Are you feeling burnt out at work?
There are many signs and symptoms of job burnout and plenty of potential causes. We’ll discuss these in greater detail in just a moment.
But let’s start with a positive message:
However you feel right now, you can recover and get back to how you were before the weight of work got too heavy.
You need to know that it is possible to feel better again and to return to work with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
Whatever exhaustion and fatigue you are feeling now, no matter what stress you’re dealing with, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
With that in mind, let’s start from the beginning.
What Is Burnout?
The World Health Organization, in its International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11), define burnout as follows:
Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
3. Reduced professional efficacy.
Now, there is a lot more to it than this – as we’ll explore below – but that’s a good basic overview of what it means to be burnt out.
The WHO also states that burnout is a term specifically related to the workplace and shouldn’t be used to describe other areas of life.
The term burnout is thought to have been coined by Herbert Freudenberger in his book of the same name, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement.
What Are The Symptoms Of Burnout?
Burnout affects a person’s life in a wide range of ways. As such, it is easier to break the signs and symptoms down into four categories.
Your body is great at telling you when something isn’t quite right in your life. You may experience some or all of the following:
1. Complete exhaustion as if you have no energy to do anything.
2. Headaches and muscle pains – often from where you have been holding tension in your body.
3. Regular illness – your immune system is more likely to be compromised if you experience burnout.
4. Changes to sleep patterns – often insomnia, but it could also be sleeping more than usual.
5. Loss of appetite – you just don’t feel like eating despite your lack of energy.
6. Chest pains, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath.
7. Dizziness or fainting.
8. Gastrointestinal issues – you may experience gut pain or changes to your bowel movements.
9. High blood pressure.
When you are suffering from burnout, you will likely experience greater emotional turmoil which may present itself in the following ways:
1. Lack of motivation or enthusiasm – you just don’t feel like doing the tasks involved in your job. You don’t get excited at the prospect of seeing the fruits of your labor. You are more or less indifferent to everything related to work.
2. Helplessness – you cannot see how the situation is going to resolve itself positively. You are resigned to your fate, trapped in your job, and with no hope.
3. Anger/frustration – you are easily irritated and quick to anger. You get frustrated when you are unable to do something.
4. Self-doubt – you have no faith in your abilities and constantly doubt your actions and decisions.
5. Sense of failure – you feel like a failure in all possible ways.
6. Detachment – you push people away and try to distance yourself from your work and colleagues.
7. No sense of accomplishment – no matter what you achieve, you are unable to celebrate the wins. You put them down to external factors or luck.
8. Cynicism – you start to believe that everyone is out for themselves and that kindness is merely a front to manipulate you.
9. Lack of positive emotions – you struggle to feel anything positive toward your job. You may not feel sadness (though it is quite common), but you don’t feel any happiness about work.
Other than the emotional signs of burnout, there are other psychological or cognitive impacts to be aware of:
1. Inability to concentrate – you cannot get your mind to focus on one thing. You get distracted from your work duties very easily.
2. Negative thought patterns – your mind often returns to thoughts such as, “Why bother?” and “I can’t take this much longer.”
3. Forgetfulness – you struggle to remember details that you have been told or tasks you have been assigned.
4. You daydream – your mind takes you away from your job as you fantasize about other things.
5. Anxiety – you may feel anxious just thinking about work, especially when you are not there. You regularly experience the Sunday Night Blues.
6. Depression – there is some argument amongst health professionals as to whether severe burnout and depression might be indistinguishable, even if they are not always caused by the same thing (i.e. work).
When you feel burnt out by your job, your behavior is likely to be affected. Here are some of the main ways this might show:
1. Fidgetiness – you find it hard to sit still and want to get up from your desk and roam around the office whenever possible.
2. Procrastination – you’ll find every excuse possible not to get on with your work duties.
3. Conflict – you engage in more arguments or disagreements with others, both at work and outside of it.
4. Preoccupation with work – even if you feel detached from your job in terms of your enjoyment of it, you think about it all the time when you are not there.
5. Absenteeism – you call in sick more often, even when you are well enough to go in.
6. Tardiness – you come in late and you leave early.
7. Poor performance – the quality of your work decreases and this may be highlighted by a manager or your coworkers. You are content to coast along if you can.
8. Substance crutches – you self-medicate using things such as alcohol, drugs, or food as a means to feel better temporarily. Or you may use stimulants such as caffeine to make it through the day.
9. Poor personal hygiene – you don’t see the need to take care of your body or appearance.
Causes Of Burnout
Since burnout can affect a wide range of people across all sectors of industry, it should come as no surprise to learn that there are many potential causes.
