Job-related burnout refers to a state of emotional exhaustion that can result in numerous physical and mental health symptoms. Unfortunately, research shows this phenomenon is on the rise.
In a recent study, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 79% of adult workers reported work-related stress, and 32% reported emotional exhaustion.
What Causes Burnout?
Burnout is a complex issue that doesn’t always have a specific or single origin. Instead, it often emerges from a variety of factors.
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Chaotic, unstructured work environments may contribute to burnout. When employees don’t feel equipped to perform their jobs effectively, they may experience a sense of helplessness or frustration. As a result, they may feel like they need to constantly “guess” their roles or duties.
Over time, this pattern can lead to resentment and confusion. For example, employees may feel angry at their supervisors for failing to provide adequate direction. Likewise, they might also feel upset that they don’t have defined expectations.
Lack of Appreciation or Respect
It’s important to feel recognized within the workplace. Many companies achieve this goal by providing routine promotions, but verbal praise and recognition also go a long way.
The opposite, however, is also true. If employees routinely feel disrespected, underappreciated, or taken for granted, it can take a toll on their emotional well-being. For example, they might feel like their work doesn’t matter. Or, they might become resentful that they’re expected to do even more- despite their hard efforts.
Poor Work-Life Balance
Many companies do not honor one’s work-life balance.
When companies expect their employees to be readily available around-the-clock, it can increase the chances of employees experiencing burnout. With most people glued to their smartphones, it’s become fairly routine for employees to respond to work-related messages or emails long after they leave the office.
However, resting and disconnecting from the workplace is essential. Therefore, failing to take routine breaks can exacerbate burnout.
Being in the Wrong Job
Some people experience burnout because they simply dislike their jobs. While they may discover this dissatisfaction early on, these feelings can sometimes occur several months or years after being in the workplace.
In this case, the burnout often manifests because the employee feels apathetic or bored with the work altogether. They may fantasize about a different role altogether. Moreover, they might also justify that they just need to stay in their job for other reasons (like good pay or benefits).
Lack of Control
Feeling a sense of control is important for employee autonomy and self-esteem. If employees don’t feel like they have a say in what they do (or how they do it), it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Overly authoritative workplaces may leave employees feeling disconnected, insecure, or bullied. This can decrease workplace morale and breed ongoing resentment.
Certain jobs may correlate with higher rates of burnout. For example, people in helping professions may find themselves emotionally exhausted as a result of taking care of others all day. These specific jobs include:
- Healthcare professionals
- Emergency responders
Many times, these individuals feel like they are perpetually on the “front lines” of managing crises. Over time, this pattern can result in secondary trauma, which can expedite burnout symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Burnout
Burnout often occurs over time, and it can be difficult to notice the warning signs at first. Many people may initially dismiss them, assuming that they are overreacting to their stress.
That said, as burnout progresses, it often starts impairing multiple areas of one’s functioning. In addition, it can create significant stress and anguish. Some of the most common signs include:
- Feeling increasingly apathetic or cynical.
- Increased forgetfulness or problems concentrating.
- Anger towards others, particularly with coworkers, supervisors, or clients.
- Depression symptoms.
- Feelings of guilt or shame.
- Intensified muscle pain or body tension.
- Sleeping problems.
- Increased substance use.
- Frequent fantasies about quitting or “acting out” at work
Many times, burnout will bleed into professional performance. Employees experiencing burnout, for example, may cut corners when it comes to their work. They might call out or leave early more often. They might also avoid working collaboratively and simply do their best to “get by” rather than work optimally.
Burnout can also affect one’s functioning at home. People may feel so depleted during the day that they don’t have the energy to enjoy their time with loved ones. They might simply come home after work and “crash.” Subsequently, they might avoid other responsibilities because they feel so depressed.
Recovering From Burnout
Healing from burnout requires ongoing effort and proactive changes. It’s unlikely that your symptoms will disappear right away. However, by taking the necessary steps toward improving your situation, you will likely start to feel better.
Validate Your Feelings
It can be challenging to address your burnout if you don’t honor how you feel. Denying, intellectualizing, or guilting yourself often makes things worse.
Instead, try to be honest with your burnout symptoms. They aren’t your fault, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with your emotions. However, it is your responsibility to try to take care of yourself.
Validating your feelings is an essential component of self-compassion. Research shows that people with higher levels of self-compassion tend to be more open, happy, curious, and connected to others. Likewise, they tend to struggle less with perfectionism, depression, and anxiety.
Identify Your Biggest Stressors
Burnout can be global or situational, but everyone has specific triggers that make the situation worse. It’s important that you consider these potential triggers and review how they may be impacting your well-being.
For example, do you have a long, tedious commute that often leaves you feeling frazzled when you enter work? If so, it may be helpful to optimize your drive- you might consider leaving a few minutes earlier, downloading a favorite podcast, or even taking a different route to work.
