Burnout does not have a specific set of symptoms with clearly defined criteria. To date, there exists neither an objective disease marker nor a unified definition of symptoms that characterise burnout. Despite the fuzzy terminology, burnout is a consequence of stress at work with far-reaching medical and economic consequences.
— Prof. Dr. med. Roland von Känel

Burnout Syndrome (icon)

Even though burnout cannot be clearly defined, it can nevertheless be described as an exhaustion process, a downward spiral of exhaustion between the condition of ideal health and a clearly defined illness such as depression.

This downward spiral of exhaustion or burnout (see diagram) generally lasts several months or even years and can be reversed at any point, before it ultimately leads to stress-associated illnesses such as depression.

It is not possible to isolate direct “causes” of the burnout process, but today we are aware of the main risk factors.

These can be both of a personal and occupational nature. It is personality traits and work-related environmental factors, often in conjunction with other stressors, that lead via complicated interactions to the state of burnout.

Which concrete risk factors are involved can best be explained on the basis of the BURNOUT Risk Test.


It starts with stress – suddenly problems can’t be solved and important targets are unexpectedly not reached. Both of these lead to frustration that can’t be simply shrugged off. Then something decisive happens. The person redoubles their efforts in an attempt to resolve the problems, to still achieve the objectives. The feeling of frustration becomes stronger and they spiral further down the slippery slope of burnout, driven on by the risk factors.

Burnout spiral according to Freudenberger and adapted by von Känel, 1990, ©Burnout Protector Ltd.


Although there are no objective parameters for the diagnosis of burnout, an operationalised risk analysis of burnout is nevertheless possible using the BURNOUT Risk Test. Medically tested – anonymous, online and free.