Feeling exhausted, detached, and pessimistic about productivity at work are all symptoms of burnout that should not be ignored.
Unfortunately, these symptoms often signal that work-life balance is starting to slip. For many people, this puts more than their career at risk.
When burnout arises, it’s critical that those suffering take time to step back and address any underlying factors. Failure to do so could hinder aspects of their professional, emotional, and social life.
In 2019, occupational burnout was added to the International Classification of Diseases, which was updated to refer to the condition as “chronic workplace stress that is not successfully managed.”
Since the 1990s, burnout has been recognised as a three-dimensional syndrome characterised by:
- An overwhelming exhaustion
- A pessimistic outlook, feelings of cynicism, and detachment
- A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
In theory, any form of labour can lead to job burnout, and by no means is this condition limited to a particular type of work. However, factors such as workplace expectation to be constantly ‘on’ and available, increasing workloads (leading to skipped breaks and unpaid overtime), a lack of appreciation or progress in one’s career, a feeling of having little or no control over one’s expectations, or simply inadequate remuneration are all factors that significantly increase the possibility of chronic stress in the workplace.
Ultimately, burnout transpires when people are unable to set boundaries at work. Unfortunately, without boundaries, the above factors gradually become unmanaged sources of daily stress that impact energy levels both at work and home.
In 2020 alone, the prevalence of burnout symptoms in the UK workforce increased by no less than 150% compared to 2019. With this in mind, it almost goes without saying that additional burdens of stress and instability in the last few years have had several consequences on our mental health.
Side Effects of Job Burnout
When it comes to job burnout, it is important to remember that occupational burnout is not something that can simply be pushed through without altering our behaviours. When this condition progresses to become chronic – often called habitual burnout – the risk of experiencing numerous health consequences increases.
Side effects of job burnout range from emotional exhaustion to trouble sleeping. Side effects also have physical and mental health effects that can play out dangerously if left untreated. These include:
- Excessive stress
- Sadness, anger, or irritability
- Alcohol or substance misuse
- Bowel problems
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Vulnerability to illnesses
In addition to increasing the risk of the above symptoms, burnout is detrimental to personal and family life.
Although it may seem normal to make short-term sacrifices in other fields of life to overcome obstacles at work on various specific occasions, perpetually undermining work-life balance can sometimes harm personal relationships.
How To Overcome Burnout
Upon approaching or experiencing burnout, it’s easy to feel out of control. The good news is that you can take matters into your own hands with just a few steps.
Saying no is a daunting prospect for anyone. People who work in an environment with a strict hierarchy of authority or have jobs that deal with high stakes may particularly struggle to set boundaries at work. However, if the candle has been burning at both ends, it’s time to start saying no.
When it comes to setting boundaries, we advise the following:
- Reflect on core values and priorities
- Say no to tasks that overstep boundaries quickly and firmly
- Be polite at all times
Boundaries are uncrossable lines embedded in our values, making them easier to defend and for others to empathise with. It is essential to be polite and clear, but remember that boundaries are worth standing for and are reflections of our self-esteem.
Develop Habits for Physical and Mental Health
When burnout at work arises, many people find that their sleep habits, hydration, nutrition, and exercise routine fall to the wayside. Although setting and maintaining healthy habits is the first defence against burnout, it becomes harder to keep up with these routines.
As and when symptoms of job burnout manifest, make sure to:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other substances
- Take time to get enough sleep
- Stay hydrated
- Eat balanced meals
- Exercise and move
Many people experience a vicious cycle wherein stress depletes their energy for maintaining their health and well-being. In turn, this makes them susceptible to more stress. However, re-affirming priorities and putting personal needs first can help prevent this.
In addition to developing habits and prioritising personal health, many people who experience burnout find it beneficial to expand their thoughts to other factors that complement their wellness in daily life. After all, burnout is far more likely to occur when thinking about work pushes other aspects of well-being to the sidelines.
In short, personal health care needs to incorporate mental and emotional wellness. To enhance your health, you could try new routines to de-stress, like writing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. Alternatively, carving out time to reconnect with hobbies and trying to fit in more social time can be beneficial. Unsure of where to start? Make a list of what can realistically be incorporated into a daily routine.
Relaxation does not come with a time frame. When exploring new avenues to release work-related stress, it’s helpful to avoid a productivity mentality. Taking time to focus on self-care needs to be downtime, free of any concerns about goal setting and progress.
Work can be a drag, particularly if it doesn’t involve much day-to-day variety or short-term goals. If repetitive work is a necessary part of your job description, reframing your mindset and approach to your tasks may help you keep your energy up in the long haul.
Practically speaking, this means seeking out the parts of each task you find fun and inspiring – whether that means connecting with coworkers or clients, learning new skills when you can, or expanding your knowledge about your work. Your coworkers may be enthusiastic about introducing new games or light competition to the projects you work on.
Get Away From Your Desk
In the past few years, remote work has taken off. More employers are seeing the value of hybrid work styles and expanding labour beyond the context of the cubicle. Depending on the type of job you do, it may be possible to do some of your work away from your desk. Jobs that are largely computer-based can potentially be performed from a cafe or a quiet park, adding some much-needed diversity and perspective to a job that has become monotonous.
That said, we don’t recommend regularly working from home. Allowing your job and personal life to bleed together has long-understood consequences for mental health and burnout, and many elements of a defined workplace can help us keep our endurance up in the long run. Take your job out into the fresh air when you can, if possible, but remember to stay realistic about your needs for structure and face-to-face contact.
Communicate at Work
If you’re suffering from work-related stress, one of the best things you can do to cope with job burnout is to let the people around you know. Knowledge about and compassion for individuals struggling with burnout increases with each passing year. Still, your manager and coworkers can’t help with the situation if you haven’t told them what is going on. Set self-doubt aside and try letting them know.
There may be ways in which work can be rescheduled or reassigned to complement your needs whilst you manage symptoms of burnout. In all likelihood, your employer does not want you to be completely exhausted.
Seek Social Support for Your Mental Health
Unfortunately, suffering from workplace burnout in silence only worsens the problem. One of the best forms of stress relief and burnout prevention comes from sharing and processing problems and concerns with those we can trust. A social network of supportive and sympathetic ears is all around you – chances are that your employer and colleagues are already concerned.
Your friends don’t need to understand every aspect of your job’s demands to see that you are under stress. Next time someone you trust asks you how you’re doing, be honest. You may want to speak to:
- Trusted coworkers
High-quality social contact can work wonders, but at the same time, burnout may require professional help.
Reaching out to a therapist or other mental health professional can help you cope with burnout symptoms and understand how to address it at its root at work.