Burn-out \ˈbərn-ˌau̇t\


  1. the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time
  2. the time when a jet or rocket engine stops working because there is no more fuel available

What is it?

Professional Christian Coach, Gary Wood writes that burnout is,

“fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork or intense activity… a progressive loss of idealism, energy and purpose…. it’s, a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations. Did you catch that? “Emotionally demanding situations.” People, emotions, demand.” (2014 G.E. Wood & Associates.

Burnout is “the time when a jet or rocket engine (or human being?) stops working because there is no more fuel available.” It’s been said that “Stress feels like ‘there’s too much’”; Burnout feels like “I don’t have enough.”

Burnout is on the far end of the continuum of stress and it develops in stages:

  • Stage 1: Enthusiasm – high hopes and unrealistic expectations
  • Stage 2: Stagnation – increased feelings that my own needs are not being met I feel “stalled out” or “stuck”
  • Stage 3: Frustration – questioning my effectiveness, my value, my impact
  • Stage 4: Apathy – Apathy is Burnout – Chronic Indifference; a state of immobility

Why does it matter?

Some research indicates that up to 80% of cross cultural ministry workers experience Burnout at some point in their career. Here are 6 consequences of Burnout that matter.

  1. Loss of energy – I may sense a loss of energy, maybe physical, emotional or spiritual. I may be feeling drained and even a holiday isn’t going to do it for me.
  2. Loss of involvement – I may withdraw from things I would normally be involved in. When once I was out there with people, now I’ve pulled back and stay more to myself.
  3. Loss of effectiveness – I’m not doing my work as effectively as I once did. The quality of my work is going down and I know that I’m not on top of my game.
  4. Loss of health and a sense of well-being – I may be experiencing any number of minor health problems which don’t seem to tie together and don’t seem to have an explanation. I may have a sense of just not feeling as well as I normally do.
  5. Sense of a loss of control – It seems like things are slowly (or quickly?) going out of control. Generally I’m feeling powerless to affect my own situation. 
(1-6 from Professional Coach, Gary Wood)
  6. Physiological changes in the brain – Research indicates that neurological changes take place that make me more susceptible to fear, depression and anxiety and less capable to access clear, creative mental processes. “It’s called ‘burnout’ for good reason—at the cellular level, our bodies are literally inflamed”. (Parneet Pal, MBBS, MS)

What Can I Do About It?

By understanding the following 6 cornerstones that lead to Burnout, we can identify the most effective ways to prevent, or recover from Burnout:

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#1 Role Ambiguity: Feeling a lack of clarity concerning my role, expectations, responsibilities.

  • Where do I need increased clarity regarding my role or assignment? What conversations do I need to have, and with whom, in order to gain the clarity that would make a difference?
  • As a leader, what do I need to do to ensure that those who are accountable to me have this clarity?

#2 Values Conflict: Feeling that demands placed on me at work are incompatible with my values and ethics.

  • In what ways do I experience alignment between my values and ethics, and my role or assignment?
  • How do my values and priorities for my family align with expectations in my role?
  • What conversations do I need to have to bring increased alignment?
  • How do I, as a leader, allow for those working with me to live out their values? How open am I to making a safe place for this conversation?

#3 Role Overload – Feeling that the demands placed on me in my role or assignment are too much.

  • What time or space boundaries do I need to put in place regarding my work load in order to be at my best?
  • As a leader, what can I do to become more aware of my team’s capacity and energy levels? What do I have in place to protect those who have a hard time saying “no”?

#4 Inconsequentiality – Feeling that no matter how hard I work, the outcome means little in terms of accomplishment, appreciation or success.

  • What can I do to be more aware of the long-term outcome of my work? How can I know that what I do makes a difference?
  • What can I do as a leader to make sure my team knows the value of their contribution? How often do I show appreciation? What can I do to ‘systematize’ my acknowledgement of accomplishment so it doesn’t get pushed aside?

#5 Isolation – Feeling little social support – aloneness

  • What habits do I have in place to intentionally connect with others – either those I work with or friends outside of work?
  • What can I do when I become aware that I feel alone?
  • Who do I have in my life that will hold me accountable for staying connected?
  • What am I doing as a leader to stay aware of my team members’ social support? What can I do to encourage social connection among those on my team?

#6 Restricted Autonomy – Feeling that my ability to make decisions that affect me is restricted unreasonably.

  • In what ways do I feel freedom to make decisions that effect me, both at work and when I am away from the work place?
  • What can I do to respectfully express my opinions and perspectives at work?
  • For team leaders: “One of the toughest balances to achieve within an organization is between building a culture that gives people space while maintaining an environment of accountability. The line between managing and micro-managing is very fine and in some cases, blurry.” (Karim Abouelnaga, founder of “Practice Makes Perfect”.
  • So, as a leader, in what ways might I be extending my influence or control beyond what is appropriate and healthy? In what ways do I respect my team members’ autonomy, especially in their life away from work?

-Submitted by: Cindy Schmelzenbach

More on burnout:

Burnout Prevention at work:

Coaching for Burnout Prevention or Recovery: