How to avoid burning out at work

Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager

Do you seem to be dragging yourself to work every day? Feeling constantly tired, struggling to find any energy or motivation for your job, and running on coffee and adrenaline to get through the day?

If any of this resonates with you, there’s a chance you could be at serious risk of burning out – a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that brings with it a lack of motivation, low efficiency and feelings of helplessness for sufferers.


Look over this list of 13 signs of burnout, outlined by Vanessa Loder for Forbes – or read through the first four below: 

  • Feeling frequently on edge, with adrenaline constantly coursing through your body
  • Lack of engagement – you don’t feel motivated at work
  • Increased cynicism – feelings more negative, cranky and defensive or snapping at people easily
  • Distracted eating – eating your meals in front of a computer or on the go

Sound familiar? If you’re a manager or team leader, this could bring to mind someone in your team, or even yourself.

It’s really important for individuals, as well as managers, to be aware of any signs of job burnout and take action before it has any further effects on a person’s mental and physical health.

The impacts of employee burnout 

The impacts of employee burnout are considerable – organizations can expect to suffer from reduced productivity, higher employee turnover, financial burdens from absenteeism and the possibility of medical, legal, and insurance expenses.

For individuals, burnout can contribute to serious mental health issues, such as anxiety, insomnia, hyper vigilance and depression. These can in turn lead to problems with physical health, manifesting in high blood pressure, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, adrenal exhaustion and chronic fatigue.

On top of all this, your physical and mental exhaustion can very likely lead to doubts about your competence and the value of your work, causing you more stress and creating a vicious circle. Basically, you’re not having a very good time at this point.

Major causes of burning out

There are many factors that can contribute to burnout, including poor work-life balance, stress, mismatched needs or values, or a disharmonious workplace environment. Let’s take a closer look at the five major causes for employee burnout.   

Poor work-life balance

Most people are aware of the importance of keeping a healthy work-life balance.

Striking a satisfying balance between work and family/social life is very important for an individual’s health and overall wellbeing. But many of us are still guilty of putting in an unhealthy amount of time and energy into our jobs, leading to poor work-life balance.

If you find that your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don't have any energy to spend time with your family and friends, you’re at an increased risk of burning out.

Always being “on”

Another factor that can strongly contribute to burnout is not taking the time to disconnect from work to renew your energy.

In the workplace, most of us are conscious of being switched “on” while on the job – especially if we’re dealing with time pressures, tight deadlines, high workloads and lots of meetings or negotiations.

Failing to fully disengage from work, by switching off at home after hours, puts you at risk of chronic stress and other elements of burnout. Earlier this year, France passed a labor reform law that banned checking emails on weekends, in the interest of employee health and productivity. This highlights the important link between disconnecting from work and maintaining positive emotional and physical health.

Our unconscious needs not being met

A recent study, released in August 2016, considers one of the main causes of burnout to be a mismatch between a person's unconscious needs and the opportunities and demands of their workplace.

These “unconscious needs” take into account our unique personalities – who we are and what motivates us as individuals. For example, you may have an unconscious need to feel in charge, to maintain discipline or to engage in strong discussions or negotiations. On the other side of the scales, we have people who seek a sense of warmth and welcoming from their workplace, needing positive personal relations, trust and a feeling of belonging.

Neither one of these two examples is right or wrong – humans are complex, with all of us needing very different things from our place of work. However, working in a job that doesn’t match up with your needs can cause problems, with the greater the mismatch, the higher the risk of burnout.

To address this issue, you can look at ways to improve the correlation between your job and your needs through “job crafting”. For example, an employee with a strong need for collaboration and personal relations might find ways to include more teamwork in their role. Talk to your manager about this. A good manager should be interested in understanding their team members’ differences and working with them in a positive way.

Clashing values

It’s also important to think about your values and whether they align with those of the company or organization you work for. If you’re passionate about the environment, or animal welfare, working for a company with no understanding of those values or ethics could prove unsustainable.

Trying to suppress your true thoughts and feelings at a job where your values don’t match up is exhausting and will wear anyone down, leaving you feeling emotionally drained.

Dysfunctional workplace dynamics

Working in a negative environment with bad vibes between team mates, or any form of bullying or harassment, is another big contributor to job stress.

Unsupportive managers, bullying colleagues, micromanaging supervisors – any form of interpersonal conflict will have a huge impact on an individual’s resilience and increase their likelihood of burnout.

Your role as a manager in preventing staff burnout

As a manager, particularly if you’re in HR, it’s your responsibility to recognize the signs of chronic stress, exhaustion or burnout in your employees and help them to understand and manage it. It’s also vital that you do this for yourself – you can’t look after others unless you’re looking after yourself first.

Taking a short online course such as Avoiding Burnout will help you to recognize and deal with some of the most common causes of burnout. This course also offers practical advice for figuring out how to prevent stress from building up and tips on how to recover. Talk to your team about the risks of burning out and engage them in positive, open discussion.


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