Burnout in the Workplace (Causes, Signs & Advice)

27 December 2023
11 min read
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Think about your job. How does it make you feel? Calm and secure? Or, perhaps, stressed and anxious?

If it’s the latter, you might find yourself procrastinating. 

On top of that, your productivity might drop, or you might start going to work a bit later each day due to a lack of motivation.

If that sounds familiar, chances are you aren’t ‘just lazy.’ 

In fact, you may be experiencing burnout - which is more common than you’d expect in today’s workplace. 

Luckily, we’re here to help! 

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about burnout in the workplace, including:

  • What Is Burnout in the Workplace?
  • Causes of Burnout in the Workplace
  • 3 Types of Burnout
  • How to Spot Burnout in the Workplace?
  • 7 Things You Can Do to Treat Burnout in the Workplace
  • 10 Possible Consequences of Burnout
  • 5 Employee Burnout Statistics for 2021

And more! 

What Is Burnout in the Workplace?

The rise of hustle culture has led many to glamorize grinding, overworking, and staying on top of our game at any cost.

Well, like many, you might be tempted to exhaust yourself in hopes of achieving professional success and recognition, but there’s one thing you should always be on the lookout for, and that’s burnout in the workplace. 

As of 2019, burnout is recognized as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization. Burnout syndrome, according to the WHO, is caused by ongoing and unmanaged stress in the workplace. It is characterized by three main symptoms:

  • Decreased energy
  • Negative attitudes towards one’s work
  • Decreased productivity

The good news is, while anyone is susceptible to burnout, you can also best prevent it by educating yourself on the specifics of burnout in the workplace, including the types of burnout, its causes, and how to spot it. 

So, let’s dive right in!

Causes of Burnout in the Workplace

Your first guess might be that working overtime causes burnout…and don’t even mention having to work again once you get home, right? 

Well, technically, you aren’t wrong. 

However, it turns out a huge workload isn’t the only cause of burnout. In fact, a survey by Gallup found that employees’ experience in the workplace has a stronger effect on burnout than their actual working hours.

This means that the most common causes of burnout in the workplace include:

  • Feeling out of control. Lacking the autonomy to make changes to your schedule, workload, or other aspects of your work can feel overwhelming, disempowering, and eventually lead to burnout.
  • Feeling uncertain about job expectations. How clear you are on your role, responsibilities, and deadlines is a key factor in staying productive and maintaining good mental health. Being unsure, on the other hand, about how or when to do your chores may result in burnout.
  • Lack of support in the workplace and your personal life. Healthy work and personal relationships impact your overall well-being. As such, feeling isolated from your colleagues, having to deal with mobbing in the workplace, or having no one to confide in at home may cause burnout.
  • Lack of work-life balance. Lacking clear boundaries on where and when your work ends and your personal life begins is a straight way to burnout, and it’s even more important now that work is constantly moving online and becoming remote.
  • Unfair treatment at work. Having a manager who is picking favorites, not being recognized for your accomplishments, or seeing that the reward you get isn’t worth the effort you put in can be extremely demotivating.

As you can see, the causes of burnout in the workplace are diverse and complex. Even though burnout is an occupational condition, it’s equally affected by social, emotional, and other such aspects in your personal and professional life. 

3 Types of Burnout

As we mentioned before, several factors can cause burnout in the workplace.

As such, there are 3 distinct types of burnout:

  1. Overload burnout. This is probably the type of burnout that comes to mind upon hearing the words ‘burnout in the workplace.’ Driven by ambition, overload burnout occurs to those who strive for success at any cost. It may lead to exhaustion, strained relationships with family members, health issues, and, paradoxically, decreased performance.
  2. Under-stimulated burnout. In contrast to overload burnout, under-stimulated burnout is caused by working in an environment that does not challenge you to grow personally and professionally. Monotonous work leads to disengagement and can result in apathy, cynicism, and demotivation. So, if you ever catch yourself thinking ‘Come on, this can’t be burnout, I don’t even work that much!’ remember that burnout can be related to a lack of challenge in the workplace, too.
  3. Neglect burnout. Neglect burnout results from a sense of helplessness in the workplace. Ever felt like no matter how much effort you put in, your work is still not good enough? Jobs that are too demanding might lead to neglect burnout, which is typically characterized by a loss of purpose and a sense of inadequacy.

Ambitious and competitive personalities are at a higher risk of experiencing overload burnout. Solution? Prioritize your health. Sleeping well, staying hydrated, and making sure your stomach is stuffed with nutritious meals will help you avoid burnout AND increase your productivity!

How to Spot Burnout in the Workplace?

Burnout is a tricky phenomenon: it creeps on you slowly and sometimes disguises itself as other conditions, such as depression or simply tiredness. 

