Signs Of Burnout And 7 Steps To Prevention And Recovery

Work burnout can be debilitating and frustrating, and it’s on the rise in the American workforce. A new Gallup-Workhuman report found that 25% of employees describe being burned out at work “very often” or “always”—meaning that, for a quarter of the workforce, energy, motivation and productivity are declining. The more severe your burnout, the more […]

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Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash
Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

Work burnout can be debilitating and frustrating, and it’s on the rise in the American workforce. A new Gallup-Workhuman report found that 25% of employees describe being burned out at work “very often” or “always”—meaning that, for a quarter of the workforce, energy, motivation and productivity are declining. The more severe your burnout, the more difficult it is to fulfill your professional obligations. So it’s important to recognize the symptoms and know how to recover.

Four Symptoms Of Burnout

Many people treat burnout as stress and try to push through it, but stress and burnout are not the same. The fatigue that comes with burnout is different from the stress you might have after a long day or week’s work. The fatigue can be so severe that it’s crippling. And although there’s controversy over the incidences of burnout, it’s real. You can’t cure burnout by taking an extended vacation, slowing down or working fewer hours. Once burnout takes hold, you’re out of gas, and you’ve given up all hope of surmounting your obstacles.

The World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified burnout as a medical diagnosis, including the condition in the International Classification of Diseases: “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout is diagnosed by four symptoms:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion, exhaustion and fatigue
  2. Increased mental distance from your job
  3. Feelings of negativism or cynicism related to your job
  4. Reduced professional efficacy

As the workplace headed into 2022—the third year of the pandemic—the rise of job burnout jumped to an all-time high. The American Psychological Association’s Work and Well-Being survey found that 79% of the 1,501 employees experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey. Three in five workers said work-related stress caused them to have a lack of interest, motivation and energy at work. A total of 36% had cognitive weariness, 32% emotional exhaustion and 44% physical fatigue—a 38% jump from 2019.

Strategies To Recover From Job Burnout

“Burnout can have a major impact on the overall well-being of people, causing a strain on their lives inside and outside of the workplace,” said Dr. Meisha-ann Martin, senior director of people analytics at Workhuman. “When a workplace culture doesn’t feel psychologically safe for employees, they don’t have the support they need to bring their whole selves to work, increasing the risk of vulnerability being met by negative consequences. A psychologically safe workplace is one that recognizes the whole human and celebrates its humans for moments that go beyond the workplace.” But work performance and well-being don’t have to come at the expense of sweat equity, burnout or loss of mental and physical health. Here are strategies to recover from burnout:

  1. Get lots of rest. Many people think they can push through burnout, but rest and relaxation are the best medicines. Slow down your pace and pay attention to your body and what it needs. Engage in restful activities such as listening to soft music, reading a good book or gazing out the window at nature.
  2. Practice self-care. The trifecta of burnout recovery is eating a healthy diet, getting ample sleep, and having a regular exercise regimen. Taking short naps in the middle of the day is restorative. When you have low energy, prioritize the most important work tasks and plan in advance of a full day to match your energy level with the work task.
  3. Take micro-breaks. Taking micro-breaks—five or ten minutes—throughout the workday helps you unwind and reset your energy level. After hours of sitting, short breaks are effective energy management strategies that can be as simple as stretching, walking up and down stairs, snacking, deep breathing, yoga or a five minute mindful meditation.
  4. Set work-life boundaries. Work-life balance is essential, especially if you’re a remote worker. Confine work to a specific area so your job doesn’t intrude into the lives of other household members, and you can concentrate. Have a designated space for your workstation instead of spreading work out on the kitchen table or in front of the TV. Putting a hard stop time to your workday is crucial to ending burnout. After hours, keep your work space at arm’s length as if it’s five miles across town, and say no to a job request when you’re already overloaded.
  5. Meditate. Practice relaxation exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation. Mindfulness meditation at your desk for just five minutes is also restorative. It helps you unwind, clear your head and refresh your mind, body and spirit.
  6. Have a place to vent. Talk about your burnout with a stress buddy or with someone you feel safe and comfortable. It helps to have a helping shoulder to lean on who understands the situation. Sometimes that could be a coworker who is under similar pressures.
  7. Get professional support. A Vida Health survey by Onepoll reported that 47% of workers believe taking advantage of mental health opportunities is a sign of weakness, and a Visier study reported that only seven percent of burnt-out employees seek support for fear of being stigmatized as incompetent if they speak to a boss. Your first responsibility is to yourself to not let intimidation keep you from talking to your manager about the possibility of a deadline extension, a more flexible schedule or reduced work load. Seeking professional help is essential if burnout symptoms worsen or after you’ve tried the measures at your disposal. Take advantage of counseling and other support programs offered through employee assistance programs. Or contact Mental Health America to find resources closest to you or call 800-273-8255, a 24-hour crisis center.

What Employers Can Do About Burnout

The Gallup-Workhuman report revealed that, when an employer recognizes life events and work milestones, employees are three times as likely to strongly agree that their organization cares about their well-being. “As leaders and employees become more physically disconnected as a result of remote and hybrid work, incorporating moments of recognition become even more critical to bridge the connection gap and create an employee experience that is rooted in gratitude, recognition and appreciation,” according to Dr. Martin.

Companies must do more to address the burnout epidemic using a strategic, holistic approach with the right policies, processes and technologies in place to support them. By engaging employees in conversations about their burnout and using workplace tools to gauge stress levels, managers can help their direct reports develop action plans for alleviating work-related fatigue. These strategies ensure employees don’t feel solely responsible for addressing a problem that is, in many instances, triggered by their work—not their own shortcomings. When organizations don’t address burnout, top talent will leave for companies with better benefits and support, driving up turnover and recruitment costs.

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