Burnout can be causes in different ways. Whatever the causes of burnout may be, there generally is a combination of 2 elements: the disruption of an equilibrium and a coping style which is not adapted properly.
Disequilibrium + poor coping style => burnout

Causes of burnout generally are caused by a combination of these 2 elements.

What is a disequilibrium?

The first element, which lies at the basis of causes of burnout, is disequilibrium. People generally live at the hand of some equilibrium. For example, in a relationship. One person takes and the other person gives. Every once in a while they switch places, so that an equilibrium exists between the giving and taking. It can be so that one of the people suddenly only wants to take, which can be difficult for the other person. This disequilibrium will often lead to the relationship ending, because the person who has to give no longer can keep doing the giving.

People thus live on equilibrium. It is important in our life. Just like at work, we need positive people, who reduce our stress levels of give us new hope. This equilibrium in causes of burnout can actually be seen as some type of weighing scale. To ensure that we can keep functioning optimally, there must be a balance between pressure at work and things which help you move forward in life. For example, the work pressure at work increases, and your experience more stress. This could eventually cause causes of burnout to appear. If you then have great colleagues, for example, who make you laugh a lot, the causes of burnout have less of an effect. Because you add something extra on the positive side, you can carry the negative factors on the scale more easily again. This is what we call equilibrium.

Causes of burnout: what causes the disequilibrium?

Major events Traumatic or shocking events can be classified as causes of burnout, because they cause stress and can thereby cause the balance to falter. They namely increase the pressure which you experience. Examples of such events are:
  • The death of a family member
  • An intimate relationship ending
  • Medical issues
These events can possibly affect your balance, because they have such a large impact on your mental health. In short, it can completely ruin your equilibrium. These events can also make it so that you start to worry and therefore experience more stress. Everyone, of course, experiences this in a different way and therefore we consider major events to be a matter of subjective experience when looking at causes of burnout. It does not matter how other people consider your situation to be. It matters how you deal with your situation and how you suffer. Daily frustrations We do not only consider the life-changing events to be causes of burnouts. Daily frustrations can also build up, only to explode after some time. For example if you are at work and things are going well, there always is someone who brings you extra work. After a while this can become very frustrating, and affect your good mood. This can be something which is classified as one of the causes of burnout. Oftentimes, it is so that the frustrations add up, then turning into causes of burnout. In extreme cases, even just one such frustration can cause this.

What is coping style?

Iacovides, Fountoulakis, Kaprinis and Kaprinis (2003) say that burnout is characterized by a lack of adaptation in control over work. You are stressed and feel like you have lost your goal. Coping style then is in the category causes of burnout, because it is the way in which you deal with the disequilibrium. For example, you get more and more work and are unable to finish all work, which is something which you used to be able to do. You can then either work harder, which can cause stress or depression, or you can learn to let go of the stress and thereby work more effectively. Therefore, you can react in different ways, which is part of the causes of burnout.

Causes of burnout: what causes a poor coping style?

Identifying with work Many people, especially when they have higher functions, identify themselves with the work which they do (Iacovides, Fountoulakis, Kaprinis & Kaprinis, 2003). Generally, these people will perform well, but there is a negative side to this. Because they identify with work, they will also identify with any failure of the company or eventually the failure of a deal. They then attribute the failure to themselves and are very much affected by this. THis can then lead to causes of burnout. Often, this type of person then tells themselves that they need to do better, which can also eventually cause a burnout to develop. Inadequate control over your work This, too, is part of causes of burnout. An inadequate control means that you no longer know how to deal with the amount of work you are supposed to do. Many people drown in their work and therefore are panicking and stressed. The stress and the panic however, will often make it so that you progress much more slowly, meaning you lose control over yourself as well as over your job. These people often have incredibly high expectations of themselves and want to push too far. Because they continue pushing further, they become fatigued and stubborn. (Iacovides, Fountoulakis, Kaprinis & Kaprinis, 2003). After a while, you can simply not do anything anymore, because you have pushed yourself too far. That is why inadequate control over yourself and you work make for causes of burnout. This type of causes of burnout is often found in healthcare. In this sector there namely are people who just keep pushing in order to help other people. Year after year they keep pushing themselves this way. This can cause a disequilibrium and possibly burnout. After some time you are simply exhausted. Personality Your personality will play an important role in the way in which you cope with negative elements. Your personality can namely cause you to pick a good coping style, or make it so that you are more likely to choose a poor one. That is why even personality is one of the causes of burnout. Oftentimes, people who are involved with other people or their job, are the first to suffer from burnout. These are namely people who continue to give and often consider any failure to be their fault. That is why they push themselves even further, causing causes of burnout to creep up easily. They often also want to help everyone, meaning they put even more work and tasks onto themselves. Except for the way in which personality is linked to picking a coping style, personality also has other influences on causes of burnout. The following elements, for example, can namely protect you against causes of burnout:
  • Sharing your feelings by talking about them to other people
  • Assertively setting boundaries toward other people
  • Viewing life in an optimistic way
If you find the above elements difficult, it can be so that you find it difficult to ask other people for help, which can cause you to be overwhelmed by the causes of burnout. If you then can talk to other people about your feelings, you are more likely to be able to find a place for these feelings. Assertively setting your boundaries is also very useful. People with larger chances of getting burnout namely give too much to other people, meaning they can collapse underneath their work. Locus of control We have already mentioned that some people identify strongly with the failure or the success of their job or even of their company. This is called locus of control. A locus of control is what you attribute the cause of an event to. For example, if you have just taken an exam, and failed. People with an external locus of control will say that the questions were unclear, while people with an internal locus of control will believe that they are dumb. Therefore, even a locus of control affects the causes of burnout. If you experience an external locus of control, this means that you will attribute the causes of failure to factors, which you do not play a part in. You do not feel responsible for the failure, because you believe that there is nothing which you could have changed about it. For example, when a presentation fails. If you have given a presentation in a group and your boss did not like it, a person with an external locus of control can often easily say that their teammates were at fault. For example, someone might have stuttered too much, causing everything to go wrong. Despite that this reduces the causes of burnout because you do not identify with the failure, research does show that these people are generally more stressed, because they have the feeling that they have no control over the situation (Iacovides, Fountoulakis, Kaprinis & Kaprinis, 2003). If you suffer from the opposite of an external locus of control, you will see yourself as the cause of the failure. This is what is called an internal locus of control. If you experience this type of locus of control, You often attribute failure to yourself to an extreme extent. For example, if a deal has gone wrong in the company, which you had nothing to do with, you might think that the deal went wrong because you had caused your colleagues too much stress. This therefore increases chances and causes of burnout existing. What is positive here, however, is that this type of person experiences stress to a lesser extent, because they feel like they are in control of the situation (Iacovides, Fountoulakis, Kaprinis & Kaprinis, 2003).