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Workplace Burnout – Know the Symptoms & What to Do Next

Feeling buried in endless work while passion for your job fades? Burned out, running on empty, and losing zest for life? You could have workplace burnout. Learn the symptoms and what to do next
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A skeleton lying on a laptop after suffering workplace burnout
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Feeling buried in endless work while your passion for your job fades? Burned out, running on empty, and losing zest for life? It sounds like you’re juggling workplace burnout.

While a scary realisation initially, more than 42% of Australians are living with the same problem. Plus, hundreds of thousands or more live in this state without realising it.

The state in question?

Workplace burnout.

This increasingly common condition stretches far beyond needing a break or caffeinated pick-me-up. An unseen adversary, silently impacting many professionals like you, unknowingly striving for success at the expense of their wellbeing.

This creeping phenomenon can disrupt our work-life balance, piling on more than we can sustain.

Think of your career as an orchestra in your life’s symphony. But what if that once melodious tune starts overshadowing the rest? It’s time to retune.

This guide will delve into job burnout, comprehend its subtle signs, and explore practical ways to reclaim balance. Let’s orchestrate a healthier work-life symphony in harmony.

Workplace Burnout: What is It?

Burnout, as the name suggests, is a condition that describes someone who has used up all their energy and has no fuel left to burn. Like a match that has burned itself down to its bottom.

Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger introduced the term “workplace burnout” in a clinical context in 1974. He recognised burnout as a significant concern, particularly within the care and emotional labour professions.

Since then, this condition has spread far and wide and now affects all industries and sectors of business. Today’s fast-paced world often leaves us with never-ending to-do lists and work emails chiming throughout the day – a constant pressure for productivity.

Everyone—be it competitors muscling in on your customers, colleagues also chasing those promotions, or bosses pushing for better growth stats—seems to be breathing down your neck.

You hear the same mantra: work harder, push yourself. Keep going. Sleep when you’re dead. Then you can relax. Once you have enough money in the bank, you can live whatever life you want.

But guess what? The workload never ends. The finish line keeps shifting. There’s always room to grow. The world is constantly changing. 

Within this cycle, workplace burnout sneaks up on you and takes you out from all angles, including chronic physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. 

It’s not just feeling tired after a meeting marathon or experiencing the Monday blues. Burnout is a deep-seated sense of being completely overwhelmed and constantly swimming against the tide.

It’s about feeling wiped out, with nothing important being achieved, and wondering if what you’re doing even matters.

Imagine pushing a massive boulder uphill every day, only for it to roll back down each evening. That’s pretty much workplace burnout for you.

And it’s not just a case of needing a couple of lie-ins to put right. 

Left unchecked, it can lead to a drop in productivity, long-term health conditions, and strain on personal relationships. Recognising burnout is your first step towards surviving and thriving in this go, go, go world.

The Stats About Job Burnout in Australia

It’s important to acknowledge that burnout isn’t confined to specific industries, regions, or job types – it’s a pervasive concern felt globally, and Australia is no exception.

In 2020, Australia saw a staggering 120,000 severe workers‘ compensation claims. Surprisingly, over 30% of these claims were related to illnesses and disorders, with mental health issues reigning at the forefront.

These numbers signal a critical call for action. It’s time for people to recognise how damaging it can be and start to do something about it.

However, the most important thing to remember moving forward is this.

It’s crucial to approach burnout with empathy and understanding. Whether you’re healing yourself or helping others, Also, it’s never too late to start taking your well-being seriously and working towards a healthier, happier you.

Types of Workplace Burnout

Believe it or not, burnout isn’t just burnout. It doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all package but manifests in different forms, varying between individual experiences and work situations.

Let’s dig deeper into the key types of burnout to understand better how they might appear in your life.

1. Overload Burnout

Overload burnout is the culmination of excessive workload and the constant push to achieve lofty goals. Workers facing overload burnout often find themselves spreading themselves too thin, clocking ridiculous hours in an attempt to meet relentless deadlines.

While the initial motivation is often ambition and the desire to succeed, reality ends in physical and emotional exhaustion.

2. Under-Challenged Burnout

Burnout doesn’t always stem from a massive mountain of tasks. Rather, under-challenged burnout arises when employees feel disengaged and stuck in a monotonous routine, leading to feelings of frustration and stagnation.

They often experience a lack of personal growth and fulfillment in their roles, resulting in a slow burn, ultimately snuffing out their motivation and passion.

