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Fight or Flight?

Job burnout is something that just about everyone faces, especially when routines are stiff. But it’s important to remember that you don’t need to be suffering through the 9-to-5.

Lindsay Morris
December 28, 2019

If you’re a fan of The Office or even if you’re not, the quintessential example of job burnout is Stanley Hudson — a man trapped in a job he hates with a boss he thinks is an idiot.

Sadly, so many Americans are experiencing job burnout, just like Stanley.

A 2018 Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. Job burnout accounts for an estimated $125-$190 billion in health-care spending each year, according to the Harvard Business Review. Job burnout can result in type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol, and even death for those under the age of 45.

First coined by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, burnout is “a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.”

While burnout may be the result of too much stress, it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress causes you to feel like your emotions are in overdrive, but burnout produces the opposite effect: You may feel empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. If you feel a sense of urgency to get work responsibilities and pressures under control, it’s probably stress. If you’re feeling helpless, hopeless, and powerless? It’s likely burnout.

A certain amount of stress is inherent in any job, but when the pressure gets out of hand, it’s essential to act quickly. Burnout can negatively affect not only your overall job performance but also your personal life. By taking measures to reduce the amount of stress you’re facing, you can regain your motivation.

Despite awareness of the issue and workplaces with good intentions, job burnout continues to rise. Job burnout is a real thing, and we’re here to help you avoid getting fried.

Learn your strengths
Maybe the root of the issue is that your job is not a good fit for you. If a job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged and jaded. Instead of immediately hopping to a job that you think will suit you better, why not try developing your job description around responsibilities you know well and enjoy? Then schedule a meeting with your supervisor and see if there is any wiggle room to adjust your position around those strengths.

Identify your stressors
Understanding why you are feeling deflated can help you move in a more positive direction. Think about what has contributed to your burnout. Is it the feeling that projects are out of your control? Have your actions made the problem worse? For example, you may have set an overly ambitious timeline for completing an assignment, creating unnecessary stress and obstacles to its success. Even small changes to your routine, such as seeking assistance from your manager when you have too many projects on your plate, can help brighten your outlook.

Take a break
Make sure to allow time to recharge periodically. Even if you’re working long hours, you can counteract stress and maximize your performance on the job by taking five or 10-minute breaks throughout the day. Stand up and stretch or go for a short walk. Instead of eating lunch at your desk, try the staffroom or step outside the office for some fresh air. Use your annual leave fruitfully as well. Getting away from the office — even for a day or two — can give you a fresh perspective on your situation and allow you to return with new focus and energy.

Have creative outlets
Burnout interferes with your ability to perform well, increases rigid thinking, and decreases your ability to think accurately, flexibly, and creatively. Even if you aren’t able to flex your creative muscles at work, having a creative outlet will keep you engaged and motivated.

Give to others
It seems counterintuitive, but doing something else for someone at your workplace will energize you, not drain you. Helping your colleagues in small ways or giving them a small gift, like bringing donuts on Fridays, will make you feel better about your job. Plus the whole concept of “I scratch your back; you scratch mine” actually works in a lot of scenarios.

Exercise regularly
Exercise can help reduce stress and promote a sense of well-being. Regular exercise can also contribute to a good night’s sleep, helping you be more productive and energized at work. You may even be able to exercise at work during lunchtime, and you could create a workplace walk or fitness challenge to make things more fun.

Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness involves focusing on your breath flow and being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment, without interpretation or judgment. In a job setting, this practice involves facing situations with openness and patience and without judgment. Developing a habit of mindfulness in your job will allow you to experience each situation as it comes versus being overwhelmed continuously by each thing that comes your way.

Perform a job analysis
If you’re overloaded every day at work, you start feeling like you’re on a treadmill and can never catch up. Discuss with your boss what exactly your job responsibilities are, and decide if there’s anything you can delegate or cut out. Let your boss know that the excessive workload is leading to job burnout.  

Already There?

What to do if you are experiencing job burnout

Visit your doctor
Sometimes job burnout can be a sign of a deeper issue. Often employees feel a lack of enthusiasm for things that previously energized them. In this case, it could be indicative of depression. Job burnout can also be associated with insomnia, chest pain, headaches, heart palpitations, and other symptoms that may require the care of a medical professional.

See a therapist
Your doctor may suggest you see a therapist if he or she senses that you have any level of depression or anxiety. Getting counseling can often help you develop healthier thought patterns and help you recognize negative habits. If therapy isn’t an option, consider relying on a trustworthy colleague to share your concerns. Some companies even provide employee assistance programs.

Change your attitude
A study by the University of Bath showed that job burnout is often linked to perfectionism. Perfectionists tend to think they have to prove themselves and do everything perfectly, or they will be a failure. Recognizing and eliminating self-imposed pressure could help you become less overwhelmed at work and life in general. Recognize that usually, your 110% effort looks the same to outsiders as your 90% effort.

Change jobs
This is a worst-case scenario option. If you’ve exhausted all the other options and still find yourself wallowing in job woes every moment of every day, it might be time to turn in your notice. Just be forewarned that job burnout can follow you around if you’re not following the aforementioned healthy work habits in the first place.

Job Burnout Symptoms

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better or not to feel?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be experiencing job burnout. Consider talking to a doctor or a mental health provider because these symptoms can also be related to health conditions, such as depression.