion, taking on more than they reasonably should, even when under the weather, all in the name of achievement, recognition, and financial reward.
Denial: Hyper-achievers in denial of their burnout resemble someone tied to a train track waiting for the train to come barreling down on them. For them, that’s what burnout is.
They see it coming. They know they’re going to hit the wall. Yet, they continue to put their career and others ahead of themselves at the expense of their health.
This can end badly for many in the form of life-altering medical issues which may not be reversible, such as heart attack or diabetes. In these instances, burnout wins, the hyper-achiever loses.
2. Scarcity burnout
Scarcity burnout folks push and push and push themselves to the brink. Their push, however, is not in an effort to achieve more, instead, it’s a push to make ends meet — a survival instinct.
Think of the single mom working full-time or maybe with two part-time jobs, juggling the kids, childcare, homework, running the home, and bringing in enough money to stay afloat.
Any woman in this position can relate to this insurmountable burden and constant stress that this scarcity has on one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s not sustainable.
Or, consider the laborer and husband, wanting to provide for his family but not making enough to live beyond paycheck to paycheck. It’s a demoralizing and dehumanizing way to feel and can wear on one’s well-being just as much as the stress of the actual labor.
Those in this category should work with a burnout coach — it will change the course of your life.
Ignorance: Eyes forward, horse blinders on, push, push, push. In scarcity burnout, it often feels like you’re drowning and there are no options or ways out.
It’s a feeling of being stuck in the bottom of a well with no way up and out. It’s easy to blame one’s surroundings and circumstances instead of looking for an actual cause and potential way to reverse or change the situation.
People who are in scarcity burnout with sub-categories of ignorance are often angry, resentful, and blame others, their situation, or their circumstances. Pushback and denial are normal and resistance to considering new belief systems and making real changes that could improve their situation are often ignored.
Denial: Many in the gig economy are in scarcity burnout these days and very much in denial. Constant hustling for the next opportunity or contract, rushing work out that isn’t their best, and taking opportunities that are not a match for one’s skill set.
They swap family time for networking time. Hustling for the next opportunity instead of rest and self-care for themselves. They say “yes” to everything and have limited ability to set and adhere to boundaries that would support their health and well-being.
3. Boredom burnout
Burnout boredom is interesting and quite different than the first two types, due to a lack of challenge, opportunity, and growth.
Imagine the data collector working in a room alone all day, reviewing data day in and day out without any change to schedule or routine. Rote work that’s monotonous, repetitive, and non-stimulating can also lead to burnout. Humans are social and interactive creatures, who require stimulation, connection, and community in order to truly thrive.
A client once told me she changes careers every seven years. It keeps her challenged and stimulated and in a constant state of learning and growing.
Ignorance: Ignorance of boredom burnout is carried home at the end of the day and often appears as languishing or bordering on the blues, which can lead to depression.
They may love what they do but no longer find it challenging or stimulating. Their work is easy and not stimulating.
This type of burnout is most painful because the person knows they are completely unhappy in what they’re doing. Yet, they also don’t see it as burnout. Instead, they see it as boredom and are unmotivated to seek out the change they want for themselves.
Working with a burnout coach helps this person tap into where they once were motivated and happy and supports them in channeling that energy into positive change.
Denial: Denial of boredom burnout breaks my heart the most. This is more common in those who believe they should be taking care of everyone else before themselves.
You know the saying, put your own oxygen mask on first before helping the child next to you? These people struggle to do this. They carry a ton of guilt and have very limited (if any) boundaries.
The concept of putting themselves first or that they matter is totally foreign, and they fight tooth and nail to avoid conflict by always giving in and taking on more than they should.
Coaching is accessible to all.
With all these types of burnout, which one resonates with you the most?
It is now being recognized that everyone can benefit from coaching, especially to avoid or manage burnout, no matter what your life looks like. Fortunately, there are many new and affordable platforms out there such as BetterUp or Noomii for anyone who wants to explore the transformational impact coaching can have in improving their lives.