1. Lack of autonomy – you feel like you have no control over your job or the duties you are asked to do, nor in how they are to be done.
2. Unrealistic workload – you feel as though the expectations placed upon you are too great. You are overworked, and you struggle to keep up with all the things you are asked to do.
3. Workplace bullying – whether from a colleague or a controlling boss, you are bullied and belittled on a regular basis.
4. High pressure working environment – your job requires a high level or alertness at all times and/or involves stressful situations.
5. Monotony – your jobs is repetitive and unchallenging with little or no prospect of that changing.
6. Perfectionism – you demand unrealistically high standards of yourself.
7. Type-A personality – you are highly ambitious, competitive, impatient for success, and never fully satisfied.
8. No work-life balance – you have little time for personal recreation and enjoyment, or you do not feel able to engage in such activities due to your job stress.
9. Too little vacation time – you simply do not take enough of your allotted vacation time. This is an especially big problem in the United States.
10. Lack of social support – you don’t have people who you can count on to be there to help you, listen to you, and advise you.
11. Lack of recognition – you don’t feel appreciated in your job and rarely ever receive thanks or credit for the hard work you put in.
12. Reluctance to delegate – you have control issues and feel unable or unwilling to share your workload with colleagues.
13. Negative workplace environment – the company culture disagrees with you, the mood in the office is always poor, or there is a lot of conflict amongst coworkers.
14. Little opportunity for advancement – you want to climb the career ladder, but the role you are in offers no real scope to move upwards.
15. No passion for the role – you simply have no great interest in the job you do, but have either fallen into it by mistake or had little choice but to take it for financial reasons.
16. Highly emotional job – you work in a role where there is significant emotional load such as in careers that involve caring for the sick or elderly.
17. Job insecurity – you fear for your job either because the company you work for isn’t doing well or because you believe your boss dislikes you or doesn’t think you’re up to the job.
18. Constant connectivity – with 24/7 internet access, you are always switched on and ready to reply to emails or tackle an issue outside of your working hours, late into the evening or at weekends.
You may also like (article continues below):
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- If You Don’t Know What To Do With Your Life, Read This.
How To Recover From (And Prevent) Burnout
Now that we’ve covered what burnout feels like in terms of symptoms and warning signs, and we’ve looked at the potential causes, let’s turn our attention to the really important part: recovering from burnout.
Here are some steps you can take to help you improve your working situation.
These tips work equally well if you are already suffering from severe professional burnout, or if you believe you might be close to reaching that breaking point.
1. Speak to your workplace.
Whether you speak to your supervisor or the human resources department, be honest about how the job is impacting your well-being.
This can be a difficult conversation to have, but it is in everyone’s best interest to get you feeling well again.
Work with them to find ways to reduce your workload or make it more manageable in some other way.
See if they would be willing for you to work more flexibly, possibly with some days spent working from home where you can avoid long, stressful journeys.
Or ask if you might be able to work a half day mid-way through your working week so that you can rest a little more on that day and restore your energy for the remainder of the week.
Or if your working conditions are particularly challenging, see if there are ways that your employer might be able to make them less stressful with chillout zones, more regular breaks, or workplace counselling.
2. Address the causes of your burnout.
Look back at the previous section and figure out what is causing you to feel burnt out by your job.
Then try to find ways to treat those causes and reduce their ill-effects on you.
This will often tie into the previous point and require you to raise the issues with your boss or HR department.
But it will also require you to look closely at yourself and ask what power you have to alter the situation in a positive way.
Whether that means overcoming your perfectionism, being willing to delegate, disconnecting mentally and digitally from your job as soon as you leave the workplace, or actually taking some of the vacation time you’re owed, you have a lot of power to help your recovery.
3. Cultivate a rich and engaging life outside of work.
This can be a challenge, particularly when you feel like you have no energy.
But sometimes you can get more energy out of something than you put in.
What you choose to do might depend on your personality traits.
Extroverts, for instance, tend to absorb more energy from social situations and will do well from spending quality time with friends or family.
Introverts might wish to socialize one-on-one or in smaller groups, but they might find that solitary time with a good book or baking or crafting is even better for recharging their batteries.
As hard as it might be to push yourself to keep active, having a life outside of work will help to take your mind off things and put less pressure on your job to provide fulfilment.
A work-life balance has to actually be balanced for it to provide the full positive effects.
4. Get active as often as possible.
Again, this may feel like a struggle when you are depleted and just want to stay in bed in your free time, but it will often provide a net gain in mental and physical energy levels.
