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Breaking the Cycle of Burnout

Simple Steps to Identify and Overcome Workplace Burnout

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It’s January and many of us are back to work after a break. We may feel refreshed or hopeful and some of us are excited for the fantastic, productive year we envision ahead.  Unfortunately, despite our best positive thinking and energy around our future plans, the majority of us will likely feel the effects of burnout sometime during the year.   


Research shows burnout impacts most of us to some extent.  The good news is that the same research indicates that it is largely preventable when we focus on the right factors.  For most of us, it’s hard to distinguish burnout from the occasional but sometimes unavoidable boredom or frustration with a difficult co-worker or project.   While frustration comes and goes, real burnout can cost us in terms of our relationships, our satisfaction, and our health. It’s critically important to be aware of the warning signs of burnout in order to take preventive action. 

  • Cycle of Cynicism – Being sarcastic is one thing, but when cynicism rears its head, it can turn to detachment or despondency. This is not only personally unhealthy but can quickly impact a positive workplace culture. 
  • Physically Depleted – The effects of burnout go beyond having a bad day at work. In fact, according to Gallup, people who are experiencing burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23%more likely to visit the emergency room. 
  • Losing Your Spark – Experts say one key sign of burnout is losing self-confidence and feeling ineffective at work

All these signs are not only bad for us personally, they’re bad for us professionally, creating stress on our work relationships that can cost us not only our job satisfaction but our actual employment.

There are a few things we can do now to take action so we can thrive at work. 

  • Communicate Clearly – According to Gallup’s recent State of the American Workplace report, only 60% of workers can strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. In an ideal world, managers would communicate clearly and help people manage their workload, set priorities, and reasonable deadlines. However, if you are in the 40% of employees who don’t know what’s expected at work, don’t be afraid to take the communication initiative. Speak with your manager or mentor about priorities, workload, etc. Present the situation as you see it and ask clarifying questions to ensure you and your boss are on the right track. Burnout makes you less likely to want to talk with your manager about performance, so ensuring you are able to connect now can help keep the lines of communication open when you need it the most.

  • Cultivate a Support Network – Whether it is a pub quiz team with co-workers, a volunteer group, friends in a spin class, or close family members, knowing you have people who care about you is important. Plus, they can be a sounding board in times of stress. Having that vital support network helps you cope. Also, If you have access to an employee assistance program, take advantage of relevant services.
  • Evaluate Your Options – It’s important to know when enough is enough. Don was 30 years into a career in engineering when we knew it was time to make a change. Years of feeling like he had to be “on” all the time for work were taking their toll. He took a step back and evaluated career options. He and his family dreamed of where they really wanted to live and how they would spend their time. After doing his research, he pursued the path of medical transcription since it allowed him to work remotely and do something that engaged and challenged him. He retrained, restarted, and is reinvigorated in his work again. 

Knowing when it’s time to make a change and working a plan to get you to your next step can help you break through a career burnout cycle and lead a more fulfilling life. Whether it’s starting a book club at work, getting a new certification, or joining a local professional group, finding things that help you refresh your skills is a good way to help you feel on top of your game and remain engaged at work. 

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