Give a little respect

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

Glamourising 'the grind'

We’ve all heard the term “burnout”, let’s face it, it’s becoming a popular topic. But I think many of us have a distorted and somewhat unrealistic vision of what that looks like. Some of us are burned out and don’t recognise it, blaming something (or someone) else for our lack of contentment.

In my line of work I see it every day, and it’s a very difficult thing for us to blog about because there are two opposing camps, neither of whom we want to offend:

  • The employee who desperately needs a break
  • The employer who is trying to run a profitable business

I’m sure you’ve all seen this floating around social media recently:

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Here's my story...

I glamourised 'the grind'.

Burning the candle at both ends, living off caffeine and energy bars. I didn’t take lunch breaks, I came in early and worked late, or took work home, and thought nothing of popping into the office for a few hours on a Saturday. I loved what I did, and I loved the people I worked with, but at least once a day the little voice inside my head would start to nip at me ’you’re overdoing it Becca’. But I refused to listen.

You see, I grew up with people who preached “it’s better to burnout than fade away” (for the Highlander fans out there…all two of you) and “never show weakness”. Admitting that I needed help was completely out of the question, surely I could just manage it all myself (plus I’m a complete control freak, so delegation is never an easy task).

Then when I was forced to slow down on maternity leave, I felt like my body completely crashed.

I was burned out.

Some data for you:

Google search data reveals that we were heading for a Q1 2021 “burnout spike”. Online searches for burnout symptoms with terms such as “signs of burnout” already increased by 24% throughout 2020 compared to the previous year.

Although we’ve seen a massive spike this year, no doubt compounded by Coronavirus and the lack of any real restorative time, evidence clearly shows a scary trend of year on year increases in searches for symptoms of burnout and chronic stress.

Google search data also highlights a gradual increase in the volume of searches over the last four years. On average, total searches have increased by 41% annually since 2017.

Burnout can affect anyone at any time in their lives. However, a recent study has shown that the average professional experiences burnout by the age of 32. That’s terrifying!

It’s an epidemic and something that the World Health Organisation officially recognised as an “occupational phenomenon” and in 2019 stated that they were about to embark on the development of evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace, including occupational burnout.

The burnout cycle

I didn’t realise this but there’s actually a clearly defined burnout cycle. Having carried out research in preparation for this blog, I came across a website called, which clearly outlined the five stages:


When we undertake a new task we often start by experiencing high job satisfaction, commitment, energy, and creativity. This is especially true of a new job role, or the beginnings of a business venture.

  • Readily accepting responsibility
  • Sustained energy levels
  • Unbridled optimism and high job satisfaction
  • Compulsion to prove oneself
  • Free-flowing creativity and high productivity levels


  • Inability to focus and irritability/forgetfulness
  • Fatigue, lack of sleep or reduced sleep quality
  • Avoidance of decision making and lower productivity
  • Grinding your teeth at night
  • Headaches


This is a marked change in your stress levels, going from motivation, to experiencing stress on an incredibly frequent basis.

  • Lack of hobbies/social withdrawal
  • Chronic exhaustion and physical illness
  • Procrastination/denial at work and at home
  • Resentfulness, cynicism and apathy
  • Feeling threatened/panicked/pressured
  • Increased alcohol/caffeine consumption
  • Physical illness


  • Obsession over problems at work or in life
  • Pessimistic outlook on work and life
  • Physical symptoms intensify and/or increase
  • Self-doubt
  • Social isolation
  • Behavioural changes
  • Chronic headaches
  • Continuation or increase in escapist activities


The final stage of burnout is habitual burnout. This means that the symptoms of burnout are so embedded in your life that you are likely to experience a significant ongoing mental, physical or emotional problem, as opposed to occasionally experiencing stress or burnout.

  • Chronic sadness
  • Depression
  • Chronic mental fatigue
  • Chronic physical fatigue

The real impact

Calls with job seekers are going the same way:

It all starts with warm smiles, high energy and a very professional overview of their career to date. Then when we start asking probing questions, predominantly around what they like to do outside of work, things start to change.

Sometimes there are tears. It’s really hard, especially over a video call when you just want to reach into the screen and give them a hug.

Occupational burnout is impacting families and ruining relationships (often due to by-products of burnout itself). And on the face of it, employers might not be too concerned because the work is being done, and at the end of the day, if they burn out and leave, they can be replaced…right?

But it’s not that simple.

What's really going on?

In our experience, many departments have never fully recovered from the cuts they experienced with the oil price crash in 2014. Many businesses are operating at a loss, or at cost, purely to survive, mainly driven by the operators and the constant need (dare I say obsession?) with driving costs down and squeezing the supply chain.

Finance departments have been hit HARD. In most cases the workload has increased significantly, but there are less bodies to shoulder the load and the work still has to be done. Let’s not forget the additional pressure on finance departments right now with suppliers chasing payments, the increased focused on cash management, and an overwhelming increase in reporting.

It’s hard for me to keep quiet (hard to believe, right?) but when I see some businesses boast about their workplace culture and mental health initiatives, it makes me want to scream.

Do you remember life before smart phones? The work-day started and ended when we walked through the office door. Nowadays (although some will say otherwise) there’s an expectation that you will at least read, if not action, a work email/text/WhatsApp out of core office hours.

It’s got far worse since we entered lockdown. Not just because companies have furloughed staff and made further cuts, but because the clear lines many of us had drawn between home and work life are now blurred.

And some companies are massively taking the p**s.

It’s all made far worse by the fact we’re being socially restrained, unable to take any real restorative time with our wider group of friends and family or jet off to the sunshine.

We’re also seeing a worrying trend linking 24/7 availability to job security and progression. It’s often topped off with “you should be grateful to have a job” – whether explicitly said or implied in passing, it’s all the same.

In the words of Andy Bell...

We’re being told that we’re in the middle of a mental health time bomb. We all know the stats around social media and the fact it’s been a hugely contributing factor to overall depression and poor mental health. But I genuinely feel that workplace culture is becoming far more toxic. Lockdown has forced companies into choosing a side, a tribe if you will. You’re either “traditional” (considered draconian by the opposing camp) or “forward thinking” (considered fluffy and work-shy by the other side).

Tonight, as I finish writing this blog (at 8pm…yes we’re not immune either!) Andrew is ending his eleventh candidate registration call of the week. Do you want to know what EVERY conversation has in common? Every single candidate wants to move for a better work-life balance; one even said she would love it if she could just work 50 hours per week!

Like everything else these days it’s becoming a war. But regardless of whose side you’re on one thing is for certain. If we want to continue building teams of highly engaged, productive and happy employees who produce high quality outputs, something has to change. We all need to start looking out for one another more. We need to realise that we don’t need to earn the right to take a break.

There’s no simple solution. But I do know one thing for certain…business is always better when your employees are happy. So please, give a little respect.