Artwork by: Polina Shpak
Burnout at work got you feeling down? Don’t give up yet! Use these tips for overcoming burnout at work.
Professionals across the country hear the word burnout regularly, but few actually know what is, how it affects their job, and how to overcome it. In truth, most Americans will experience burnout from work at least once in their career. So what exactly does that entail? We’ll tell you all you need to know about work burnout.
In this article we’ll discuss:
The concept of burnout
Signs of burnout at work
What that means about your employment
The sensation of burnout is not exactly specific to the workplace, but that is where it’s most commonly experienced.
The term ‘burnout’ refers to a lack of motivation at work, which is experienced through reoccurring mental or physical fatigue. It goes a step beyond simply being unexcited to work. Burnout can create a deep sense of dread surrounding going to work each day, and that dread can bleed into other areas of your mental and physical well-being.
The best way to spot burnout is to know the signs for it. These are going to be easiest to sense for yourself, but this list can also act as a tool for understanding your colleague's behavior better. Anyone who displays these symptoms might be experiencing burnout at work.
When an employee has a profound drop in efficiency, it could be from burnout. Mental lag can look like being chronically late for meetings, deadlines, or missing important details. Forgetfulness, apathy, and feeling unmotivated to perform well can also be signs of burnout at work.
Mental lag can also be seen as low engagement on projects or someone doing less than their share. Sometimes this can lead professionals to become even more stressed out because they are aware that they are underperforming. Burnout doesn’t mean that someone wants to do poorly, they simply don’t have the energy to give to the project anymore. It doesn’t feel great, since most professionals do desire to do well at work. The stress of burnout can compound, making for a difficult situation to move through.
Burnout at work can manifest into physical symptoms as well. Keep an eye out for signs of burnout in your body. They can be harder to identify than mental symptoms because many people don’t consider stress as the root of physical ailments. It’s easier to blame body pains on a bad mattress, poor posture, or physical activity. It’s important though to consider all potential causes.
Common physical symptoms of burnout at work are frequent headaches, tense or tight muscles, back and neck pain, insomnia, fatigue, frequent sickness, and even gastrointestinal issues.
Demeanor can be a difficult attribute to notice changes in because sometimes, someone might be going through a difficult time in life that has nothing to do with work. The idea here is to look for sudden but lasting changes in someone's demeanor at work.
A change in attitude from burnout at work could look like cynicism, sarcasm, and a general moodiness. Poor demeanor can also be seen when someone is assigned a project or given a directive that is entirely within their scope of work, and still, they react negatively to it. Burnout that affects demeanor can also be seen in personal dynamics with other colleagues. If you experience a negative attitude from colleagues, it could be burnout.
Demeanor also applies to how you relate to yourself at work. Someone who suffers from burnout might experience a drop in self-confidence, or feel like they bring the team down. Burnout can affect all areas of the psyche. It can be challenging to draw a clear line between burnout and someone's demeanor, but once you know the signs, you might find it to be more prevalent than you had previously realized.
There are a plethora of diverse reasons why someone might experience burnout at work. The reasons can range from being a direct result of work conditions or can happen from external factors but are projected onto work. Let’s talk about the work-specific situations that commonly lead to burnout.
Positive reinforcement has been proven effective for building confidence in a professional team. However, what happens more often is that management tapers off of praising achievements and instead is only vocal when they are displeased. This form of leadership can sink a team’s motivation.
Even when there isn’t a major achievement to celebrate, acknowledgment and praise for daily efforts is a great way to reduce burnout at work. People want to feel like they make an impact in whatever production they’re a part of. Feeling undervalued or underappreciated is a quick way to develop burnout.
Whether it's poor communication or conflict management, having any type of issue with your superiors is not a good feeling. This can be especially pertinent if your manager makes you feel singled out. Perhaps you have conflicting personalities or one of you is more outgoing than the other. There can be many reasons why people don’t mesh well. A great leader takes it upon themselves to create a cohesive work environment. If they don’t, and the discomfort continues, it can quickly lead to that individual feeling burnout.
