Most of us have experienced a period of time when our work felt impossible. We drag ourselves to our desks, struggle to focus or feel motivated, and keep a close eye on the clock looking for the little hand to reach five. It might feel like you’re on a merry-go-round that may never stop spinning.
There is always a reasonable amount of stress employees are expected to handle at work. However, if you or your employees are constantly stressed, anxious, or fatigued, you might be experiencing burnout.
The term “burnout” has become a bit of a buzzword since the start of the pandemic. Now, employees and their employers are more conscious than ever of their attitudes and energy levels toward work. But what is burnout? How can you spot it in yourself and your employees? Let’s take a closer look at what burnout is, how it impacts your workplace, and how to prevent it.
What is work burnout?
Work burnout is the feeling of being drained, cynical, or emotionally removed from your work. It’s an emotional, mental, and physical reaction to constant stress. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to burnout, but for everyone, it’s a thief of energy and productivity that can spread into your personal life. Burnout isn’t currently classified as a medical condition, but the symptoms can take a major toll on an individual’s well-being.
I'm fine, why do you ask?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines workplace burnout as “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and goes on to characterize it based on three categories:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
Burnout is more than just a bad day or stressful week. The feelings associated with it aren’t temporary, rather you feel drained and depleted day after day with no clear end in sight.
10 giveaway signs and symptoms of work burnout
Most people experience burnout differently, but there are a few giveaway signs that might help clue you in to whether your or your employees are feeling burnt out.
If you still feel fatigued no matter how much sleep you get, you might be burnt out. Feeling physically and mentally drained is common when dealing with fatigue that stems from burnout. Being in a constant state of stress all the time takes a massive toll on your health. If you’re having trouble getting out of bed in the morning or dozing off at your desk, you might want to assess if it's time for a break from work.
2. Trouble paying attention
Struggling to focus is a telltale sign of burnout. This is especially true if you used to be able to pay attention and retain new information, but now find it challenging. You might find yourself easily distracted by something you see on the Internet or simply be daydreaming. If it’s a challenge for you to sit down and focus on your work, you might be moving into burnout territory.
3. Frequent illness
Burnout impacts more than just our mental health. Turns out, our mental and physical health are pretty seamlessly connected. When you’re constantly in a state of high stress or exhaustion, your physical health is going to pay the price.
Our bodies and minds work together to keep our entire being healthy and functioning to its fullest potential. Regular bouts of illness or experiencing more stress might be a sign that your body needs to rest.
4. Anger and frustration
"THIS MEETING COULD HAVE BEEN AN EMAIL!"
Let’s be honest, there are always going to be days at work where nothing seems to go right. Here and there, these feelings are completely real, but if you’re experiencing them on a regular basis, and about things that normally wouldn’t cause you so much frustration, burnout might be the culprit. General irritability usually comes hand-in-hand with fatigue. Make sure to take stock of your workload if you notice a trend of frustration.
5. Feelings of inadequacy
Here’s a burnout symptom that can push employees even further from their employers. Employees that feel like they aren’t enough, aren’t doing enough, or are generally inadequate at their company might be on a path to burnout. Employees want to know that their work is having an impact at their company–to know they’re contributing to company goals and objectives. When employees receive regular feedback about their performance and acknowledgment of a job well done, they're less likely to reach burnout.
6. Cynicism or disinterest
If you’ve felt yourself feeling negative or disinterested in your work, it might be time to take a break. Some people might mistake this feeling as a sign to move on to a new job, and sometimes this might be the case. However, if you’re feeling cynical toward work along with other burnout symptoms, you might want to reconsider a departure and instead meet with your manager. As a manager, keeping an eye out for lack of motivation or disinterest on your team can help you catch burnout before it becomes worse.
Who needs sleep when you have coffee and work anxiety?
Burnout can also kick insomnia into gear. Insomnia includes trouble falling or staying asleep, which leads to daytime fatigue. On the other hand, you might be sleeping through the night, but being burnt out prevents you from reaching deep, restorative sleep that is crucial for good cognitive function.
8. Often feeling the need to destress from work
If you find yourself needing to destress every day after work, it might be time to reassess your workload. Be mindful of the difference between doing something relaxing with your evening as part of regularly taking care of yourself and choosing an activity designed to avoid your feelings toward work. Some amount of work stress is reasonable, but it can be a slippery slope to becoming overwhelmed if not handled properly.
Most people experience periodic bouts of anxiety. It’s characterized by feeling nervous, excessive worrying, feeling weak or tired, increased heart rate, and trouble concentrating. You might experience any or all of these symptoms to know you’re dealing with anxiety. If you’ve felt an increase in these symptoms recently, it could be a sign of burnout.
10. Emotional numbness or exhaustion
Here is where burnout can start to resemble depression. Feeling numb to a job that you once loved doing can be a sign that you’re on a path toward burnout. Burnout can cause a sort of emotional and mental shutdown that makes it difficult to focus or feel motivated. This emotional distance might contribute to feelings of cynicism toward work and a general lack of interest. Keep an eye out for ways this might trickle out as burnout symptoms can impact your personal life as well.
Causes of work burnout
Here’s the top reason that most people cite for burnout: too much work. Some industries and companies are more demanding than others, however, when an employee is pushed too hard and burns out, their lack of productivity ripples across the organization. Each employee has a different bandwidth for the amount of work they can handle. An unrealistic workload or unrealistic expectations for that work can force an employee to burn out.