3. Neglect Burnout

Neglect burnout occurs when employees feel powerless as if they’re fighting a losing battle. A toxic work environment, inadequate resources that demand too much of you, or a lack of support from managers and coworkers can all cause this.

When this happens, helplessness can quickly take root, leaving you feeling like an insurmountable problem has consumed you. This leads to chronic workplace stress and a ton of related health issues.

These three types of burnout may not be cut and dry. 

You may be experiencing one or a mixture of all three. You may feel it differently depending on factors like your personality traits. The best thing you can do is acknowledge your situation and identify the type of burnout you may be experiencing.

However, self-diagnosis should never replace professional help. Simply look for the signs, and if you resonate with them, then it’s time to start your recovery journey.

Know the Early Symptoms of Burnout

With all this in mind, there’s still one burning question: what does burnout actually look like? What are the early signs?

Emotional Exhaustion

A report from the Harvard Business Review suggests that 50% of individuals report feeling emotionally drained due to work at least once a week. Not coincidentally, this is one of the foremost signs of burnout is emotional exhaustion. 

This kind of exhaustion goes beyond typical feelings of fatigue and leaves you emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands.  You may find yourself experiencing mood swings and treating others differently.

Lack of Motivation

Every day is a “bad day” when you’re burned out. 

The passion you once had for your job has disappeared. According to Gallup, a whopping 67 percent of employees are not engaged at work. There are endless reasons why this is the case (covered in this post), and most of them will stem from burnout in one form or another.

Cognitive Problems

Burnout is commonly manifested as problems with attention and concentration. A study by the University of California found that job stress and mental fatigue can significantly affect cognitive functions.

This means you could find it hard to connect with your work. You may be constantly distracted, procrastinate, and spend more time endlessly scrolling on your phone or web browser. You may zone out or daydream more.

Decreased Satisfaction

Workplace burnout often brings with it a nagging dissatisfaction with your achievements, causing you to lose sight of the broader strategic purpose driving your endeavours.

Relying on indisputable studies, the American Psychological Association stipulates that job dissatisfaction is a significant predictor of burnout. This insight underscores the crucial task of acknowledging dissatisfaction as an early warning sign for burnout.

However, burnout refuses to be siloed within the confines of our work lives. Alarmingly, this state can rapidly permeate all aspects of our existence, extending to our homes and hobbies and impacting our relationships with those dear to us.

Health Problems

Should we neglect these signals over time, chronic job stress will chip away at our physical health. The resulting complications can range from heart disease to digestive issues.

Even seemingly minor signs, from persistent headaches to an increased vulnerability to colds and flu, might be your body signalling the impact of excess workplace stress.

In a world that is more cognizant of overall well-being, emphasising the mind-body connection is vital. Bridging the gap between mental health and physical wellness can lead to a comprehensive understanding of burnout, a phenomenon impacting countless professionals globally.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with burnout can be different. If you are living with any of these symptoms, please consult a healthcare professional.

The 5 Stages of Workplace Burnout

Burnout doesn’t occur overnight or present itself in a single form.

Instead, it’s often a step-by-step process that subtly builds over time, ultimately culminating in emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion.

We’ll delve into these stages below, but remember: understanding that you might be experiencing any of these stages is a call for action and self-care, not a reason for alarm.

1. The Honeymoon Phase

Does that sound blissful? Well, it can be misleading.

The Honeymoon stage of employee burnout is characterised by immense energy and enthusiasm for a new project or job. Perhaps you’re working on a big-ticket project to grow your business significantly. Perhaps a promotion opportunity has arisen, and you really want to increase your chances of getting it.

Whatever the reason, you might find yourself voluntarily going the extra mile, willingly pushing past normal working hours, and dismissing the need for rest. As exhilarating as this sounds, remember that this stage can unknowingly sow the seeds of burnout.

Of course, this can be wonderful. Discovering and investing time in a project you’re passionate about is beautiful, but it must come with balance. An imbalance will ignite the chain of events that leads to burnout.

2. The Awakening: Onset of Stress

As you dive deep into your work, minor and major job-related stressors will creep in.

The formerly rewarding work begins to feel a tad overwhelming. Natural problems arise that may force you to invest even more time. You might cancel plans with your partner in favour of working. Boundaries start to erode. You might experience common stress symptoms like anxiety, physical and emotional fatigue, or forgetfulness.

All of these are the body’s way of signalling that the equilibrium is slightly off balance.

