Madhu Einsiedler

Got Burned? – Explore, Identify, and Tackle Burnout (PART ONE)

So much has already been written and said about burnout and “burnout“ has become something of a buzzword, a receptacle for various states that are difficult to get to the bottom of unassisted. Thus, I segmented this article in two parts. In this first part I introduce some frameworks, including the 12 steps of burnout, which I use to raise tough questions in order to open your mind to growth. 

An easier way would be to use those guidelines to put you in a box, but there are enough articles out there that will do exactly this, help you doing what you already excel in, and placing you in a pre-defined box. I’d rather help you grow beyond those boxes as an individual.

The second part explores your role as leader – and we are all leaders of some sort; respectively the role of your leader in regards of burnout. So, make sure you stay tuned and subscribe to my blog.

Let’s start by looking at how we use the word “burnout.” 

Burnout has almost become a badge of honor for hard graft and irreplaceability. 

“I’ve got burnout” or “I’m getting close to feeling burnt out” often smacks of the hero: “I’m in such demand, I’m so important, I’m saving the world”. The word “burnout” is being used as a sign of recognition and success. 

But on the other hand, the word “burnout” provides also a receptacle for conditions deemed untrendy in these achievement-based, performance-obsessed times. It opens a space into which the effects of overwork (and, indeed, underwork…) may be slotted. It is a word that can also express that maybe this overwork is not balanced out by adequate pay or that this pay, no matter how much, no longer compensates for the demands being imposed and thus for the potential suffering caused (as subconsciously as it might be).

So “burnout” is often used to express what we otherwise might not have words for, or feel we are not allowed or able to express: “I suffer and don’t know how to change the situation,” “nothing makes sense anymore, but I need to safe face,” “I need help but don’t know how to ask for it.”

What is burnout then? Here is a suggested framework: 

According to Christine Maslach the American social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley who co-authored the Maslach Burnout Inventory, burnout syndrome comprises three dimensions:

  1. Overwhelming exhaustion due to a lack of emotional and physical resources or energy as a personal aspect; this exhaustion is caused by excessive emotional and/or physical exertion or tension and the body is weakened through being constantly swamped by stress hormones. 
  2. Feelings of cynicism and detachment from professional tasks as an interpersonal aspect. This detachment constitutes an attempt to protect oneself from overload, stress and tension. People are generally seen as a source of stress so one withdraws into an impersonal, matter-of-fact routine. The same detachment may also be directed against oneself.
  3. Feelings of inefficacy due to a lack of resources and energy and reduced efficiency in respect of self-assessment. One’s own performance seems to constantly fall short of ever-growing, ever-changing demands. A certain futility could well be perceived regarding one’s own actions, but this is suppressed through the detachment from oneself.

As my blog is about growth, before diving deeper into burnout with the 12 stages, I’d like to invite you to use the word “burnout” to explore the ideas you have in your head and to use these ideas and/or the threat thereof to learn more about yourself and to grow with the insights gained — rather than to take a ready made definition to put yourself in a box.

Here are a few in-depth questions for you. Maybe sit down or, if time is short, take one at a time and let it float in your head through out the day or week: 

  • When do I use the word “burnout“? Is it a short form for something I otherwise feel uncomfortable to express? If so, for what? 
  • What would other words be if I expended on “burnout”?
  • What role does the constant drive for improvement play in (my potential) burnout? 
  • Who would I be if I wouldn’t strive for improvement? (Note, improvement doesn’t equal growth).
  • What do I feel I need to get through my striving for “ever more, ever faster, ever better, ever higher”? 
  • What other needs (I have to …. otherwise ….) push me to behave the way I do? 
  • What is satisfied when my striving is (briefly) satisfied? 

What else does “burnout” ask? 

  1. To what extent are we entangled in a social paradigm that promises us freedom – as long as we constantly optimize, adapt and change?
  2. Do we believe that we can only be successful if we constantly overexert ourselves in this ongoing optimization?
  3. To what extent does this constant (over) exertion that we have internalized robs us precisely of our freedom to act?
  4. What does success means to us, and could we even recognize it?
  5. To what extent does this ongoing (over-) exertion destabilize us? Only for us then to have to stabilize ourselves again on the outside through even more, even further, even higher?
  6. How are these constant (excessive) demands for which we reproach ourselves constantly fueled from the outside?

I like to offer you an additional framework – the 12 phases of burnout. 

Make sure you take a light-hearted look at these 12 stages of burnout in order to give potential expression to what is possibly an indefinite, as yet unlabelled attitude to life or feeling of affliction. 

Use it – again – to explore your drives and subconscious mechanisms. Contact me to support you in this growth process. 


(According to H. Freudenberger/G. North)

  1. The compulsion to prove something to oneself and others. 
  2. Extreme drive to perform, in order to meet particularly high expectations. 
  3. Overwork and neglecting personal needs and social contact. 
  4. Covering up/ignoring inner issues and conflicts. 
  5. Doubt about one’s own system of values as well as previously important things such as hobbies and friends. 
  6. Denial of emerging problems; lowering of tolerance threshold.  
  7. Withdrawal and avoidance of social contact to a minimum (closest family). 
  8. Behavioral change obvious to others, growing feeling of worthlessness, increasing anxiety.
  9. Depersonalization through loss of contact with oneself and others; life becomes increasingly functional and mechanistic.
  10. Inner emptiness and desperate attempts to cover up these feelings by overreacting, for example through sexuality, eating habits, alcohol and other drugs. 
  11. Depression with symptoms such as apathy, hopelessness, exhaustion and lack of prospects.
  12. First thoughts of suicide as a way out of this situation; acute risk of mental and physical collapse.

If you were to recognize yourself in one or other of the stages, which would it be? 

As with any model, the stages of burnout can be taken as a prompt to consciously guide awareness from the constantly spinning wheel on the outside to expansion on the inside; of one’s own perception, one’s own cognitive capacities and thereby the expansion of one’s own possibilities for action.

Burnout raises the essential questions: when will we finally achieve THE goal? And where? And once “there” will we finally be able to relax and be happy and feel free?

I hope this first discussion has sparked questions, insights that will further your individual and business growth! I’m looking forward to hearing back from you and it would be my honor to support you on your journey.

Stay tuned for the second part that looks at the interconnection between burnout and leadership.