Lack of role clarity
You need to know exactly what to work on and how to do it. Keep in mind that there is always a learning curve when starting a new position or taking on new responsibilities, so don’t assume that you’ll know everything immediately. However, you should be able to know what needs to be done in order to call your work successful. If your role on the team is unclear, you might wonder where you fit in. Lacking an understanding of what you contribute to a team can lead to burnout.
Poor support from manager and team
No doubt, bro
An employee who feels like they’re handling problems and tasks on their own might feel burnt out over time. Managers and teams should support each other. They encourage each other to try new projects, challenge themselves, and know that support is available should they need it. An employee who doesn’t feel supported in their daily work might start to feel discouraged and distant.
Unfair treatment at work
Every single person deserves to be treated fairly at work. When this doesn’t happen, it can lead an employee to feel removed from the entire workplace. Unfair treatment can include an unrealistic workload/expectations, being passed over for promotions, dealing with a workplace bully, or facing discrimination. If you find any of these scenarios to be true for you, schedule time to take it up with your manager.
How to prevent work burnout for your team
Now that we’ve covered the causes and signs of work burnout, let’s dive into how to prevent it. If the signs of work burnout are caught early, you can decrease the amount of time it takes to bounce back after.
As a manager or employer, it’s your job to look out for your team. Regular check-ins to see how everyone is feeling can help you suss out if employees might be feeling burnt out. Here’s how to prevent work burnout on your team.
Your team should know exactly what is expected of them. Clear communication removes guessing from the equation and lets everyone feel confident in their work. Guru’s internal communication templates are designed with your internal comms in mind. They can serve as your team’s one-stop destination for all information related to their job, projects, or HR knowledge. Easily accessible information removes workflow setbacks and boosts confidence in company knowledge.
We fully support turning Self-Care Sunday into Self-Care Everyday
Self-care looks different for everyone. This might mean taking an afternoon walk during the workday or scheduling time to exercise. Encourage your employees to do activities that make them feel good and rested.
Disconnect when out of the office
When employees are on vacation or out of the office, they should fully disconnect. This might mean turning off email and removing Slack from their phone until they’re back in the office. Employees need to take this time to rest and rejuvenate for a true break from work. The chance of burnout increases if an employee is still in “work mode” while laying on the beach in Mexico.
It’s important to recognize that every employee has a life outside of work and their boundaries might look different depending on this. Those with kids might have a hard stop time at 5 PM while others might want at least one week to complete a certain task. Being respectful of employee boundaries leads to an overall work environment that is considerate and kind.
Recognize limits in workload
Check-in with your employees regularly to see how they’re feeling. Encourage openness when discussing if they have too much on their plate. When you approach each project as a team that is trying to support each other, you can divide and conquer tasks to prevent one person from taking on too much responsibility.
Managers set the tone for their team when it comes to preventing burnout. If you’re a manager, your actions guide the entire team for how they take care of themselves and prevent burnout. Here's how managers and leaders can set a good example for their team.
Magic powers aren't necessary but can be helpful
Think about all the mental hoops you jump through when trying to remember what a colleague said in a meeting about an upcoming project. If you have to dig through a slush pile of Slack messages and Google Docs to answer one question, you’re spending a lot of energy just looking for information. At Guru, we keep all our information organized in a single source of truth to save everyone the headache.
If managers aren’t taking care of themselves, they can’t expect to show up and support their team. Managers are encouraged to take rest and make time for the activities they love just as employees are. This might mean scheduling rest days off or blocking out time on a calendar.
Set the team’s tone
Managers should lead by example. This is why how a manager approaches their own self-care and burnout prevention is so important. Don’t respond to emails and messages when out of the office, give yourself ample time to rest, and create an environment where all employees feel comfortable doing the exact same.
Create realistic personal goals
Set attainable and realistic goals that create little wins along the way. This sentiment goes whether you’re establishing goals for yourself or your team. The little wins help you and your team feel a sense of accomplishment even if the larger task isn’t done yet. Set realistic deadlines that work with everyone’s schedule and workload, fostering a sense of respect and kindness on your team.
How to recover from work burnout
When working on recovering from work burnout the most important step is allowing yourself ample time to rest. Just as you work hard at your job, you should rest hard for yourself. Intentional rest is the most productive way to recover from work burnout.
How long does it take to recover from burnout?
Recovery from burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not possible to follow a few simple steps and solve the symptoms of burnout. The fastest recovery from burnout is a mindful one.
Assess the symptoms you’re experiencing and the areas of your work that could be contributing to burnout. Once these things are identified, you can proactively work to make changes to your everyday work life to prevent burnout from happening again.
What do you do when you get burned out at work?
The hardest step of burnout is usually taking a break. This is more than just taking a day or two off work–it means truly disconnecting to rest and reflect. Employees should schedule time with their managers to discuss the factors of their work that they think are contributing to burnout. They should also put in work on their own time to adjust their schedule and mindset toward work in a way that encourages regular recharging to prevent burnout in the future.
Once you’ve identified burnout in yourself or your employees, it’s time to take a step back and assess what needs to change. Operating at high-stress levels for extended periods of time is not sustainable for anyone. To perform your best when it matters most, make sure to rest and replenish your energy.