22nd March 2022

How to Avoid Burnout At Work: Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

By now, we’ve all become familiar with the Great Resignation. Employees are leaving their jobs and switching careers at an unprecedented rate. But did you know that 40% of these employees have reported burnout as their number one reason for quitting?

Burnout is a very real condition affecting millions of people around the country and around the world. But what is it, exactly?

Occupational burnout is defined as a response to prolonged exposure to emotional, physical, and interpersonal stressors. Burnout shows up as chronic exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. It is more than just feeling “stressed out” and it has a very real impact on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

According to the World Health Organization’s definition of occupational burnout mentioned above, there are 3 major dimensions of burnout.

  1. Feelings of Exhaustion or Energy Depletion: You may be experiencing this dimension of burnout if you have been struggling with more feelings of depression or anxiety than usual, having difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping too much, experiencing fatigue, or have been withdrawing from relationships and passions that usually bring you energy.
  2. Increased Mental Distance From Your Job: This dimension of burnout may look like increased feelings of dissociation, numbness, dreaming about leaving or feeling trapped in your job,  dreading going to work, or being increasingly frustrated and cynical towards your job and team members.
  3. Reduced Professional Efficacy: If you are feeling burnt out, your performance at work may take a hit because you no longer feel like your work matters or is worth doing. You may start underperforming or missing deadlines, lack the energy to complete tasks, feel unappreciated, or feel that things will never get better.

While it’s important to know the symptoms and be able to recognize them, it is just as important to know the causes of burnout, how to prevent it, and how to recover from it. Job burnout doesn’t happen all at once; it is a gradual, chronic process.

If you think you might be burnt out, know that you are not alone, nor are you a failure or a bad employee. In fact, according to Limeade’s research, the employees most likely to burn out are the employees most connected, most engaged, and most invested in their work.

The most common causes of burnout are:

  • Overload — workload and time
  • Pressure
  • Role conflict and ambiguity
  • Lack of: support from managers, feedback, fairness and equity, participation in decision making
  • Values disconnect
  • A “broken” psychological contract between an employer and employee

Everyone wants to feel appreciated, valued, and cared for at work. You want to know your work matters and have the ability to maintain and pursue personal well-being, even at work. One of the most important ways to ensure employees don’t get burnt out is by cultivating a healthy manager-employee relationship.

For Managers: Preventing Burn Out

Managers, you are such an important member of your team and you have such an important role to play in creating a work culture that proactively works against employee burnout (and your own sense of burnout too!). You will not always be able to completely prevent burnout, but if you focus on improving four key areas you can greatly mitigate the risk.

  1. Allow for recovery time if an employee expresses feelings of stress or burnout: Recovery time may include things such as ensuring employees are not working more than contracted hours, taking vacation time, granting sick leave or PTO, or allowing employees to leave early on days where they have worked late earlier in the week.
  2. Encourage well-being through healthy  boundaries: Remind your employees that they should have a healthy personal life, and that work is not the only part of their life they should be focusing on. Set guidelines for communication among team members outside of work hours, re-evaluate the structure and necessity of regular meetings and encourage employees to operate within their own job roles and responsibilities.
  3. Lead in stress management and reduction: It’s important for employees to be able to express frustration, stress, and support their own mental health. As a leader, you could implement regular check-ins with your team members, and prioritize making employees feel valued by utilizing their gifts, giving encouragement, and allowing employees to have more input in their work and processes.
  4. Cultivate community: Community is one of the most important ways to reduce the risk of burnout. You can encourage employees to regularly connect with friends and family outside of work, and within the workplace, you can foster community by reminding employees about company values and making space to really get to know each other or have fun together.

For Employees: Recovering from Burn Out

If you are already at the point of burnout, know that there is hope for recovery. Sometimes it may take drastic action or professional help, but the strategies below can also help you to begin to recover and feel ready to continue on with your work. To do this, you will have to Refresh Your Resources. When you’re in burnout, it feels like you have nothing to give and that all of your mental, emotional, physical, and psychological resources have been depleted. When you recover from burnout, you need to rebuild those resources. The ideas below can help you start to do that!

  1. Take a long look at your current responsibilities at work and at home. Are there tasks you can drop or say “no” to? In this time of recovery, don’t try to take on extra work or projects that are not essential to your job.
  2. REST. Your body needs rest. Establish new patterns that allow you to sleep well and sleep enough, take a vacation, and prioritize your physical well-being.
  3. Focus on building good relationships with your community outside of work. Sometimes when we reach burnout, we may realize we have neglected our family or friend relationships because we were using all of our resources to do a good job at work. Take time to rekindle relationships that bring you life and can support you.
  4. Finally, you need to reestablish meaning and purpose in life. Maybe it’s a career or role change. Maybe it’s picking up a hobby or volunteer opportunity that gets you excited. Maybe it means evaluating your values and adjusting your life to be more in line with them. Whatever it is, establishing a new purpose in life will go a long way in helping you recover from burnout.

Burnout is neither a sign of personal failure nor an anomaly. Burnout can happen to anyone, and if you are struggling with this, you are not alone. As both employees and managers, we can work together to create a new future of work that will allow for greater well-being for all workers.

If you’re ready to make changes for you or your team, but aren’t sure where to start, we can help! We have tools such as assessments, coaching, aids, and resources to help you evaluate your work culture and learn how to practically implement strategies to increase your employee engagement and satisfaction. Our “Own it. Love it. Make it Work” guide is perfect for employers who want their employees to understand their own skills, dreams, and value. It’s a great tool for reestablishing purpose and meaning at work.