What If It's More Than Job Burn-Out?

Nancy Anderson
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Job burnout happens when you work in stressful conditions for a long enough time that it affects your job performance and possibly your personal well-being. Work-related trauma is something that appears similar to burnout, but there are important distinctions you need to know so you can recognize this issue if it happens to you.


Work-related trauma occurs more often in the social-impact sphere compared to other professions. The social-impact sphere includes professionals who work with large amounts of people in the public, such as health care workers, social workers, psychologists, doctors and police officers. These highly stressful jobs impact the public in direct, relevant ways.

Watching Out for Work-Related Trauma

The impact of trauma comes into play when people in these professions experience events that are jarring. For example, advocates may come across cases of domestic violence and abuse in women and children. Police officers might see violence or even come under attack frequently. These events can impact a person's mind negatively, so there should be support systems in place to help professionals who experience trauma in the workplace.


Signs of work-related trauma are similar to those of PTSD, which is how psychologists differentiate trauma from simple burnout. If you or someone you know at work exhibits the following signs, consider speaking up or seeking professional treatment.

Difficulty sleeping or getting enough sleep is a basic sign, and it could lead to depression and anxiety. Depression includes feelings of hopelessness and a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Anxiety is a hyper-vigilance coupled with an inability to relax. Job burnout can also cause these symptoms, but trauma is more serious.

Anger, numbness and disconnection are all emotions that someone with trauma may experience. Sufferers could even re-live trauma in their minds over and over again. In serious cases, thoughts of suicide might develop, which is why it's important to recognize these signs of trauma and get help early.

How to Help

A supportive work environment is an important first step to getting help for people with work-related trauma. No one should feel stigmatized for speaking up or seeking help.

Supporting people who experience trauma should start with an organization-wide approach of acceptance that builds trust and confidence among all employees. The organization can also focus on preventing trauma before it becomes a problem. There should be trained staff on hand who can recognize these issues and offer support. During regular meetings, allow workers to discuss their feelings about scary work situations and explain how they cope with trauma.

Many employers also have mental health benefits that allow workers to seek professional counseling help at any time of year should the need arise.

Work-related trauma is a part of life for several types of jobs. This issue doesn't have to become a problem if your organization handles trauma properly by training staffers to recognize what's happening in the work environment.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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  • Elliot F.
    Elliot F.

    Reorganization in the IT department at my last employer moved the applications I ad been working on from core IT to the business silo IT, but they would only accept one of us with the systems. I was chosen, and the other three were left behind. I then had to take on the role of SME, Senior Programmer Analyst, Level 3 Poduction Support, Architect, Developer, and mentor to two contractors in Manila. After 18 months of that I was totally pooped, a zombie; and then the trauma occurred, my role was eliminated!

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