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How to Recognize and Overcome Burnout at Work

How to Overcome Burnout at Work


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Balancing work, family, and everything else right now can be difficult. It’s not uncommon to feel stressed because of your job, especially during a global pandemic.

But what happens if the stress doesn’t go away? What happens when every day feels like a Monday? If you’re starting to dread your job or feel like you’re stressed out about work all the time, it’s probably not workplace stress, but workplace burnout.

What Is Job Burnout?

While not a medical condition, workplace burnout is considered an “occupational phenomenon,” meaning it’s a physical condition caused by your job. The 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Put another way, job burnout is caused by constant workplace stress that you (or your employer) cannot manage.

According to the ICD-11, there are three physical manifestations of workplace burnout:

  1. Feeling exhausted or lacking energy
  2. Increased disengagement from your job (or feeling negative or cynical about it)
  3. Reduced productivity on the job

Don’t Confuse Burnout With Stress

Though job burnout is caused by workplace stress, it’s caused by workplace stress that is chronic. Just because you’re feeling stressed out at work doesn’t mean you’re burned out on your job.

Stress of any kind is a reaction to a situation. For example, when you’re running late to a doctor’s appointment, and your heart is beating fast and you hit the accelerator a little harder to get to the office, that’s stress. Workplace stress is similar. When you’re short-tempered with your coworkers because you have a report that’s due in an hour and you’re behind, or you have to deal with an angry customer, that’s workplace stress.

Most stressors, though, are intermittent. But sometimes, we do feel constant stress at the job. And when that happens, you can find yourself at a higher risk of experiencing burnout at work.

Causes of Job Burnout

Though the cause of job burnout is chronic stress, some specific aspects of your job can contribute to burnout at work. Recognizing these characteristics is the first step toward preventing workplace burnout.

You’re Not Challenged

Most jobs aren’t exciting all day long. But, when every task is boring or monotonous, your work won’t engage you, and when that happens, you’re likely to lose interest in the job and begin to wander.

Tasks Are Overwhelming

On the flip side, sometimes your tasks are overwhelming. Perhaps you volunteered for a project and underestimated what it would take to complete. Or, you’re assigned duties that aren’t just out of your comfort zone, but you lack the proper skill set or education to get them done.

Lack of Recognition

Maybe you’re still engaged with your job and love what you do. But, no matter what you do or how well you do it, no one seems to recognize your hard work or accomplishments. Over time, this lack of recognition can make you feel like your organization does not value you.

Lack of Control

Part of life is realizing that there are things that we can’t control. And though you may not have total control over your work, when you lack any control over your work responsibilities, you can easily become dissatisfied and unhappy. For example, you may not get to choose which projects you work on. But, if you also can’t choose how to complete the tasks, you’re more likely to feel like you have zero control over your work life.

How to Decide if It’s Workplace Burnout

Figuring out if it’s stress or burnout doesn’t necessarily require a trip to the doctor. Ask yourself a few questions to assess your situation.

  • Are you feeling more cynical or negative about your job?
  • Is it a significant effort to go to the job and engage with your work?
  • Have you become short-tempered with coworkers, clients, or even your boss?
  • Do you lack the energy to be productive?
  • Are you having trouble concentrating?
  • Do you feel exhausted all day every day?
  • Do you experience unexplained headaches, stomachaches, or other physical issues (and a doctor has ruled out medical causes)?
  • Is every day a bad day?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, there’s a chance you’re suffering from job burnout.

How to Overcome Burnout

Ideally, overcoming burnout at work would be simple, and in some cases, it can be. If you find that work is no longer challenging, consider speaking to your supervisor about taking on new tasks that stretch your brain power and force you to learn new things. Perhaps a lateral move within the organization could help shake things up and reinvigorate you.

However, in many cases, job burnout is caused by things outside of your control. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to feel this way forever. When faced with burnout at work that isn’t in your control, consider these suggestions to help you find happiness again.

Disconnect

In our constantly connected world, leaving the office (or logging off for the day) doesn’t always translate into the end of work-related activities. The feeling of being “on” 24/7 can be exhausting. Turn off email notifications and don’t accept work calls after hours. It is easier said than done, but unplugging from work can help you feel revitalized when facing the same tasks the next morning.

Create Structure

Set a schedule that’s realistic and fair to your employer (and yourself) and stick to your regimen. Sure, there may be times when you need to pivot, but having a general idea of when you’ll start and stop your day can help you stay focused and ensure that you’re not overworking.

Talk It Out

Find someone to talk to about how you are feeling about your job, your career, and your life in general. You may find there is more to how you are feeling about your job than you thought. Talking with others can also help you brainstorm a resolution to the stumbling blocks you’re experiencing.

Try Something New

If switching up your role at work isn’t in the cards, consider trying something new outside of work. Volunteer for a cause you feel passionate about or take up a new hobby. Learning a new skill or expanding your social circle can do wonders for helping you find some balance and stress relief when work is bringing you down.

Connect With Intention

Motivation can soar when you feel like part of a team. However, with the pandemic keeping offices closed, most people are still working at home. And while that may mean you’re surrounded by family, that’s not the same as connecting with your coworkers.

When you’re feeling drained by the job, try engaging in water cooler chat via a Slack channel. Or organize a virtual coffee break or even lunch over video conferencing tools. It’s not the same thing as getting out and away from the office with your coworkers, but it’s the next best thing and can do wonders to improve your outlook.

Use Your Vacation Days

One of the best ways to overcome job burnout is to coordinate with your boss about taking your vacation days. For starters, those paid days off are part of your benefits package and belong to you.

Vacations are also good for your mental health and your employer. Numerous studies have shown that taking time off improves your health, your productivity, and reduces stress levels (not to mention they can help you live longer).

Consider a Switch

If you’ve tried everything to make your job more interesting and less stressful, but you’re still feeling the burn, that may be a signal that it’s time to move on. Sometimes we outgrow positions or companies, and that’s OK. And, sometimes, employers can’t help employees combat workplace burnout due to company culture or the demands of certain roles.

Persistent job burnout is a problem that can have serious consequences—like insomnia, heart disease, and high blood pressure, to name a few. It may be better to leave a job now in favor of better health in the future.

Don’t Stress About It

Workplace stress is a normal part of many jobs (and isn’t always bad when properly managed). But, chronic workplace stress is a different matter. If not dealt with, it can become workplace burnout, which, over time, can lead to professional and even personal problems.

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