You might have spent years in college preparing for a career. Or maybe you started a job out of high school and worked your way up to management.
Or perhaps instead, you took an entrepreneurial route dedicating incredible amounts of time, energy, and money building a business.
Few could question how hard you work to be successful, no matter the career path you've taken.
But regardless of how you started or where you are in your career, you have something in common with everyone else who works for an income each day — the possibility of suffering from job burnout.
What is job burnout? What are the risk factors for becoming burnt out?
How do you recognize the physical symptoms or warning signs of this type of exhaustion?
And how can you overcome workplace burnout if you have it?
We answer these questions and more below.
What is Job Burnout?
Work-related exhaustion isn’t something you get after a couple of horrible days in the office. It's physical and emotional exhaustion much more complicated than that.
According to David Ballard, co-editor of The Psychologically Healthy Workplace: Building a Win-Win Environment for Organizations and Employees, job burnout is “an extended period of time where the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors.”
Many face critical job assignments and struggle with pressure-filled weeks at work increasing their stress levels.
But they find ways to deal with the anxiety, tension, and fatigue, enabling recovery from those problematic work situations.
Job burnout comes on over time. It develops when an employee or entrepreneur has persistent work-related stress without the ability to manage it.
Workplace Burnout: A Serious Problem for Everyone
Career-related burnout is a significant topic as it can have lasting health problems and negative effects on anyone who suffers from it as well as their loved ones and others around them.
The American Psychological Association (APA) conducts an annual survey on stress and consistently finds two of the top stressors in people’s lives are work and money.
A 2018 Gallup survey supports those findings and reports almost 1 in 4 of the 7,500 full-time employees responding to the survey felt burned out at work all or most of the time. Another 40% of them feel burned out at least some of the time.
When stress becomes chronic and results in severe exhaustion, it's not just the employee suffering.
Job burnout costs American companies an estimated $300 billion a year in:
- health care costs
- employee absenteeism
- poor job performance
- affects on coworkers and customers
Workplace burnout is a serious problem in need of attention for everyone's benefit – those going to work each day, their coworkers and the company they work for, and even those in their home lives.
Causes of Job Burnout
Some reasons for severe work stress are apparent.
- Being forced to work over-time week after week with difficult colleagues and unsupportive leaders creates on-going stress
- Long commutes, short deadlines, and expectations of answering work email at home, and it seems work never ends
Eventually, worn-out employees quit caring. They may want to give up or change jobs – even career fields.
A not-so-obvious cause of workplace burnout is being bored with your job.
When you toil away for months or even years without challenges, learning new things, or taking on greater responsibility, you can also disengage from your job.
Employees who dislike their work or career choice may burn out at higher rates than those who are generally happy but extremely overworked.
Finding a balance between work, home, and family life adds even more stress to those who are unhappy and already stressed out by work.
And those caring for children or aging parents (or both) may find themselves burning out even faster because of the demands at home too.
Personality types may also be a factor in job burnout.
Some people can “let things go” or create better work-life boundaries. But, if you're a “Type-A” personality so driven to advance and succeed, doing whatever someone asks of you (and more) – you may find yourself burning out a lot sooner, and more often than you think.
Signs and Symptoms of Job Burnout
People suffering from career burnout symptoms can end up with a variety of mental, emotional, and physical challenges.
Even though they are emotionally and physically exhausted, burned-out employees rarely sleep well, suffering from insomnia or disrupted sleep.
This leads to deficient energy levels and even weakened immune systems.
As physical exhaustion and chronic fatigue take hold, one becomes more distracted and less interested in their work.
- Forget important details
- Be slow to process information
- Fail to complete projects
Those suffering from workplace exhaustion may receive diagnoses of anxiety and/or depression, both serious mental health conditions.
- Stressed-out employees may become quiet and irritable
- They may also distance themselves from even their closest peers missing out on necessary social support
- When they do make comments at work, much of what they say is negative
- They may talk about being ineffective or even embarrassed about the quality of their work
A once supportive and team-oriented employee begins to show a lack of trust in their supervisor and the mission, vision, and goals of the employer.
The use of sleeping pills to combat poor sleep habits begins for some people. Others will attempt to deal with work overload and burnout by drinking alcohol more often.
Some may turn to use even more harmful substances in search of relief. All of which can lack results and cause severe addictions.
Those with burnout often lack the energy to engage in physical activity, so they don't exercise regularly, and rarely follow a healthy diet, or make other healthy choices in their personal life.
Considering all these symptoms, it’s not surprising there’s a reduction in productivity and attitude at work when the work-life balance is so out of whack, and one suffers from job-related severe exhaustion.
The Dangers Of Ignoring the Signs of Burnout
It’s easy to ignore the early signs and health effects of job burnout because they are considered normal by most people.
While everyone's individual state of mind and stress experience is different, we often use similar methods for stress management.
- When things get tough at work, we vent our frustrations to our colleagues, friends, or family.
- Weekends are spent catching up on sleep, spending time with others, and finishing things you didn’t get done at work during the week.
- Gym workouts are skipped (even though you know they lower stress), and you stop more often for take-out.
