19 July 2021

Burnout: spot the signs

If you’re feeling drained, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, less capable at work or unable to face the demands of your job and life, you could be experiencing signs of ‘burnout’. You’re not alone.

Burnout can happen to anyone at any time in their life, but the various impacts of the Covid crisis have exacerbated feelings of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and alienation for many people.

The Charity for Civil Servants – which offers practical, financial and emotional support to all current, former and retired civil servants – has launched a new online ‘Burnout Hub’ that brings together information on wellbeing support.

The new resource was compiled after research carried out by the charity in 2020 highlighted a need for information and guidance on the topic. It showed that the majority of us feel like the pandemic has negatively affected our general well-being.

The hub includes guides on stress, anxiety, resilience and mindfulness, webinars on avoiding and recognising burnout, and signposts to finding more support.

While many of these symptoms could happen for other reasons, common signs of burnout include:

  • Alienation from work-related activities: individuals experiencing burnout may view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow anxious about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel indifferent or numb about their work.
  • Physical symptoms: chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches or stomach aches or intestinal issues.
  • Emotional exhaustion: burnout can cause people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack the energy to get their work done.
  • Reduced performance: burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work – or in the home, for example when someone is also caring for a loved one.

**** People with burnout don't always have depression, but some of the symptoms are the same. Before self-diagnosing depression, you are advised to speak to your GP. ****

Resources

  • If you have any problems or questions about issues at work, please contact your local PCS rep. Find contact details on PCS Digital.
  • Advice and resources from The Charity for Civil ServantsBurnout Hub 
  • DogBot chat 
  • Home page. 

Confidential support line: 0800 056 2424, Mon–Friday 9am–4pm.

‘Sometimes I get snappy and tearful’

“I’m in my 20s and this is my first civil service job. I’ve been working from home since lockdown began.

My job is stressful anyway – as many people’s jobs are. There is huge ministerial interest in our team’s work. 

When Covid kicked off there was a rush of important, urgent work that needed to be done. The civil service responded brilliantly. But I have noticed that ministers started to expect that as the norm. They think we should work like that all the time – you can, but you end up with loads of burned out staff breaking their necks to get things done.

A lot of the team has been struggling to cope. When you add working from home into the mix, I often feel very isolated. You meet on Teams and then when you hang up there’s just this enormous pile of work and competing priorities, and you’re sitting in your living room stressed out of your head. 

Often there is just so much to do that I end up not doing any of it because I’m so overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. I’m not sure if that’s normal.

I’ve been finding it difficult to sleep because I’m thinking about the next day at work. Some days I get really upset because I feel like there’s not enough support. I get snappy with my partner and a bit tearful sometimes.

I’m just completely drained and dreading logging on the next day. I didn’t realise that’s how I was feeling until other people started to go off sick. 

Maybe it sounds bad but what I’m trying to do now is just the bare minimum and not break my neck, because as soon as you help one person out everyone starts asking.

To deal with it all, initially I started drinking at weekends, then realised that’s not great. I have started going to the gym more again. I’m the sort of person who likes routines and Covid has not helped with that. I am actually looking forward to going back to the office. 

Sometimes I feel guilty that I am feeling burned out when I’m so young. Others might look down on someone younger who says that; maybe they feel they have been through a lot more than me. But everyone can experience it.

One thing I despise is when employers focus too much on mindfulness. I do practice it; I meditate and things like that, but I don’t like it when they use it to pass on responsibility for our mental wellbeing. It’s such an easy cop out for the employer to paper over the cracks.”

‘Work has just burnt me up and changed my outlook on life’

“I work in the DVLA. All of this started with the pandemic. A lot of people went off because they were isolating or shielding. I was a part-time carer for my parents, but I still kept going in. I couldn’t see them. It annoyed me so much.

Some of the calls we were taking were horrendous. We deal with a lot of overseas customers. I remember being inundated with calls from Italian people – we had their passports (as ID for exchanging driving licences) and they wanted to go back home and bury their relatives. We couldn’t locate the passports; we weren’t allowed to as we didn’t have the staff to look for them. The pressure was immense.

I just began dreading going into work. My job is to help people, and we can’t.

It’s even worse now because we have got such a huge backlog. You can imagine how frustrated people are.

I just know I’m going into work to get backlash. I used to love my job for the fast-paced environment and the fun. But it’s relentless now. So many people who have been in work through the pandemic are now mentally struggling.

I spent this weekend in tears thinking about going into work on Monday, I didn’t want to socialise or see anyone – you don’t want to bring other people down.

I feel burned out. I can’t concentrate. I can’t sleep. I’ve had panic attacks.

Because I caught Covid [during an outbreak at work] I’ve got terrible brain fog. I’m terrified of making mistakes. But I know my job well.

I feel like my personality has changed from being upbeat with loads of energy, to lethargic and depressed. Work has just burnt me up and changed my outlook on life.

I feel like a battery that’s been drained, and there’s no charge going to come back in it, ever.

I did go on strike, I fully support the union in that. Management should have put us on rotation until this was over.”

  • The interviewees spoke to PCS anonymously.

This article is taken from PCS People issue 2, 2021.