occupational stress and burnout; the ripple effect

if you think you may be experiencing burnout…

This quiz is designed to help you check yourself for signs of Burnout

stress in the workplace

In order to maintain our livelihood, many of us find ourselves working in busy and sometimes demanding jobs. While for the most part we are able to cope with general pressures and expectations, our work environments can sometimes lead to stressful working conditions and emotional harm.

Increased workloads, downsizing, constant overtime, difficult interpersonal relationships, unexpected responsibilities and pressures can all be harmful to our mental and physical health.

This prolonged strain and pressure can lead to ‘occupational stress and burnout’.


Occupational stress is a major hazard for many individuals. Occupational stress describes the mental, emotional and physical reactions of workers who perceive that their work demands exceed their abilities or their resources.

If unmanaged, these prolonged periods of occupational stress can lead to ‘burnout’. Burnout is described as a severe response to prolonged physical, emotional and mental exhaustion at work, and can lead to significant and lasting consequences.



Emotional and physical exhaustion describes a state in which we have reached our limits, both physically and mentally. Signs of physical and emotional exhaustion can include:

Chronic fatigue and loss of energy Insomnia and constant waking Forgetfulness or lack of focus Physical Symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath Increased Illness, higher likelihood of developing flus or viral infections Loss of Appetite Mild anxiety, tension or worry Mild depression, sadness, hopelessness Anger, irritable or short-tempered


Depersonalisation describes a state in which a person is so exhausted that it is difficult to become invested or motivated. A person may become very negative towards their job and those around them, and may also become detached and distant. Signs of depersonalisation include:

Loss of employment due to avoiding tasks or being absent Pessimism and negativity, a glass half-empty attitude Isolation, loss of motivation to socialise, avoiding talking to others at work Detachment, a feeling of being disconnected with others. May result in avoiding phone calls or emails, regularly coming in to work late.


Reduced personal accomplishment is almost like the final outcome of all the other symptoms. Constant feelings of anxiety, pressure and fatigue, accompanied by a loss of performance at work and feelings of isolation can lead to feelings of uselessness and low self-esteem. Signs of reduced personal accomplishment can include:

Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness Increased irritability, feelings of being unimportant and a feeling that you can no longer do things as efficiently as you once did Lack of productivity and performance


The effects of occupational stress and burnout extend far beyond the walls of the workplace. Although originally related to an occupation, a person will likely experience this stress outside of their workplace.

Occupational stress has a significant effect on our mental health and our emotional responses, therefore our home life, romantic relationships, friendships and personal life can all suffer under the strain.

The effect of occupational stress is somewhat like a ripple in the water. Beginning small, the stress may only initially be directed towards your job. However over time, the stress and pressure affects those around you and your wider environment.

Some secondary effects of occupational stress and burnout can include:

  • Increased levels of depression or anxiety
  • Poorer physical health, including risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Negative impact on family relationships
  • Marital stress
  • Reduction in leisure activities
  • Lack of motivation


Much like the ripple effect, treating occupational stress and burnout should focus not just on the issues within the workplace, but also on the wider areas of life that may be affected. Coping skills, diet and sleep, and social activities are all important factors of self-care that tend to get lost among the stress associated with burnout. These areas are also a common target of treatment.

Similar to many other conditions, early intervention and treatment is the best practice when dealing with occupational stress and burnout. If managed properly, a person can successfully develop skills, strategies and plans to deal with their demanding and sometimes stressful jobs, as well as improving other areas of their life that have been affected.


There are several treatments to assist with coping and prevention after occupational stress and burnout.

Treatment initially focuses on reducing current stress and anxiety levels. This could include a focus on coping skills, emotional reactions, thought patterns, eating and sleeping habits, and social functioning and recreational activities. Treatment may then shift focus to also developing strategies to help prevent future occupational stress and burnout.

A good place to start is to work with a trained clinician to develop a plan and get back to the basics!



Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) focuses on unhelpful thoughts about self, others and the future which may result from occupational stress and burnout. The goal of this type of therapy is to identify, examine, and modify these unhelpful thoughts and the behaviours that follow and increase behaviours that might improve mood and quality of life. This includes ensuring a balance of enjoyable activities throughout each day and a range of activities that give the individual a sense of achievement. Problem-solving to address causes of stress and lowered mood is also an important component.


A clinical psychologist has specialist training to help treat occupational stress and burnout, whilst helping a person to develop strategies to prevent future relapse. Every person maybe in a very different occupational field, or have very different issues within the workplace. Therefore, a psychologist will work with a client to develop a patient-centred treatment plan to guide each individual process.