British Columbia

When the job you love hurts you: exploring burnout in the workplace

A new CBC radio series explores what workplace burnout is, who it affects, and how to cope.

New CBC radio series explores workplace burnout and how to cope

Feeling wiped out, exhausted and disconnected from work you previously loved can be a sign of workplace burnout. (Getty Images)

A changing workplace culture, a lack of job security, and 24/7 connectivity can lead to stress, but taken to the extreme, sometimes the job you love can really hurt you.

Workplace burnout is a major issue for many British Columbians. It can lead to reduced productivity, a loss of purpose and can even have a negative economic impact.

According to Merv Gilbert, an adjunct professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University, workplace burnout has three components.

"You're just wiped out. You don't have any energy. The second thing is de-personalization or detachment. You just feel disconnected from what you're doing.

"The third thing is a sense of failure. You're really not getting a sense of achievement or accomplishment from what you're doing anymore," he said.

While Gilbert said it's unclear whether burnout is becoming more prevalent, people are beginning to open up about their experiences.

'The pressure and anxiety builds and builds'

In a new CBC One radio series called Normalizing Burnout airing this week, CBC producer Melanie Green, recipient of the Langara Read-Mercer Fellowship, explores what burnout is and how people cope.

For one, people who burn out aren't limited to the professions of healthcare or law enforcement.

I think I've burned out enough times to start to predict when burnout starts happening- Chef Jimmy Stewart

Michael Lieter, a professor at Acadia University who studies burnout, says work is an important part of people's lives in terms of giving people meaning and how they contribute to their family and community.

"When that is thrown into a loop it makes people quite vulnerable," he said. "Burnout really is particularly relevant for people for whom their work is very meaningful."

That's the case for Jimmy Stewart.

The highly acclaimed Vancouver-based chef who appeared on Top Chef Canada says he gets burned out every two to three years.

"I think I've burned out enough times to start to predict when burnout starts happening," he said.

For Stewart, part of the battle is meeting the exacting standards you set for yourself when your job is your passion.

"Chefs, we're passionate, we love what we do and so we subtract some of those hours for ourselves and put it into what we do because we want to be great at what we do and make people happy," he said.

But this can mean working up to fifteen hour days and battling exhaustion.

"Eventually that pressure and anxiety builds and builds and builds and it results in a burnout," he said.

Identifying burnout in the chef world

5 years ago
Duration 6:42
Jimmy STewart describes is work life and how he aims to minimize burnout

Self-care and seeking help

Reverend Alisdair Smith, the deacon and business chaplain at Christ Church Cathedral, says members of the clergy are also candidates for burnouts.

Smith notes some of his colleagues have been presiding over nearly four funerals a week due to the opioid crisis. They are often expected to shoulder great burdens or give advice to people experiencing serious trauma.

That can take a toll.

"In the Christian tradition, what's often referred to as the golden rule — love neighbour as self — has two parts to it. All too often, we're giving so much to our neighbour that we're forgetting there's another part here that we have to actually [take care of ourselves]," he said.

Smith says whenever he gets short with people, is more cynical than usual, and starts negative self-talk, that's his cue to go and talk to someone.

"I would hope that in every organization and in whatever you're doing that you can find people that you can talk to early on that aren't part of the organization who aren't going to have judgment about your issue," he said.

"We're all still human."

Tune into CBC Radio One's The Early Edition, weekdays from 5 a.m. PT to 8:30 a.m. PT, to hear the series.