Some professionals thrive in environments where they can perform the same task over and over. For others, it inhibits their motivation. Some positions in the workforce are inherently repetitive. Usually, people who prefer those types of tasks apply for those positions. But occasionally someone thinks they’ll do fine with repetition, only to end up in burnout.
If you are experiencing this now, try communicating with your management team that you would appreciate some more variety in your schedule.
Possibly the most prevalent reason for burnout is receiving compensation that does not match your effort or quality of work. This category is meant to be slightly different than being undervalued because when you receive inadequate compensation, it could very well be that the company values and praises you, but that their budget doesn’t allow them to offer you more.
Compensation burnout speaks more to knowing that other people in the workforce with your same position make significantly more. Another cause is when you perform the duties of a higher position than your title, with no recognition from management or hope of a promotion.
One would think that companies would go to lengths to suppress employee burnout at work. Burnout can cause a high turnover rate, lower the quality of a product or service, and create a hostile work environment. All of these effects will ultimately harm the success of a business.
If you are asking yourself this question, that means that you have listened to your mental and physical cues and have accepted that you might be experiencing burnout. For most professionals, this is the most difficult part.
The next most challenging component is taking action. A lot of professionals fear that if they acknowledge their burnout, it means they need to quit their jobs or change careers. While that is a perfectly reasonable approach for some, it doesn’t have to be your response to burnout.
If you’re looking to stay in your position while working towards overcoming your burnout, consider taking these steps.
Sometimes the best cure for burnout is just taking a step away from work. Think back over the past three years. How many vacations did you take? Do you have time off accrued that’s just sitting there? Often, those who experience burnout are also overworkers. Take a vacation for a week, it could even be a staycation, and see how you’re feeling when you return. If symptoms of burnout are still prevalent, consider more drastic changes.
If you experience the most severe burnout immediately following specific duties or responsibilities, try to set boundaries around performing them. A boundary can also look like finding ways to automate your tasks. If you drag your feet making staff schedules, make it a priority one week to create a system for yourself that streamlines the process. If that one grumpy HR person makes you feel micromanaged, make an appointment with them to discuss your needs. Setting boundaries in the workplace often means being proactive. It can feel scary to do, but it might save you from your burnout.
All professionals absolutely must prioritize their self-care. The most common description of burnout is that it results from being overworked. An excellent manager will take this into account and encourage you to have a work-life balance. But for the most part, it takes every professional advocating for themself before management realizes it’s necessary.
When you are receiving fulfillment from your personal life, you don’t seek it out as much from your professional life.
If you are experiencing burnout, yes, you should communicate with your supervisor. It's important to be mindful of your approach though. The word ‘burnout’ is not usually taken lightly in the workplace. Most people in management positions are well aware that when an employee experiences burnout, their days with the company might be numbered.
If you have a wonderful manager, they will want to retain all of their staff. You are likely a valuable member of the team and essential for keeping operations going, even if you don’t feel that way! To keep the focus on you, and not the company, be sure to use “I” statements when describing your roadblocks, and time your conversation well.
When you enter your meeting, have solutions in your back pocket that you can bring to the conversation. Make a suggestion for how you could combat your burnout. If it’s reasonable, they will likely approve the changes. If they don’t approve of your suggestions, listen carefully to what they do propose, and agree to try it out for a little bit then reevaluate.
Yes. No job is work being miserable over. If your burnout is severe, quitting simply becomes a form of self-care. You deserve to feel joy and fulfillment in your day-to-day. And the good news is that with how diverse the global and national workforce is, for every company you experience burnout in, there’s likely a company that serves you perfectly. Create the space for goodness to come in!
Burnout from work can manifest in both mental and physical symptoms.
There is no one cause of burnout, different work environments affect people in different ways.
Quitting your job because of burnout is valid, but it’s not your only option. It is possible to overcome burnout and stay in your position.
Emma is a certified employment specialist with over six years of experience in career mentorship and employment training. Emma is passionate about nurturing professional growth and helping people gain momentum in their field. She uses her writing and strategic career planning skills to help her clients fulfill their aspirations and reach new chapters in their professions. In 2020, she helped design Colorado’s first state-certified training program for people with disabilities entering the workforce.