3. Chronic Stress

If not addressed, job stress becomes chronic at this stage, tugging you down a spiralling path with increasingly serious symptoms. Poor productivity, persistent tiredness, increased mental distance, a lack of social interaction, procrastination, or even physical ailments like headaches can manifest in this stage.

If you sense a chronic stress situation, it’s time for intervention.

4. Burnout

Unchecked stress eventually morphs into burnout. Symptoms escalate and affect all aspects of your life, from work performance to personal relationships. Chronic sadness, detachment, intense resentment towards work, a decline in physical health, and a desire to escape are often experienced here.

5. Habitual Burnout

And finally, you reach the point where burnout embeds itself in your lifestyle, leading to significant mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. It’s akin to carrying a constant weight of fatigue that takes a toll on every aspect of your life.

In this stage, it’s not just an emotional drain that you contend with. Prolonged burnout can manifest as chronic physical health problems and may contribute to long-term mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

Since you’re already burned out, any extra stress in your life, like a new project or new client, will quickly put you back in a state of stress and exhaustion. Unfortunately, this cycle will continue until you become aware of the burnout and start to take steps to do something about it.

Burnout is not about the hurdles you’ve encountered—it’s about rising after each fall. The early identification of these stages enhances our chances to intervene in burnout’s course. Rest assured, you hold the power to reclaim control.

Risk Factors that Trigger Job Burnout

Job burnout often arrives unannounced, leaving even the most resilient among us puzzled and wondering what events led to this point. Indeed, various factors—some more covert than others—influence burnout. However, there are certain risk elements that frequently light the fuse for this state of chronic physical and emotional fatigue.

Exploring these common triggers further is vital; it promotes understanding and empathy around the challenges associated with work-related burnout. It can also help provide that much-needed insight to guide us on the journey towards recovery. 

Let’s delve deeper and navigate the roadmap of risk factors together.

  • Lack of Control: Feeling like you cannot influence key decisions about your workload, projects, or schedule can lead to burnout. Without a sense of control, you may feel helpless, leading to stress and burnout.
  • Unclear Job Expectations: When your job expectations aren’t clear, you constantly operate uncertain about what you should achieve. The Harvard Business Review has highlighted that unclear goals correlate with job burnout.
  • Dysfunction in the Workplace: A chaotic workplace, a toxic team environment, or leadership that undermines team morale can significantly contribute to higher stress levels and the risk of burnout.
  • Work-Life Imbalance: When work becomes so dominant that there’s little to no time for family, hobbies, or relaxation, the result is often an unhealthy work-life balance. This imbalance can potentially spotlight the path toward burnout.
  • The Perfectionist’s Heed: It’s incredible to strive for perfection, but an all-or-nothing mindset can be detrimental. Consistently setting overly high personal expectations can lead to disappointment, negative self-talk, and burnout in the long run.
  • High-Stress Jobs: Jobs involving high stakes or high pressure, such as medical professionals, police officers, or first responders, have an inherently higher risk of burnout.

Recognising these risk factors can help us create strategies to mitigate them. Whether by setting boundaries for work-life balance, advocating for a healthier workplace culture, or learning to manage stress effectively, we have the tools and the power to protect ourselves from burnout.

Other Common Causes of Workplace Burnout

Besides the commonly cited risk factors, additional influences can contribute to workplace burnout. These may not always be outwardly noticeable, which makes it all the more crucial to shine a light on them.

1. Absence of Recognition or Rewards

We naturally yearn for recognition and rewards to validate our efforts. The lack thereof can often diminish motivation and increase susceptibility to burnout. A Gallup workplace study found that employees who do not feel adequately recognised are twice as likely to quit their jobs the next year.

2. Social Isolation at Work

Humans are inherently social creatures. When we lack positive emotional contact at work, we can feel isolated and undervalued. Studies show that loneliness and social isolation can substantially increase stress and risk of burnout.

3. Mismatch in Company Values

When your personal values and interests don’t align with your work or company’s values, dissatisfaction can creep in. Plenty of studies emphasise the importance of value congruence for job satisfaction.

4. Lack of Fair Treatment

Perceived lack of fairness, be it in terms of workload, compensation, or respect, can significantly contribute to job dissatisfaction and, by extension, the risk of burnout.

5. Unaddressed Mental Health Issues

Unaddressed mental health concerns can amplify stress responses and boost vulnerability to burnout. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety cost the global economy about $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

Frequent Outcomes of Job Burnout

Job burnout can have far-reaching implications if left unrecognised or unaddressed. Moreover, these outcomes can affect various aspects, including your health, job performance, relationships, and overall quality of life.