So, how do you actually spot burnout? Here are the early signs:

  • Exhaustion. If you just spent the whole weekend resting in bed, and at the beginning of the week still find yourself thinking ‘I’m so tired of feeling tired, I just can’t take it anymore!’ or I hate my job!, you might be experiencing exhaustion caused by burnout.
  • Cynicism. Do you find yourself stuck in a negative thinking pattern, experiencing thoughts like ‘What’s the point of even trying?’ and dreading going to work tomorrow because ‘It’s not like it’ll get any better…’? Actually, it’s probably not you - it might be burnout in the workplace that makes you cynical.
  • Feelings of inadequacy. If the first thought to cross your mind after getting a new task is ‘I really don’t think I can do this, I’m not good/experienced/skilled enough…’, you might be lacking self-confidence because of burnout.

5 Stages of Burnout in the Workplace

Burnout doesn’t just happen overnight. In fact, researchers at Winona State University found that burnout occurs in five stages:

#1. Honeymoon stage

The first stage of burnout usually doesn’t feel like burnout. Maybe you recently got a new job, a promotion, or just feel excited about your work. You are inspired, optimistic, motivated, and highly productive. The symptoms of burnout are not present yet, though you might begin to overwork yourself. The challenge at this stage is to sustain your energy and motivation, as well as not overwork yourself.

#2. Introducing: stress

As the initial excitement wears off, you might experience a drop in your energy and motivation. You may find that some days, the pressure to perform is higher than your abilities. By this point, you’ve probably skipped a meal or two because of your work. You begin feeling anxious, irritated, forgetful, or find yourself awake at night, panicking about your to-do list.

#3. Chronic stress

As stage two intensifies, you start noticing that stress is becoming your faithful companion. Sometimes, it may keep you up at night and make you go to work late in the mornings. By now, you probably rely heavily on caffeine to keep you alert, which might further increase your stress and anxiety levels. You might procrastinate and miss one of your deadlines, and your family might start noticing you’ve become more distant.

#4. Burnout

Eventually, chronic stress leads to a full-blown burnout.  At this stage, you feel the physical, mental, and emotional effects of burnout. It no longer only affects your work performance but also your personal life. You may find yourself wishing to escape and quit your job, as managing burnout becomes too difficult.

#5. Constant state of burnout

If left untreated, burnout can become your default state and you may struggle to remember your life before it. If you aren’t aware you’re extremely burnt out, you might even assume that being frustrated, stressed, unmotivated, and depressed is just who you are. At this stage, burnout in the workplace severely affects your work and personal life and you may have to seek medical help for depression, anxiety, and other conditions related to burnout.

7 Things You Can Do to Treat Burnout in the Workplace

If you find yourself experiencing burnout, here’s what you can do to minimize its effects and symptoms:

#1. Speak out

Burnout in the workplace can leave you feeling isolated - and it’s much harder to manage the condition on your own. So, don’t hesitate to speak out and seek help. 

For example, you can discuss your state with your manager or HR department, who might help you find solutions and set reasonable future goals. 

Besides, burnout can often result in a lack of mental clarity, so you might be surprised to find out that there’s an easy fix to your problems that you’ve simply overlooked.

If your burnout symptoms are severe, though, consider talking to a mental health professional. 

Ask your family and friends for support! It doesn’t just make tackling work-related stress easier, but also helps to rebuild strained relationships.

#2. Attend to your physical needs

Burnout can make you forget to take care of your physical needs or abandon them altogether. 

Ask yourself, when was the last time you cooked yourself a healthy, nutritious dinner? 

There’s no shame in ordering take-out every night, but your body needs sufficient energy to function. As such, if you don’t get enough nutrients, sleep, or even get fresh air, you risk running on an empty tank. 

Not to mention, making your health a priority is all the more important if you’re experiencing exhaustion caused by burnout in the workplace.

So, try getting in 8 hours of sleep, 3 healthy meals, and at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. And don’t forget to stay hydrated!

#3. Practice self-care

If you’re experiencing burnout in the workplace, you most probably feel its effects on your mental health (for example, you may be feeling frustrated, angry, or helpless).

In the meantime, however, chances are you don’t focus much on preserving your mental health, either because you lack the energy, or because it just feels so…unproductive?

Truth is, self-care might be the last thing on your mind when you’re experiencing burnout, but making sure your mind is healthy can boost your mood, as well as boost your productivity!

For example, you might want to try journaling, meditating, or practicing mindfulness. Ultimately, try doing whatever it is that makes you feel good to care for yourself.

Sometimes, that might even be a bubble bath and your favorite TV series. 

#4. Set your boundaries

If you’re experiencing burnout, you might be at fault for ignoring your boundaries. 

Before you work overtime or accept more responsibilities, ask yourself if you have enough time and energy. Learning to listen to your needs and saying ‘No’ can give you a sense of control and boost your self-confidence, in addition to saving you from burnout in the workplace.

If you find it hard to say ‘No’ to people and work tasks, don’t forget you can also negotiate your own terms:

Example: “Sure, I can do X, but only after I finish Y.”

#5. Celebrate the small victories

As we mentioned, feeling incompetent is one of the early signs of burnout in the workplace. It can decrease your self-confidence, damage your self-esteem, and lower your self-worth.

