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Job Burnout Symptoms and 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 work burnout. Learn the symptoms of job burnout and what to do next.
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A skeleton lying on a laptop after experiencing job burnout symptoms
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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 work burnout. While this may initially seem scary, more than 42% of Australians have the same problem. 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 emotional wellbeing. This creeping phenomenon can disrupt our work-life balance, piling on more than we can sustain.

Our comprehensive guide:

  1. Explores job burnout
  2. The mental and physical burnout symptoms
  3. Practical ways to overcome burnout and reclaim your work-life balance.

Work Burnout: What is It?

Work burnout is a condition that manifests in people who have run out of energy and fuel. Burnout will likely impact your physical and mental health, including emotional well-being.

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 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. If you experience burnout, it feels like everyone is breathing down your neck.

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

The Stats About Job Burnout in Australia

A medical health professional researching work burnout statistics

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 physical and 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.

It’s crucial to approach work burnout with empathy and understanding, whether you are healing yourself or helping others.

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 frustration and stagnation.

They often experience a lack of personal growth and fulfilment in their roles, which results in a slow burn and ultimately snuffs out their motivation and passion.

3. Neglect Burnout

Neglect burnout occurs when employees feel powerless, and is is often caused by:

  • A toxic work environment
  • Inadequate resources
  • Lack of support from managers and coworkers

When this happens, you can feel overwhelmed with little or no control. Resulting in chronic workplace stress and related health issues.

Know the Early Job Burnout Symptoms

Despite all this, there’s still one burning question: What are the early symptoms of burnout?

Emotional Exhaustion

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

Feeling exhausted goes beyond typical fatigue and leaves you emotionally drained and unable to complete tasks.  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 stem from work burnout in one form or another.

Cognitive Problems

Job 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 results in nagging dissatisfaction with your achievements, causing you to lose sight of the broader strategic purpose driving one’s endeavours.

The American Psychological Association stipulates that job dissatisfaction significantly predicts burnout. This insight underscores the crucial task of acknowledging dissatisfaction as an early warning sign of workplace burnout.

Physical and Mental Health Problems

If we neglect these symptoms of burnout, 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 more conscious of emotional 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 that impacts countless professionals globally.

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

The 5 Stages of Workplace Burnout

Work 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 explore these stages below:

1. The Honeymoon Phase

Huge energy and enthusiasm for a new project or job characterise the honeymoon stage of employee burnout. Perhaps you’re working on a big-ticket project, or a promotion opportunity has arisen, and you want to increase your chances of getting it.

You find yourself voluntarily going the extra mile, 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 results in job burnout.

2. The Awakening: Onset of Stress

As you dive deep into your work, minor and major job-related stressors creep in, and you end up feeling overwhelmed.

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.

3. Chronic Stress

If not addressed, workplace stress becomes chronic at this stage, tugging you down a spiralling path with increasingly serious symptoms, such as:

  • Poor productivity
  • Persistent tiredness
  • Increased mental distance
  • A lack of social interaction
  • Procrastination
  • Other physical complaints, like headaches, can manifest at this stage.

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

4. Burnout

Unchecked chronic 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. 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 client, will quickly put you back in a state of stress and exhaustion. Unfortunately, this cycle will continue until you become aware of your condition and start to take steps to recover.

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, certain risk elements 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.

Health Implications: Constant stress can wreak havoc on your body, both physically and mentally, leading to health issues such as:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure,
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Weakened immune system
  • Common mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.

Decreased Job Performance: Job burnout commonly leads to decreased productivity, lower motivation, and increased job dissatisfaction. Potentially, it will increase the likelihood of job turnover.

Strained Relationships: Burnout doesn’t remain 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.

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.

Top 10 Ways to Manage Burnout at Work

Okay, now we reach the crux of this guide.

Identifying the problems and determining what elements of your work environment and experience contribute to your burnout is nothing without taking action to manage your condition. However, remember that coping with burnout is a journey, not a destination.

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
  • Identifying what your potentially harmful coping mechanisms are, such as drinking, gambling, or any bingeing.

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 Medical Support

Please ask your trusted colleagues, friends, family, or mental health professionals for support. You don’t have to navigate this journey alone. In Australia, many mental health services 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 be 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: Get Help from a Mental Health Professional

Are you feeling burnout? Then, please seek medical support. A mental health professional helps people manage feelings of burnout.

Considering all this, it’s clear that managing job burnout is a personal journey that moves at your own pace. Please be patient and remember that everyone’s experience successfully managing burnout is unique.

Wrapping Up Workplace Burnout

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

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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