How to differentiate stress from job dissatisfaction, fatigue, depression and burnout?

How to differentiate stress from job dissatisfaction, fatigue, depression and burnout?

Claudia García

February 11, 2021

March 10, 2021

The following terms are of great interest within a company, but they are often confused or used in the same way by members of an organization to designate the same problem. However, as we can see, although they are closely related, they are different concepts that must be differentiated from each other. In this post we will make a clear distinction by setting out four of the terms that are most often confused with stress, two of which are part of its own symptoms, and the other two are clearly listed disorders.

What do we understand by stress?

Stress can be defined as “an imbalance between the demand of the environment and the individual’s ability to respond under conditions in which failure to meet the demand has significant repercussions and/or consequences”. Specifically in the working field, the work stress stands out, which has repercussions both on people’s personal lives and on their performance and quality of their work. This implies less motivation, greater frustration and dissatisfaction, a passive attitude and a lack of participation.

The most frequent symptoms of stress at work can be divided into physical symptoms: high blood pressure, heart problems, cervical and lumbar pain, gastric and duodenal ulcer, digestive disorders, tremors, headaches, dizziness, immune deficiency, tumors, etc. On the other hand, psychological symptoms are: fears, phobias, anxiety, anguish, tiredness, fatigue, dissatisfaction, social problems, irritability, loss of self-esteem, loss of enthusiasm, etc. 

What are the two psychological symptoms of stress that are most confused with the term of stress itself? 

1. Stress can be confused with fatigue

As far as the relationship between fatigue and stress is concerned, we can see that both variables are often present together, as they share similarities. However, while stress is about the inability to respond to the demands of the work environment in an adequate way, fatigue is a consequence of the deployment of physical and intellectual energy that people carry out in the work environment and that ends up exhausting them. Although there are many variables present in this relationship and both concepts depend on several factors (amount of time worked, entry and exit times, amount of work, etc.) they can be clearly differentiated.

2. Stress can be confused with job dissatisfaction

Job dissatisfaction is defined by Muñoz (1990) as “the feeling of displeasure or negativity experienced by individuals when performing a job that does not interest them, in an environment in which they are unhappy. This happens within the scope of a company or organization that is not attractive to them and for which they receive a series of psycho-social-economic compensations not in accordance with their expectations”.

This type of dissatisfaction is more related to functional stress behaviours in the work environment, such as absenteeism, rotation and job adaptation, but it does not share physical or psychological symptoms with it.

What are the two disorders most often confused with stress?

1. Burnout

Burnout is a key concept to differentiate because it is defined as a response to work stress, which can become chronic and can appear negative feelings and attitudes. These extend not only to the job but also to the people you work with, the professional role itself and the evidence of feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. Burnout usually occurs as a result of work stress, not the other way around.

Do you want to know more about burnout? Visit our post: "Work Burnout: What is it and how to approach it in the workplace"

2. Depression 

Finally, depression is a more clinical concept, which has been used to designate those people who are sad, melancholic or unhappy within a company. The term is so widely used because most people at some point in their lives may feel that way for short periods of time, for example, when they are under work stress. However, if these feelings of sadness, melancholy or frustration are persistent over a long period of time, the situation may intensify and lead to clinical depression. Although for this to happen it is not necessary to have work stress. 

Why is it important to distinguish these concepts?

As reflected in the text, although they are all closely related concepts, they do not always have to appear together, nor is their relationship to stress two-way (bidirectional). Therefore, it is convenient to make a distinction between each of them in order to understand which is the concept we are facing on each occasion and to be able to deal with it in an adequate way.