​"You can't burn out if you have never been on fire..." Jeff Schmidt


Katarzyna Kloskowska-Kustosz

International Business Voice, Styczeń 2005

We all wish our job was meaningful; we want the things we do to be important and useful. We put plenty of time and energy into our work, as long as we have the strength... When we start running out of energy we lose our inner peace. Our frustration grows... Our professional effectiveness drops. We are facing professional burnout syndrome. Ironically, those who are strongly motivated, ambitious and really engaged in their work are the ones most prone to this syndrome...

Professional burnout is a state of being physically, emotionally and intellectually exhausted, resulting in chronic tiredness. It is accompanied by a negative attitude towards work, people and life, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in their situation, and frequently many psychosomatic symptoms. Moreover, professional burnout is accompanied by an unwillingness to take any new action.

How to develop burnout workers

Traditionally, the development of employees in many organisations is understood as acquiring new skills and knowledge with the aim of increasing the employee's effectiveness. Usually this is done through various types of trainings.
However, it is worth remembering that for complete, rounded development it is necessary to maintain equilibrium between all spheres of life important for us. Thus, equipping workers with the skills to help them regain this balance may be a good solution. These can be the skills from the areas described below.

Managing stress

The inability to manage stress is one cause of professional burnout. A typical working day is full of stressful situations, one after another. If we do not learn to manage the resulting tension, the consequences will be multiplied. An ambitious worker wanting to fulfil their tasks well has every chance of getting caught in a vicious circle. So it is essential that workers be taught how to minimise stress-induced tension.

‘Me' as the source of stress

An additional source of stress comes from increasing work pressure by ourselves. It may result from unrealistic wishes and expectations towards ourselves and others. For example, ‘I want to be better than all of the others', ‘I want to do everything perfectly', ‘I want all my employees to like and respect me'. We cannot fulfil such expectations, of which we are even often unaware. It is good to exchange them, through conscious work, with more realistic assumptions. What is necessary here are the skills within the areas of assertiveness and setting oneself goals.

Cognitive paralysis

People working long within a certain profession or in a certain post very often start to feel the state known as cognitive paralysis - ‘I cannot think of anything new I could do to do my job better'.
People with long practice sometimes face a situation where it is very hard for them to reach the resources they have. Finally they do not know what they do not know yet, what they cannot do and start behaving like they did not know what they already know!
At this stage the techniques of creative problem solving and the ability to use them become extremely important.

Relations with others

We are very often subject to loneliness as a result of too many purely professional relations, contacting all day long lots of people with whom it is necessary to maintain professional business relations. This great number of business contacts instead of bringing satisfaction becomes a real burden. We do really miss true, supportive relations.
In this case it is also advisable to strengthen the skills of being assertive. Managing negative emotions, accepting criticism and saying ‘No', these are skills that let you observe your relations with others and introduce more equilibrium into your life.

Individual coaching for managers

Individual coaching with a holistic approach may be the answer to the problems of professional burnout among managers. This is a type of coaching involving not only knowledge and skills, but also the system of views, values and habits of acting and thinking, the meaning of balance between personal and professional life, the way the relations with others are built, and managing emotions.
Each of these factors can influence the effectiveness of our work in a stimulating or restricting way. The changes during this individual coaching are introduced through discovering the causes of ineffective behaviours and searching for new, more effective and satisfying solutions. If we concentrate on the resources we possess, then with the help of a professional coach the positive changes we observe have the chance of becoming really permanent changes.


Professional burnout is characteristic of all professions having one common trait - contact with other people. The more ambitious and involved the employees, the more endangered they are by professional burnout. It is good, then, to have a close look at yourself and your people, recognise the symptoms early and counteract them immediately. Otherwise, the costs of desisting may be very high.

I wish you all the very best in quickly spotting the earliest signs of burnout - and managing them well.

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