You’ve heard it before: “It’s just a job! Why are you so stressed?!” But if you can’t shake those feelings of stress, anxiety, and fatigue, then it’s not “just a job,” and the effects you’re feeling are real. Instead, what you’re experiencing may be burnout, and it is so much more than being a little bit tired. Here’s how to tell if you have burnout and what you can do about it.
What is burnout?
First things first, let’s take a look at what burnout actually is. The term was first used back in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. Initially referring to “helping” professions, such as healthcare, he described an experience where those who gave too much of themselves to their profession would eventually face exhaustion and become unable to cope.
Burnout is becoming more common in the remote working world where the lines of work-life and personal-life are blurred
Nowadays, burnout has a much wider usage with it being applied to every profession from IT to healthcare to office work. But why is it so important right now to know about burnout? Well, that’s because, in the wake of the COVID pandemic and the ever-connected digital culture, we are working more, and the line between work and personal is becoming more blurred.
How do I know if I have burnout?
Think of burnout like your phone’s battery. When it’s charged, it’s great. All your phone’s functions work properly and quickly. But when that battery has been used time and time again, you might start to notice it holds the charge a little less and becomes less efficient than it used to be.
The same goes for your health and energy levels. Perhaps you remember a time (in the not-so-distant past) when you were charged and full of energy. But now you feel like you’re struggling to hold that charge past noon, or maybe you even dread waking up in the morning? These are just some of the signs of burnout.
Burnout is not:
- Just one bad night’s sleep
- Exhaustion—you feel tired all the time, even if you slept
- Irritability—you seem angry for almost no reason at all
- Being frequently sick—your immune system seems to be weak, leaving you susceptible to illness
- Headaches—you may find pains in your head more frequently
- Isolation—you feel that no one understands you or a desire not to speak to anyone
- Escapist fantasies—you just want to run away from it all
- Weight gain/loss—you may lose or gain weight unintentionally
- Poor sleep—even when you try to rest, you toss and turn
- Loss of enthusiasm—you lose interest in your work and hobbies
- Low attention span—you find it difficult to concentrate on your work
- Reduced performance—you simply can’t perform in the way you used to
Note: if you think you are experiencing burnout, please consult your doctor or healthcare provider. Symptoms of burnout are similar to many other mental health conditions, and it's important you take care of your health in the right way to get the correct treatment.
What causes burnout?
There is no simple answer to what causes burnout. That’s because burnout can be caused by a variety of factors and influences and usually happens over an extended period of time. It’s not like one day you wake up and have a cough. Burnout is gradual, which is what makes it difficult to spot.
Often people who are high-performers, perfectionists, and those who are pessimistic tend to experience burnout more than others, but these traits aren’t exclusive—burnout can happen to anyone.
In general, burnout is said to be caused by chronic stress—long-lasting stress—combined with other factors such as overwork, lack of sleep, high-stress profession, reduced professional interest, and a pessimistic outlook.
Types of burnout
Some studies suggest there are different types of burnouts—overload, under-challenge, and neglect. But what do they mean, and why are they important?
Neglect burnout—this type of burnout often occurs when people feel unable to keep up at work. This constant, “I don’t get it,” is demotivating, and employees may feel incompetent and helpless, even if they are great at their job. A person experiencing neglect burnout may also be suffering from imposter syndrome.
Overload burnout—perhaps the most common type of burnout there is overload burnout is all about when people take on more than they can handle, and it becomes too much. Sometimes people are driven to work more and push themselves due to ambition without realizing the long-term health effects.
Under-challenge burnout—feel capable of doing more but just not getting the opportunity? After a while, you may experience under-challenge burnout, and when it happens, you may lose your passion and interest in your work.
What to do if you have burnout?
Feeling truly exhausted and unmotivated? That could be burnout, and it’s important that you take a deep breath and deal with it now. While burnout sounds scary and permanent, it can be treated, and you don’t have to feel this way. Here are some tips that may help you reduce those feelings of fatigue and anxiety and start feeling more like yourself again.
- Take a holiday, even if it is to sit on the couch. Try to take a true break from work. Turn off your emails and just get away from it all.
- Work on your diet. It is easy to reach for crunchy, unhealthy snacks. But that isn’t going to help your stress, instead focus on a healthy diet and include: nuts, yogurt, dark chocolate, turmeric, and more.
- Get some good sleep. And this doesn’t mean 7 hours instead of 5. It means working on your bedtime routine so that you truly relax. You can try meditations before bed, have a relaxing bath, and give yourself some time to just wind down—find more sleep tips here. Plus, getting a full 8 hours wouldn’t hurt.
- Talk it out. Sometimes talking can help you process and accept how you are feeling. This is the first stage of dealing with burnout and knowing which steps to take next.
- Fix it. Once you’ve taken a break and decided what to do next, it’s time to fix the root cause of your burnout. For some, that means adjusting your role and expectations at work. To others, it may mean taking an extended vacation. For others, it might mean a change of job or career. The main thing here is to do what works for you.
What can you do as an employer to prevent burnout?
If you are an employer or manager, you need your team at their best to do their best work. Plus, healthy employees are loyal employees—2.6 times less likely to leave their employer and 63% less likely to take a sick day. But managing a team, company, and priorities isn’t easy. Here are some helpful tips for employers and managers to prevent workplace burnout.
- Set reasonable deadlines—we all understand that things need done, but aside from medical emergencies, few things in life are truly urgent. That’s why when it comes to your team, set reasonable deadlines for work to be done. In return, your employees are 70% less likely to experience burnout.
- Talk to your team—your team are professionals, but they are people too. When your team feels you are listening to them. They are more likely to engage effectively in their work, come to you for help in solving professional challenges, and be invested in the company—all of which leads to successful outcomes.
- Clarify their role and its limitations—think the job description is all there is to it, think again. Studies show that only 60% of workers know precisely what is expected of them. This can lead to them taking on more tasks than needed or feeling unfulfilled in their role. Give them clarity and help them succeed by setting reasonable limitations.
- Be fair—we all have a workplace friend, but when that friendship crosses the line of professionalism, that’s when problems occur. Avoid burnout and mistreatment by setting in place policies and procedures for all processes and sticking to them.
- Give them just enough work—too much work, and they can burn out quickly, too little and your team will be under-challenged. Try to work with your staff and gauge just how much work is enough. Give them growth opportunities when needed, and you’ll experience growth in productivity and results.