- Happy hour is on your mind before lunch many days, and you make sure you never run out of your favorite beer or wine at home.
You know many of the decisions you're making aren’t right for your health – or your wallet, but it’s what you believe you need to reduce the stress from work.
Unfortunately, without proper stress management tactics and self-care strategies, comes higher risk of long-term emotional and physical health issues.
Other serious health issues are common in people who are at a breaking point from heavy workloads, and uncontrolled job stress, including:
- heart disease
- high cholesterol
- gastrointestinal problems
Treating these illnesses and physical ailments costs money and time – creating even more stress.
When one doesn't address burnout adequately, substance abuse, addiction, and even suicide may result.
Ignoring the signs of job burnout is a mistake – whether you're the person suffering from it or you know someone else struggling at work.
As difficult as it might be to take the time, energy, and money needed to overcome chronic workplace stress, addressing your exhaustion is vital to you, your family, and your future.
Steps to Overcome Career Burnout
Knowing the signs and symptoms of workplace stress and understanding the dangers of ignoring them is enough for many to take action.
Talking to a supervisor about your job or organizational concerns, taking an extended vacation, changing the number of hours you work, or even finding other employment may help you change your mindset and solve your burnout.
Others may need more support.
Consider these ten options in overcoming your job burnout.
1. If you're feeling utterly hopeless about your work situation, get help.
Get professional help immediately. Call your doctor, and if you are in crisis, dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741 within the US or 686868 Canada, anytime.
2. Determine whether you're suffering burnout.
Make an appointment with your physician to discuss your concerns. Your employer may provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) you can get support through by setting up a confidential appointment with a professional.
3. Discuss your concerns with your boss.
Make a plan to cut back on hours, change your schedule to take advantage of your best productivity levels, or get the training or assistance you need to reduce work-related stress and better manage future stressful situations.
If you're self-employed, take time to seriously consider where you can cut back or hire help to address your exhaustion.
In either case, establish clear expectations for yourself and others so everyone is on the same page.
4. Take time off.
If you have vacation time built up at work, use it. You don’t need to travel when you are already feeling burned out. A week spent at home relaxing and taking care of yourself can help combat chronic stress.
5. Get support.
Talk to your family and friends and ask for their support. This may be a real challenge for those of you who always tend to have your “act together,” but your support system matters as you deal with burnout.
6. Recover your health.
Focus on putting your health first. It’s hard to be a good employee, partner, parent, child, or friend – if you're stressed to the max and exhausted.
Putting yourself first and practicing self-care strategies will allow you to get back to the person who can then support others.
7. Establish boundaries.
Create home-work boundaries and stick to them. Instead of staying late every day, pick one night a week as your “late night” and see if that helps.
If you feel the need to check work email when at home, set a time limit. After 15 minutes, close your email and don’t open it again until you get to work the following day.
8. Apply the brakes.
For those working “side hustles” to bring in extra cash, stop and consider if you absolutely need that money to survive at this point.
You may partially resolve your exhaustion by cutting back side gigs and putting the time back into your health.
9. Fast digitally.
Drop your social media habit and go back to a hobby you love. Scrolling through social media may create even more anxiety about what everyone else is doing with their lives.
If you used to read a book a week, put your phone away and pick up a novel. Take social media apps off your phone to help resist the temptation to check-in.
Make sleep a priority. As much as you think you can “get by” on a few hours of sleep, you can't go that way for long and be productive at work or home.
Chronic sleep deprivation isn’t just bad for you or your employer. It can be a safety issue for others – especially when you get behind the wheel.
Before You Consider Changing Jobs or Careers
After realizing they suffer from job burnout, some people look at changing positions or even career fields as a solution.
Before you give up your paycheck, try to determine what you would need to reduce stress enough to make things manageable. If you're part of a toxic team, could moving to a different team solve some of the problems?
Also, consider your role in your stress at work.
- Is your supervisor happy with your work, but you continue striving to over-achieve?
- Do you stay late at work because you're assigned too many tasks or projects?
- Or is it because you struggle to focus throughout the day?
Switching jobs won’t resolve all your problems – and it may even create additional new stressors.
There will be times when changing paths is the only solution, though.
If your values don't align with your current company's or if you can't see a way to create change in your work environment, you may need to part ways. Try a much-needed vacation or even a sabbatical first, if possible.
Should you not feel differently after time away, then making a job or career change may make sense.
Final Thoughts on Job Burnout
Understanding the signs of burnout and the resulting symptoms are critical for all of us. While you might not be suffering from it now, chances are high you may someday. Or someone you know is or will.
Taking action to overcome it as soon as possible is critical as the ongoing effects of burnout are dangerous.
Get yourself help or urge someone else who needs it to take that first step.
Evaluate the amount of pressure brought on by your job and how the stress affects you.
Find ways to reduce workplace stress before it impacts your life and those around you further.
It won't disappear without you taking control and making some positive changes in your life.
Then you'll likely no longer feel so chained to your work – reducing the impact of work-related stress and chances for burnout from your job.
Vicki and Amy are authors of Estate Planning 101 – a Crash Course in Planning for the Unexpected -coming soon from Adams Media.