Do you tend to procrastinate on completing big projects? If so, you may need to reevaluate your time management and explore how you can break down large assignments into smaller and more manageable tasks.
While tackling daily stress may not eliminate burnout, managing your emotional responses can help you feel more level-headed. Therefore, you may feel more prepared to handle challenges as they come your way.
Review Workplace Solutions
In some cases, it may be possible to manage burnout by making specific changes at work. Your manager might be willing to collaborate with you if they know you are struggling.
For example, the long commute may be resolved by being able to work remotely a few times a week. Feeling chronically overworked might be addressed by hiring another assistant or assigning coworkers to support you.
Of course, these solutions often entail a collaborative approach. Consequently, some bosses may be more eager to help than others. But it’s worth having an honest discussion if you feel constantly overwhelmed or unable to keep up with your workload.
Audit Your Boundaries
We all have a threshold for how much stress we can endure. That said, if you consistently overextend yourself, it’s easy to become resentful or stressed. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned employees agree to every request because they feel guilty saying no.
Boundaries refer to the emotional, physical, financial, and pragmatic limits you set with others. Sometimes these boundaries are explicit (i.e., saying no when someone asks you for a favor you can’t commit to doing). Other times, they are more covert (i.e., limiting your interactions with people who make you feel poorly about yourself).
If you are experiencing burnout, it can be helpful to reflect on the boundaries you have with others. Remember that your emotional energy and time are precious commodities. Try to protect them as much as possible- even if it means temporarily offending someone else.
Practice Even More Self-Care
When people are experiencing burnout, they often neglect their physical and emotional health. This happens because they often feel too tired to focus on their needs. Instead of recharging themselves, they often choose to escape or withdraw from life altogether.
Unfortunately, this pattern often aggravates the burnout symptoms. Forgoing self-care tends to make things feel even more discouraging or hopeless.
Instead, try to make a conscious effort to take care of your needs. That means prioritizing healthy nutrition, routine physical activity, and adequate sleep. It also means spending time with loved ones, engaging in meaningful hobbies, and routinely doing things that feel good.
You can also practice self-care during the workday. For instance, you can commit to eating lunch and socializing with coworkers. Or, you might consider taking a brisk walk during the mid-afternoon to clear your mind.
Engage In More Mindfulness
Embracing mindfulness can be extremely beneficial in managing stress levels. Mindfulness refers to being attuned to the present moment. Instead of ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, you are grounded in the here-and-now.
The next time you feel stressed at work, pause for a few moments and take several deep, intentional breaths. Then, tell yourself a positive affirmation that makes you feel safe (i.e. I am going to get through this, or I can handle everything with grace right now).
It may also be helpful to adopt a more formal meditation practice. Even setting aside a few minutes a day can make a tremendous difference in how you feel.
Review Your Alternative Options
In some cases, leaving your current workplace is the best option for recovering from burnout. However, this decision can undoubtedly feel scary and uncertain. Many times, people decide to leave only after exhausting other self-care methods for managing their symptoms.
It may be worth reevaluating your current work situation if you consistently:
- Resent going to work (and your feelings have only intensified over time)
- Are asked to perform tasks outside of your scope of competence
- Need to engage in unethical or illegal practices to get your work done
- Feel undermined by your coworkers or supervisors
- Experience chronic health symptoms due to your work-related stress
Of course, leaving a job is never easy. It often requires serious analysis and discussions with loved ones.
However, continuing to stay in a toxic setting will likely make the situation worse. Even if you don’t exactly know what to do next, it may be helpful to consider reviewing your finances and looking at other career opportunities. While you don’t have to take action immediately, having an exit strategy may bring you some relief.
Seek Professional Help
Therapy can be a valuable tool if you’re struggling with burnout symptoms. You and your therapist can collaborate together on discovering the root causes of your feelings. Likewise, your therapist can teach you practical coping skills to navigate your current challenges.
Avoid Damage Control
In the height of burnout, it may be tempting to yell at your boss or undermine your coworkers. You may even feel tempted to sabotage your tasks or badmouth the company altogether.
While these actions may feel good at the moment, they can be detrimental in the long term. Maintaining a professional reputation is paramount for keeping your options open and cultivating new relationships with others. You don’t want to come across as disrespectful or unhinged.
If you must vent, try to avoid doing so in the workplace completely. Save those conversations for your friends, family, significant other, or therapist. Furthermore, avoid turning to social media to vent your complaints. One wrong move can result in serious legal recourse.
Recovering from burnout is a process. But knowing the warning signs, symptoms, and options for taking care of yourself can help dramatically improve your situation.
While burnout rarely disappears on its own, committing to making these changes will make a significant difference in how you feel.