Whilst it’s not a cure on its own, exercise can help combat the stressors of work, improve your mood and mental health, and help you sleep better.
If that’s not an incentive to get your heart rate up, what is?
5. Improve sleep hygiene.
Other than exercise, there are ways that you can improve the sleep you get at night.
Not only does the number of hours you sleep matter, but the quality of those hours is vitally important too.
The more you can do to ensure a restful night’s sleep, the more restored your energy reserves will be come your next workday.
6. Set work boundaries.
When demands are made of you by your boss or colleagues, be willing to politely, but firmly say no to tasks that you believe are unreasonable or fall outside your remit.
Or, at the very least, make it clear that you will get to it as and when you are able to and that you have other duties to take care of first.
If you give your colleagues clear expectations about if and when you will be able to do something, they will not keep prompting you for updates.
Similarly, you should feel able to refuse overtime – whether paid or unpaid – and leave work on time each day unless something genuinely urgent needs to be taken care of. Remember, 99% of things can safely wait until the next day.
7. Change how you think about your job.
This is simple in theory, but quite difficult in practice. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying.
Essentially, you have to change the thought patterns you have about the work itself and your performance.
This might include things such as:
– Seeing your job as one part of your life and not as your whole life in order to combat workaholism.
– Recognizing the importance of your job, even if it seems monotonous or of very little consequence.
– Learning that you can only do so much and that putting extra pressure on yourself to do more only serves to reduce your productivity.
– Accepting that some things only need to be done to a satisfactory level rather than being perfect.
– Focusing on the things you like about your job rather than those things you don’t like.
– Realizing that the career progression you desire doesn’t have to happen so quickly and that slow and steady often wins the race.
– Understanding what your strengths are and playing to them whilst gradually addressing your weaknesses through learning new skills and regular practice.
– Identifying when you have performed well and celebrating this.
– Working to stop negative thoughts such as, “I’m not good enough” by spotting them as they happen and redirecting your mind to a more positive statement.
8. Consider whether a new job or career might suit you better.
Sometimes, the best way to treat or prevent burnout is to change jobs or careers.
If you find that your current working situation is not good for you mentally or emotionally, a fresh start might be the only way to fix things.
Of course, this can cause more stress in the short term as you make the transition, but the long term benefits in terms of job satisfaction, better conditions, and energy levels can be worth it.
Ask yourself whether this is a possibility. Could you feasibly look for a new job whilst working your current one?
Would you be willing to pursue further qualifications or retrain in an entirely different field if it meant a happier and more balanced lifestyle?
Would you be financially able to take a part time job or accept a lower full time wage?
9. Take a sabbatical.
This may be beyond the means of many, but would your employer allow you to take an extended period of leave to help your recovery?
You may need to be frank with them and say that you don’t think you’ll be able to continue working at all unless you can focus on all aspects of your health during some time off.
They may realize that hiring or training someone new would be far more costly and challenging than finding a way for you to take a few months off.
10. Lean on your social support.
As difficult as it can be to talk about your struggles, you’ll find that those people who truly care about you will want to help in any way they can.
So speak to your partner, friends, parents, siblings, and anyone else who you are close to.
See if they might be able to take on some small things in the short term to give you more of a break.
This could mean picking your children up from school, helping you with the grocery shopping, or taking responsibility for organizing events or meet-ups.
Anything to reduce the demands on you and your time.
Even if it’s just listening to you and offering words of advice or comfort, the relationships you have built up are worth their weight in gold during times of chronic stress.
Getting A Job After Burnout
In some instances, you may have to leave a job to focus on your recovery from the burnout you have experienced.
If this is the case, getting back into the world of work may seem daunting.
Here are some things that might help:
1. Be honest with potential new employers – they will be able to see the gap on your resume, so there is little point trying to hide it. Tell them that, yes, you suffered burnout, but that you are now ready to get back to work.
2. Highlight this as valuable experience – turn the negative into a positive and say how much you have learned through the whole process and how you are now able to manage your stress better.
3. Make sure your duties are clearly defined – don’t allow “job creep” to occur where new responsibilities are given to you without discussion of whether they are reasonable.
4. Ask for flexible working arrangements – if you can better balance the demands of life by working from home one day a week or finishing early on a Friday, don’t be afraid to ask whether it’s possible. The worst an employer can say is no.
5. Try to feed your passions – could you use this opportunity to switch careers and find a job that you can feel more passionate about? This way, you’ll actually be energized by your work rather than drained by it.