But let’s know that these are not predictions or definitive consequences but rather signals that guide us to pay attention to our well-being. There’s always a new dawn at the end of the darkest night – we’re here to navigate those tough times together.

1. Health Implications

Constant stress can wreak havoc on your body, both physically and mentally. Burnout can lead to plenty of health issues, like heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, a weakened immune system, and common mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.

2. Decreased Job Performance

Burnout commonly leads to decreased productivity, lower motivation, and increased job dissatisfaction. Potentially, it may even increase the likelihood of job turnover.

3. Strained Relationships

Burnout doesn’t stay confined to the workplace. It can leak into your personal life, straining relationships with family and friends. You may be overly tired or too stressed to invest time and energy in maintaining these relationships.

4. Lowered Self-esteem

Experiencing job burnout can negatively impact your self-confidence and professional identity. You might begin to question your abilities and worth, which can erode your self-esteem over time.

Recognising these potential outcomes, it’s all the more vital to address the signs of burnout early and get you back to living your life in a healthy and sustainable way.

Top 10 Ways to Manage Burnout at Work

Okay, now we reach the crux of this guide.

While identifying the problems and seeing what elements of your work environment and experience contribute to your burnout, it’s nothing without taking action to manage your condition.

However, remember that coping with burnout is a journey, not a destination.

It takes time, patience, and self-care. It’s about finding what works for you and applying it in steps that fit your life. Remember, progress is not always linear or easily visible. Acknowledge that there are ten actionable ways to manage burnout at work to nurture your well-being and foster healthier work habits.

1. Recognise the Signs

Begin by acknowledging and understanding the signs and symptoms of burnout. Acknowledgement is the first step toward action and recovery. It’s impossible to treat workplace burnout effectively without knowing what you’re dealing with.

2. Prioritise Self-Care

Make time for regular physical activity, maintain a balanced diet, and ensure you’re getting enough sleep. This includes setting up healthy sleep habits, managing screen time, and identifying what your potentially harmful coping mechanisms are, such as drinking, gambling, or bingeing in any way.

3. Set Boundaries

Setting clear boundaries between work and personal life is crucial to preventing overlap. This might mean strict no-email times in the evening or taking regular, intentional breaks from work.

4. Develop Stress Management Strategies

Yoga, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, and meditation are powerful tools for managing stress. Find what works best for you and incorporate it into your routine.

5. Seek Support

Please ask your trusted colleagues, friends, family, or mental health professionals for support. You don’t have to navigate this journey alone — seeking support is a sign of strength. In Australia, there are also many mental health services that can provide advice and support when needed.

6. Take Time Off

If possible, consider taking some time off work to recharge and reset. This could be a long weekend, a personal day, or a vacation. This is one of the best ways to manage your physical symptoms. Sitting in stillness can be all it takes.

7. Reframe Your Perspective

Try to adopt a mindset that promotes work as a part of your life, not your entire life. Focus on your achievements rather than your shortcomings.

8. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness encourages you to consider your present state and engaged in the here and now, which can reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.

9. Engage in Activities You Enjoy

Spend time doing things you love outside of work. Pursuing hobbies and interests can serve as a fruitful distraction from work-related stress.

10. Consider Professional Help

There’s no shame in seeking professional help — therapists and psychologists specialise in helping individuals navigate feelings of burnout.

Bringing all this together, it’s clear that managing burnout is a personal journey that moves at your own pace. It’s important to be patient with yourself and remember that everyone’s experience with successfully managed burnout is unique.

You are not alone in this fight. By reading and acknowledging this, you’ve already taken the first important step towards healing.

Wrapping Up Workplace Burnout

Understanding job burnout, its triggers, and outcomes empowers you to better manage your work-life balance.

Remember, experiencing burnout doesn’t signify weakness but highlights our collective need for balance and self-care. By fostering open conversations surrounding workplace mental health, we can break down stigmas and support one another.

You are not alone. Resources, understanding colleagues, and professional help are available. Show yourself kindness and patience—navigating work-life challenges takes time, effort, and self-compassion. Seeking help is a courageous act that propels you toward a healthier future.

So, let’s learn, grow, and support each other. Your journey, struggles, and well-being are important. We’re in this together, navigating the complexities of job burnout and forging the path toward a balanced life.

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