Fit Feature | Burnout: Thriving or Just Surviving?

Fit Feature | Burnout: Thriving or Just Surviving?

Vanessa M. Kercher, Ph.D., SSC, M.Ed., BESS |  July 17, 2019

Client Burnout Fix ACSM

Key Points:

1. Recognize the signs of job burnout

2. Identify strategies to reduce symptoms of job burnout


Think about your work tasks, experiences and interactions over the last few months. Do you feel like you are thriving or just surviving?

If you’ve been feeling overworked, unmotivated, detached, irritable or you experience a lack of personal accomplishment at work, you are not alone. One in four workers experiences the symptoms of burnout. The chronic, overwhelming stress related to feeling overworked is one of the many symptoms.

With the rate of burnout continuing to rise, it has become more important to be aware of the symptoms in order to prevent it.  Although it is outside the scope of practice for health and fitness professionals to diagnose or counsel clients who exhibit burnout, it is important to learn how to recognize signs in their employees, clients or themselves.

Burnout: The Three Core Dimensions

The burnout experience can be best described as multi-dimensional, which leads to the development of Maslach’s Theory. The three core dimensions include:

1) Exhaustion relates to feeling over-extended and depleted of one’s emotional and physical resources at work, which leads to fatigue and loss of energy and optimism.

  • Contributor: A mismatch in workload where too many demands exhaust an individual’s energy, making recovery impossible.

2) Cynicism is an immediate reaction to exhaustion that prompts actions to distance oneself from work as a way to cope and may promote irritability and/or anger.

  • Contributor: A mismatch between perceived fairness in the workplace such as inequity of workload, pay or inappropriate handling of promotions. These contributors fuel a deep sense of cynicism.

3) Inefficacy arises from exhaustion or cynicism. This inefficacy promotes feelings of ineffectiveness and reduced personal accomplishment, and thus lowers productivity.

  • Contributor: A mismatch in control where individuals lack authority over the resources needed to do their work, which leads to feelings of powerlessness.


Strategies: What can we do about burnout?

Coping Skills: Focus on building capacity to cope with work challenges and demands through decompression strategies. A work-life balance, participation in health and fitness activities, and adopting relaxation techniques (e.g., breathing, meditation, mindfulness) are a few ways to decompress from work.

Value & Reward: People may be able to tolerate a greater workload if they value the work or feel well rewarded for their efforts. Build a culture that celebrates success and recognizes what individuals do well.

Engagement: Emphasize building engagement with work that supports the positive development of energy, dedication and effectiveness, which promotes well-being and productivity.


Burnout may lead to impaired quality of work, lower productivity and reduced opportunities for positive experiences. It is associated with decreased job satisfaction and reduced commitment to the job or organization. Understanding the symptoms and causes of burnout can help empower individuals to take actions that prevent burnout before it starts.

To learn more about burnout in further detail, please read Dr. Allen’s article “A Fitness Professional’s Guide to Recognizing and Coping with Job Burnout” in the May/June 2019 issue of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®.

ACSM Fitness Journal May-June 2019
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Article based on: 
Allen C. A fitness professional’s guide to recognizing and coping with job burnout. ACSMs Health Fit J. 2019; 23 (3):11–15. doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000471.  


Vanessa Kercher PhD
Vanessa M. Kercher, Ph.D., SSC, M.Ed., BESS, specializes in the science, study, and measurement of behavior as a psychometrician at The Summit Medical Fitness Center. Dr. Kercher is responsible for the design, development, and evaluation of new and existing measures related to health behaviors for clinical and performance programs. Her research passion focuses on helping individuals optimize their physical activity experiences to promote sustainable, positive health behaviors. She serves as the digital editor of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®

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