Once upon a time, I worked for a startup and my entrepreneur boss liked to keep me at the office until well past midnight, nightly. Before long, this demanding schedule had turned me into a shell of my former self. Eventually, I flamed out entirely, quit, and had to move—to Bali!— in order to recuperate.
While my Eat Pray Love period was amazing, you don’t ever want to get to the point where you need to burn down your entire life because you’re burnt out. But how do you know the difference between a bad week (or month) and a breakdown?
How do you know the difference between a bad week (or month) and a breakdown?
First and foremost, it’s important to understand exactly what burnout is. The concept’s pioneer researchers described the condition as the “end result of a process of attrition [the gradual reduction of strength through sustained attack] wherein highly motivated individuals lose their spirt.” (Yikes!) More simply put, according to one of the most-cited definitions, burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, with the latter being the condition’s prominent feature.
It’s not only important to monitor yourself for signs of burnout because moving to Bali is, um, impractical (e.g. you’ve got kids/a partner/a dog, etc.)—the condition tends to correlate with poor health and often, according to licensed marriage and family therapist Erin McGinnis, also leads to depression and anxiety. Researchers have associated burnout with everything from low levels of self-reported life satisfaction and optimism to somatic symptoms such as headaches and backaches, too.
Though anyone can experience burnout, certain specific work conditions have been shown to increase your risk. These include a lack of autonomy, working within a rigid system, reporting to superiors who are not attentive to personal issues, feeling overloaded, having few opportunities for advancement, and experiencing conflict between work and personal demands.
“Since burnout derails productivity, it’s in the best interest of any employer and employee to consistently and routinely administer and take the BMS.” —Erin McGinnis, therapist
If any of this is feeling familiar, you can find out just how close you are to the edge by using what’s known as the Burnout Measure (BM), a quiz of sorts developed in 1988 by researchers and mental health practitioners to identify the condition. McGinnis considers it useful not just in therapeutic settings but in professional ones as well. “The BMS [a shorter, 10-question version of the original BM], like most self-report measures, has some limitations proving causation and correlation; however, administering these measures frequently and across departments and programs could give organizations a better understanding of what factors increase or decrease the prevalence of burnout,” says McGinnis. “Since burnout derails productivity, it’s in the best interest of any employer and employee to consistently and routinely administer and take the BMS.”
Do your part for your sanity and your employer (perhaps, if you’re feeling brave, within the eyeline of your boss) by taking the test below.
The Burnout Measure (BM)
For each of the below, answer the question, “When you think of your work overall, how often do you feel the following?” Your response should be a number between 1 and 7, with 1 being “never,” 4 being “sometimes,” and 7 being “always.”
Disappointed with people ___
Physically weak/sickly ___
Worthless/like a failure ___
Difficulties sleeping ___
“I’ve had it” ___
In order to calculate your burnout score, add up your answers and divide by 10. A score up to 2.4 indicates a very low level of burnout; a score between 2.5 and 3.5 indicates danger signs of burnout; a score between 3.5 and 4.4 indicates burnout; a score between 4.5 and 5.4 indicates a very serious problem of burnout. A score of 5.5 requires immediate professional help.
Now, about that vacation…