One of the larger workplace issues that the pandemic helped to uncover is the crisis of burnout. Research shows that more than 75% of professionals have experienced burnout. Yet very few people actually know what burnout is, and what it looks like.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome…resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout has three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from or negative feelings toward one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout doesn’t just affect performance in the workplace. It can also have a significant effect on relationships with family and friends, as well as trigger physical illness. Worse still is the fact it often goes unaddressed, damaging people’s professional and personal lives.
For those feeling the cumulative effects of pressure at work, assessing burning out, and what steps to take, is instrumental to one’s success. Fortunately, there are ways for workers and entrepreneurs alike to know whether they’re experiencing burnout.
The warning signs for burnout are not as simple as we may believe. Assessing burnout means bringing awareness to your state of mind and body. Here are three symptoms that could mean you are suffering from burnout:
One of the most common types of warning signs for burnout is fatigue. If you find yourself halfway through your workday and you’re already tired, or struggling to get out of bed and into the office, it may be worth asking: Does this job give you energy or take it away? For many jobs, fatigue is part of work. But when physical or mental tiredness begins to interfere with your work, it is time to look at the possibility of burnout.
Another warning sign is a sense of disillusionment at work, being over it all, and having a negative attitude towards everything. Not everyone loves what they do, and that is OK. I can think of numerous jobs I have had just to pay the bills. But when disillusionment is so bad that it’s causing stress, it may be time to reconsider your work. Noticing disillusionment can be difficult, but often it shows when employees or entrepreneurs become excessively critical, or even cynical in the workplace.
Heading to the local watering hole is part of our work culture, and can be a great way to de-stress at the end of the day with colleagues. But when employees come to rely on substances like alcohol, marijuana, or junk food to get themselves through the day, it may be worth looking into burnout. There is a clear relationship between feelings of burnout, self-hatred, and substance abuse. At least in North America, we hide that relationship by dressing up alcohol as a social lubricant.
Causes of Burnout
As diverse as the symptoms of burnout, there are multiple causes of workplace burnout, and while it is impossible to cover them all in one article, there are a few that are more common than others.
Extremes of work: Burnout is more pernicious than one might believe. Burnout can be triggered as much by too little work as too much. When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused.
Lack of social support: Humans are social creatures. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, it might cause you to shut down. Often those in stressful and time-consuming jobs have life partners to manage the other tasks of life, like paying bills or picking up the kids. But not everyone has the luxury of a supportive partner. Trying to do everything, everywhere, all at once will deplete your energy, and quickly.
Work-life imbalance: None of us were born to work. Even in jobs we enjoy, it is important to balance it with a fruitful life. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend on yourself and your loved ones, you’re going to burn out fast.
Protect your energy
Think of human energy as a rechargeable device. Now imagine your smartphone battery is in the red zone. You have two options: use less of your battery, or recharge it. It is the same at work. Part of burnout is a depletion of energy. Finding ways to sustain your energy and recharge it is important.
Mindfulness is the act of focusing on your breath flow and being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment, without interpretation or judgment. Sometimes work gets chaotic, and that is to be expected. When that happens, stop what you are doing, sit still and focus on your breath.
Noticing your breath feels like time is slowing down. Taking yourself away from the moment will help you see clearly what is in front of you, and what is important. Sometimes mindfulness can give you that extra oomph to get through the day, and other times mindfulness tells us a certain job is not where we are meant to be.
This seems like a given, considering that a lack of support is a big cause of burnout. Whether you reach out to coworkers, friends, or loved ones, support and collaboration might help you cope. It’s OK to take it a step further if necessary. Seeing a physician or mental health expert can really help reduce burnout. If you need assistance and want resources to find help with a burnout at work consider reaching out to a specialist
Evaluate your options
Burnout is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is our body’s way of telling us we are unhappy in our situation. If you want to reduce burnout, reprioritizing your life can help. Some jobs are not worth the stress and some jobs just need to be tweaked. Discussing your values, goals, and options with managers and loved ones can instantly help reduce burnout
At the end of the day, only you can know whether you could be facing burnout. Listening to your body and asking for help are the most important steps. As long as there is work, there will be burnout. The trick is to find work that gives you energy, maybe just a little bit more than it takes.
Lisa L. Baker is the founder of Ascentim, a company that offers customized coaching to help people level up in business and in life. Before founding Ascentim, Lisa was a former senior executive at Fortune 500 companies including General Electric, Synchrony, and Microsoft. While at Synchrony, she was one of only nine black female executives among more than 16,000 employees. Lisa has also recently been named a 2022 Brightside Trailblazer in Business by Brightside Global Trade. Follow Lisa on LinkedIn and Ascentim on Twitter.