First things first: Burnout and depression can share similar symptoms but they are not the same. While depression is a medical condition, burnout is not. However, that doesn’t make one necessarily more serious than the other and both should be approached thoughtfully.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon, and the American Psychiatric Association considers it an experience rather than a diagnosis, caused most likely by work stressors or overly emotional work or life conditions. That is why it is most common among professionals in fields such as social workers, teachers, doctors, nurses, and therapists, or individuals who are serving as caretakers for chronically ill family members.
Depression, on the other hand, is a clinical diagnosis and is not caused, or necessarily heightened by outside situations. Symptoms of depression are prolonged (for at least two weeks) feelings of loss of pleasure or interest in previously enjoyed activities, a loss of energy, a change in appetite, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or guilt, suicidal thoughts or ideation, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
Burnout Versus Depression in the Workplace: What Can You Do as a Leader?
So what can you do if you suspect your employee or team member is facing burnout? Encourage them to take paid time off. If they have not gone on a vacation for quite some time, insist they do. Consider their workload and redistributing it when possible or even adding tasks that they have expressed interest in. Also encourage your team members to leave their work at the office and refrain from planning meetings or making or responding to calls, texts, or email requests on weekends or after the workday.
If you suspect your employee or team member is suffering from depression, it is imperative that you get them the medical resources that they need as soon as possible. Get them in touch with your company’s employee assistance program and let them know what their insurance can offer by way of psychiatric care and prescription assistance. Also encourage them to take mental health days and allow them the flexibility to attend therapy sessions during work hours if that is the most convenient for them.
While burnout and depression can be experienced at the same time, it is likely that burnout is a result of depression, rather than vice versa. To be on the safe side, make certain your employees understand all of the health resources available to them.