As such, you may start doubting your ability to perform any task, whether at work or in your personal life.

That’s exactly why you should try embracing all of your achievements, no matter how small - sometimes getting yourself to work can be challenging, so if you did that this morning, you can already applaud yourself!

To make it easier, try writing down at least three accomplishments daily. It may be difficult at first, but with time you’ll condition your brain to notice your achievements instead of focusing on the negative. 

#6. Don’t bring your work home

The lack of balance between your work and personal life is one of the main causes of burnout in the workplace. 

Take caution by scheduling your work in a way that doesn’t interfere with your personal life. For example, make it a rule not to respond to work emails past your working hours, even if they’re easily available on your smartphone. 

If you work remotely from home, you might especially want to stick to a strict working schedule. Creating a separate workspace instead of working from your dining table, couch, or bed can really help your productivity.

#7. Address the root cause

As with any issue, to make sure you deal with burnout in the workplace and never have to face it again, it’s important to get to the root of the problem. 

Ask yourself, what exactly led you to burnout? Was it a blind pursuit of money? Wrong priorities? Unfulfilling job? Undermining boss? 

Whatever the cause, finding and addressing it will ensure that you get rid of burnout once and for all. Getting to the bottom of the problem requires a great deal of self-reflection, though, so don’t hesitate to consult a mental health professional if you find you can’t do it alone.

10 Possible Consequences of Burnout

Left untreated, burnout may affect your mental and physical health. This can manifest as:

  1. Cynicism, anger, or irritability. Even if you consider yourself to be a positive, happy-go-lucky type of person, burnout in the workplace might lead to negative changes in your attitude, such as frustration and pessimism.
  2. Physical and mental exhaustion. Burnout is tiring on both your body and your mind. Because of this, you might experience sleepiness, muscle weakness, changes in your appetite, as well as struggle making decisions and staying productive.
  3. Inability to focus. Untreated mental fatigue can cause brain fog and a short attention span, making you forgetful and prone to experiencing intrusive thoughts or making hasty decisions.
  4. Substance abuse. Like many, you may be tempted to turn to substances like alcohol in hopes of managing work-related stress. While this may seem like a quick fix, it can, in fact, amplify burnout symptoms and potentially lead to addiction.
  5. Depression and anxiety. Untreated burnout symptoms can cause chronic mental health issues. As such, it is all the more important to spot and address burnout symptoms as early as possible.
  6. Social isolation. Occupational burnout isn’t just a personal issue - it also affects your social life, as you may become less inclined to foster relationships with your colleagues, friends, and family members.
  7. Cardiovascular disease. You might think burnout affects just your nervous system, causing you to feel stressed and forgetful. It turns out, though, that anger, severe exhaustion, and social isolation can also affect your heart, leading to an irregular heartbeat.
  8. Type 2 diabetes. If you have diabetes, you already know that high levels of stress equal high blood sugar. But that’s not the only link between burnout in the workplace and diabetes: in fact, work-related stress is found to double the risk of type 2 diabetes in women specifically.
  9. High blood pressure. Burnout is associated with increased blood pressure, and that’s something to watch out for as it can lead to negative health effects.
  10. Insomnia. Stress, anxiety, and even exhaustion can make it impossible to fall or stay asleep. Not only do sleep disturbances affect your productivity, but your overall well-being as well, causing significant mental distress.

5 Employee Burnout Statistics for 2021

Whether from your personal experience or after reading this article, by now you should know that burnout in the workplace can make you feel extremely isolated. 

Well, actually, if you’re burnt out, you are definitely not alone - and we have the recent statistics to prove it:

  1. 42% of female and 35% of male workers in North America report having felt burnout symptoms often or almost always in 2021, compared to 32% of women and 28% of men in 2020.
  2. 1 in 3 women have considered career downshifting or quitting their job due to burnout.
  3. In 2021, burnout in employees under the age of 30 increased at triple the rate of older colleagues. 
  4. Managers, compared to non-managers, are four times more likely to experience burnout caused by a lack of time to perform tasks.
  5. Millennials are the most burnout-prone generation in the U. S., with 59% reporting burnout symptoms in 2021, compared to 53% before the Coronavirus pandemic.

Key Takeaways

By now, you should know all the main aspects of occupational burnout, including its causes, signs to look out for, and ways to combat it, among others. 

Hopefully, this knowledge will help you recognize and manage burnout in the workplace before it becomes a serious problem!

Let’s go over some of the main points we covered:

  • Burnout in the workplace is an occupational condition characterized by low energy, negative feelings towards your job, and lack of productivity.
  • 42% of female and 35% of male workers in North America report having felt burnout symptoms often or almost always in 2021.
  • Unmanaged chronic stress can lead to a full-blown burnout, which can affect your physical health, mental well-being, as well as personal and professional relationships.
  • Watch out for the following early signs of burnout: fatigue, cynicism, and feelings of incompetence.
  • Some of the ways you can manage burnout in the workplace are by tackling the root cause, seeking support, and focusing on your physical and mental health.

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