Burned Employee Syndrome: How to Stop Smoking at Work

Burned Employee Syndrome: How to Stop Smoking at Work

Wear and tear in the financial, commercial, healthcare and customer service sectors

Face every day a boss who doesn’t listen, his inability to bring value to the company and its team, the poor distribution of economic incentives or the time we dedicate to training young talent and then let him go because he lacks a project. These are situations that produce unbearable wear and apathy,” confesses a middle-manager of a large company who asks for anonymity and acknowledges: “I’m very burned out. Cristina García, a technician in occupational risk prevention, also asserts: “I work with too much pressure. In my assessments it is difficult to please everyone: company, workers and unions, with the aggravating factor that an unvalued risk can lead to criminal liability.

Being burned is not something new for hundreds of workers, 10% of the total according to experts, but it is for those who suffer it to recognize it. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently admitted that the “burned worker syndrome” is included in its own right in the International Classification of Diseases. A giant step that recognizes it as an occupational disease, so that organizations must implement prevention plans from January 1, 2022.
Although there are no numbers of people affected or sick since until now it was not considered a disease, the truth is that the syndrome of the burned worker is a time bomb. It differs from stress, which causes 30% of sick leave, because it “can be beneficial and puts the batteries in your hands,” explains Francisco Peñalver, a specialist in occupational medicine and head of the department of safety, health and welfare at HM Hospitales.

But when stress is continuous and lasts over time, he adds, it becomes a pathology and the burn-out or syndrome of professional burnout appears, which can have fatal consequences. Thus, Peñalver points to prevention and training as the best allies for 49% of workers who in a recent survey of the social network LinkedIn confessed to feel “very stressed” in Spain.

Feeling sad and going to work without illusion can be a start. But to recognize if you are on the verge of burning, the specialist notes some symptoms: “Waking up tired despite having slept or experiencing negative feelings towards colleagues, customers or tasks, which result in poor performance and poor concentration to meet objectives. These are the clear references of this disease whose origin is linked to work performance”.

Cultivation broth

The syndrome finds its best breeding ground among middle managers and especially in the financial, health (it affects 37% of doctors, according to a Medscape study), commercial networks, public attention and those who have an emotional exposure to other people. Who is the cause? Companies and workers throw the hot potato at each other. But Ignacio Cristóbal, a professor at the University of Navarra, is clear: “It is a shared responsibility”.

The solution to combat the disease, according to the professor, is for “companies to choose well the managers to lead and involve their team in new projects”. And that the employee empowers his self-management to “organize his task well, tell the boss what he doesn’t like, learn to prioritize and have a balanced personal life”. But once the symptom is contracted, it is a priority to “recognize the problem,” says Peñalver, and be disciplined to adopt simple yet constant measures, such as training relaxation, meditation or frequent exercise.

Unions insist on prevention. “In order to prevent the worker from getting burned, the company must define its responsibilities very well so that it knows what is expected of it. Have a fluid communication and feel recognized their work. You have to give him technological training and tools to meet objectives in reasonable time,” advises Ana Garcia de la Torre, secretary of occupational health and environment of UGT.

It is precisely in the objectives where the origin of this syndrome resides for José Luis Romero, union representative of CC OO in Banco Santander, because sometimes “they are unreachable” and “they motivate the employee of the financial sector to commit, due to the pressure of the results, certain irregularities that can end in dismissal”. Romero emphasizes “good wages and social benefits” in this sector, which is one of the “most beaten by chronic stress” due to the enormous loss of employment and the deterioration of its image in public opinion (evictions, preferential …), and because in the long term “generates toxic organizations by middle managers, who defend their plot of objectives with brutal pressure on the last link in the chain.

Once the symptoms and personnel affected by this psychosocial illness have been identified, the organizations have to activate a whole machine that is neither easy nor quick and has consequences. Something that had never been done before because “there is an absolute denial on the part of the companies that the psychological problems are a consequence of the work”, sentence Pedro J. Linares, person in charge of labor health of CC OO. Something that the expert in labor risks, Cristina Garcia, justifies because “the psychosocial risk is something consubstantial to the work, it is not seen and it is difficult to evaluate.

Thus, CC OO calls for greater collaboration with companies to really measure jobs and to apply methods scientifically validated by the National Institute of Safety and Hygiene at Work: “It is necessary that companies accept their conclusions and do not hinder if protocols and work habits have to be modified, because this fight is solely for the benefit of the health of the worker.


Is it burned? Identifying if you smoke at work will help solve the problem as soon as possible. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene identifies four phases.

1. Enthusiasm: A new workplace generates a lot of energy and positive expectations. It doesn’t matter how long the working day is.

2. Stagnation: professional expectations are not met. There is an imbalance between effort and reward.

3. Frustration: the worker becomes demotivated and demoralised. He loses the illusion. Anything irritates him and provokes conflicts in the work group.

4. Apathy: changes in attitude towards a defensive posture.

Stressed or burned, what’s the difference?


Too much involvement in the problems. Emotional hyperactivity: May have positive effects on moderate exposures. Exhaustion or lack of physical energy.


Lack of involvement. Emotional numbness. Exhaustion that affects motivation and psychic energy. Depression due to loss of ideals.

Source: El país

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