Stages of burnout

August 12, 2021
3 mins

Are you struggling to cope with stress at work? You might be at high risk of burnout. As a result, it may leave you feeling exhausted, empty and unable to cope.


In this blogpost, which is the first one in a series of posts about this topic, we will explore different stages of burnout. 

Photo by Sidney Sims.

Let’s start with the definition – what is burnout?

Put simply, burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress. However, the stress that contributes to burnout can also come from overall lifestyle and your personality traits, especially if you are a perfectionist or a pessimist. 

First stage - perfectionism

Photo by Scott Graham.

The first stage of burnout is perfectionism. This stage is particularly difficult to recognise as it may feel like you love your work – especially in the eyes of your colleagues. You feel enthusiastic and energetic about work. You take initiative often. You pose as an ideal employee – you work fast and are very efficient. 

However, to correctly assess whether such behaviour falls under the first stage of burnout, it is important to look at the way you relax. Are you able to disconnect from work? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you able to enter into holiday-only mode when on annual leave? Do you have time for your family or friends? 

If the answer to the above is affirmative, then you have nothing to worry about. If your answer is negative to either of those questions, your perfectionist behaviour might in time lead to the loss of energy and more advanced stage of burnout.

Second stage - exhaustion

Photo by Siavash Ghanbari.

The second stage is exhaustion. Your motivation and energy levels are running low, but it is hard to admit it – even to yourself! You still seem like an amazing employee in the eyes of your colleagues, but your innovative spirit and drive are fading. You start taking more time for things that you used to complete within hours. 

As a result, you end up being disappointed with yourself and the tight deadlines you set for yourself that you are now struggling to meet. Consequently, you start turning to excess caffeine, working late, never switching off from work. Your family relations and work-life balance are suffering, which then affects your mood, diet, lifestyle – and work. Can you see how this can become a vicious circle? 

Third stage - cynicism

Photo by Ross Snedon.

The third stage is loss of purpose and cynicism. At this stage, your brain is running on really low energy levels. As a result, you subconsciously evaluate your work as the most energy-draining activity. You become more cynical, your approach changes, you are easily irritated and lose the motivation to do anything. In particularly severe situations, you also lose interest in your hobbies, friends or even your partner. 

Fourth stage - withdrawal

Photo by Christian Erfurt.

The last stage is withdrawal which relates to serious behavioural changes. You avoid work, and your results are significantly lower than pre-burnout. You lose all of your motivation and sometimes, you can even get physical symptoms. 

Given that as professionals, people spend the majority of their lives working, Team Wojo recognises it is important to talk about the burnout symptoms and learn how to prevent it. And most crucially – make the change. If you feel unhappy and find the symptoms of burnout in yourself, maybe it’s time to switch careers or change the routine at your current job? 

Keep your eyes peeled for our next burnout post! And don’t forget to sign up on our website, where we guide you through professional and personal development in the form of bite-sized tasks which will help you overcome job-related hurdles, change careers or explore your goals. 

Disclaimer: If you’re struggling, please seek free mental health advice from the NHS.


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