Job Burnout: How to Identify, Manage, and Avoid It

Aug 19, 2020 | Career Development, Productivity

job burnoutby Suzanne Bird-Harris, CEO, Fly Rod Media LLC

“Burnout” is a term coined in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He defined it as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired result.”

More than 40 years later, a Gallup study of 7,500 workers concluded that 23% of employees reported feeling burnout very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes.

With nearly two-thirds of study respondents experiencing burnout, there’s a good chance that either you or someone you know is experiencing it too.

What Is Burnout?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Some job stress is manageable. An occasional late night at the office, an emergency, or a technology problem are usually easily managed in the short term, allowing normal working conditions to resume.

Burnout occurs when prolonged or chronic stressors go unaddressed, for example:

  • Workload: Taking on or being asked to do more than you can handle.
  • Time pressure: If you fall behind on one project, you’re behind on the next. This snowball effect can lead to overwhelm and make giving up seem like the best solution.
  • Lack of control: According to the Gallup study, employees who strongly agree their performance metrics are within their control are 55% less likely to experience burnout on a frequent basis.
  • Perfectionism: If your inner critic is constantly telling you, “it’s not good enough,” you’re setting unrealistic standards that you won’t be able to meet.
  • Work-life imbalance: Work without rest leads to exhaustion. With the recent surge in remote work and working from home, the lines between work and home are more blurred than ever.
  • Lack of support: If you feel ignored or unsupported, it can feel like the work you do doesn’t matter.

Distinguishing Between Stress, Burnout, and Depression

Burnout may be the result of chronic stress, but it is not the same as too much stress. Stress is too many pressures that demand too much of you. But stressed people still imagine they’ll feel better if they can just get everything under control.

Burnout is about not enough. Burnout means you feel empty and mentally exhausted, have no motivation, and are beyond caring. When you’re burned out, it’s hard to see any hope of positive change.

Burnout and depression are difficult to distinguish as many of the symptoms are the same. The difference is in the reach. Burnout is specific to work or work-like situations. Depression affects every aspect of life and is a medical condition that requires assistance from a mental health professional.

Preventing and Addressing Burnout

Whatever burnout conditions are present in your life, here are some tools to address and manage them:

  • Take time off. This sounds simple and logical, but it may feel impossible. Ask yourself how many copies can you make when there is no paper in the copier? Taking time off and getting away from work is how you replenish yourself. You don’t expect copies from an empty copier, so why do you expect more output from an empty you?
  • Talk to someone. Talking to a friend, family member, or therapist is a great way to explore how you got here, and what you can do differently going forward.
  • Review your options. Review what really matters to you and the options, tools, and resources available to you. If you can improve communication with your boss, ask for support, or let go of perfectionism, you can reduce or avoid burnout. Or maybe your energy is better spent pursuing a different position, role, or field, altogether.
  • Set boundaries. Setting boundaries means having limits and giving yourself agency and empowerment. Start by noticing the people and situations that cause you stress and anxiety. Set your limits and communicate them to your executive and/or team clearly and confidently. Take time to respond to requests and practice saying no. Employees who are the happiest and most productive are those who set boundaries.
  • Take care of yourself. Make sure you eat well, rest, and exercise regularly. If you don’t have a regular self-care plan in place, develop a plan for focused self-care today.

If you’ve ever felt burned out, what was your experience, and how did you manage it? Share your solutions in the All Things Admin Innovation Lab.

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