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How to Extinguish Job Burnout Before It’s Too Late

June 25, 2021

job burnout

Having a bad day at work is expected.

Having nothing but bad days is not.

If you frequently feel like you had a bad day at work and are suffering from stress, insomnia, and behavioral changes, you could be experiencing job burnout. 

Herbert Freudenberger first coined the term burnout in 1974 in Burnout: The High Cost of Achievement as a way to define physical and emotional exhaustion one would feel in combination with reduced accomplishment and a loss of personal identity. The stressors we experience at work can affect a person’s life in many ways, and when it’s for the worse, it’s typically classified as feeling burnt out.

Feeling career burnout is, unfortunately, more common than you’d think. For organizations to do their best to combat their employees feeling job burnout, they often utilize absence management software to create custom leave policies with flexible approval workflows. Doing so makes it possible for every company to develop a leave policy centered around the needs of their employees, so that they can utilize the vacation days, sick leave, and regular paid time off they’re entitled to. 

To combat burnout at your organization, you need to know the types, causes, warning signs, and more. 

3 types of job burnout

There are three types of burnout, with varying severity and causes, that a person may experience at work.

1. Frenetic burnout

Frenetic burnout occurs when someone channels too much of their energy into their job or workplace. This results in anxiety and the feeling that rewards for doing well aren’t in proportion with the amount of time and effort they’re putting into their role. Without a healthy work-life balance, feeling frenetic burnout occurs when someone works at an intensity that leads to exhaustion. 

2. Underchallenged burnout

When individuals feel like they’re trapped in a monotonous job or an unstimulating work environment, they are likely to experience underchallenged burnout. Because they feel stuck in a role with very little job satisfaction, they will experience a lower mood and irritability. 

3. Worn-out burnout

Worn-out burnout is when an individual gives up after experiencing a work environment that is consistently a source of high and intense stress or one that yields minimal rewards or recognition. 

53%

of millennials were already burned out pre-COVID, and they remain the most affected population, with 59% experiencing it today.

Source: Indeed

Causes of job burnout

Many things can cause someone to spiral into feeling burnt out at their job. 

One of the primary instances that can result in being burnt out is experiencing a lack of control. When someone is at their workplace and they don’t have control over elements like their schedule, assignment, the resources they need, or workload, this could lead to burnout. Having flexibility in the workplace is key to avoiding burning out at work.

Another cause to keep an eye out for is there are unclear job expectations or responsibilities. Not having an idea of what your supervisor or coworkers expect from you can cause feelings of confusion or discomfort at work, which can cause someone to feel job burnout.

Additionally, burnout can be caused by a dysfunctional work environment or less-than-ideal workplace dynamics. If a coworker can be considered an office bully, or if someone is experiencing a boss who micromanages, both can lead to severe stress and emotional exhaustion, which are signs of job burnout.

Bouncing back and forth between extremes of activity is another cause of burnout. If a job, or work environment as a whole, bounces from being monotonous and boring to chaotic and stressful consistently, it’s hard to maintain the energy that is needed to remain focused, leading to constant fatigue and irritability. 

If an individual isn’t receiving the social support they need, it can cause them to feel isolated at work and in their personal life. This can be a significant stressor on someone, which can result in feeling emotionally and physically exhausted.

Finally, not having a healthy work-life balance can lead to burnout. If an individual is spending the majority of their time at work or doing work-related tasks, they will no longer have the energy to spend time with family and friends, or taking part in self-care activities or hobbies that interest them. When this is the case, they’ll experience burnout quickly. 

67%

of workers believe burnout has worsened since COVID-19.

Source: Indeed

5 stages of job burnout

Someone who is experiencing job burnout will typically move through the following five stages. How fast an individual goes from one stage to the next will depend on their work environment, daily tasks, and overall wellbeing. 

1. The honeymoon phase

We often hear the phrase “honeymoon phase” when people first get into a relationship or the first few months of marriage, but it can also apply to a new job.

The honeymoon phase is when someone starts a new job or task, usually met with a high level of commitment, energy, creativity, and self-worth. In this phase, there are no real signs of burnout, as an individual is full of energy and the will to prove themselves. However, during this phase, it’s also common for someone to feel like they can take on more work than they probably should.

In a perfect world, everyone would be able to stay in this phase forever, or at least for a considerable long-term timeline. The potentially risky element of the honeymoon phase is that people often think that it will last forever, causing them to progress to stage two sooner than they had hoped. 

Symptoms or signs someone is in the honeymoon phase are:

  • An overwhelming feeling of commitment to a task at hand
  • Job satisfaction
  • Sustained energy levels
  • Free-flowing creativity
  • High productivity levels
  • An extreme need to prove themselves
  • A high level of optimism 

2. Onset of stress

Next, we have the onset of stress.

In the second stage of burnout, an individual will notice that some days are more stressful than others. The time for personal tasks seems to be lacking, and there’s less time for family, friends, or generally enjoyable tasks. One's career, job, or specific project feels like the absolute most important thing in their life.

Symptoms or signs someone is in the onset of stress phase are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • A loss of appetite or diet
  • Lack of or reduced sleep
  • Irritability
  • Inability to focus 
  • Avoiding making key decisions
  • Forgetfulness

3. Chronic stress

If individuals reach stage three, chronic stress, they have begun to feel a high level of stress at their job, making them feel powerless and out of control. Here, someone has gone from feeling motivated and happy to experiencing pressure and highly stressful situations regularly. As a result, their problem-solving skills have diminished and their performance sees a steep decline.

The chronic stress phase can begin to impact someone’s mental and physical health, as the signs from phase two are taken up a notch, causing even small or minor tasks to result in someone feeling sad, resentful, or aggressive.

Symptoms or signs someone is in the chronic stress phase are:

  • Anger or aggressive behavior
  • Missed deadlines
  • Persistent tiredness or exhaustion
  • A cynical or pessimistic attitude
  • Physical illness
  • Repeatedly showing up late to work
  • Procrastinating personal and professional tasks
  • Feeling resentful, panicky, or pressured
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Increased consumption of drugs, alcohol, and/or caffeine 

4. Burnout

Stage four of job burnout is burnout itself.

Here, it’s no longer possible to hide any of the warning signs and it is even more difficult to cope or carry on in a usual way. It’s also difficult in this stage to see a way out or any possible way to improve how one is feeling. 

Symptoms or signs someone is in the burnout phase are:

  • Chronic headaches
  • Feeling empty inside
  • Regular stomach issues
  • Changes in behavior
  • Neglecting personal needs
  • Developing an escapist mentality
  • Self-doubt and social isolation
  • Desire to move away from work, family, friends, or loved ones

5. Habitual burnout

The final stage is called habitual burnout, which is where the symptoms are so embedded into your life that they can end up causing significant, ongoing, and even life-threatening mental, physical, and emotional problems. If an individual doesn’t begin to manage symptoms by stage four, being in stage five makes it feel like the symptoms are simply part of your life – for good. 

At habitual burnout, it’s also harder to turn things around and attempt to bring yourself back to normal. Seeking outside help to overcome habitual burnout is highly recommended.

Signs or symptoms someone is in the habitual burnout phase include:

  • Severe depression
  • Chronic mental and physical fatigue
  • Chronic sadness

Symptoms of job burnout

Burnout typically lends itself to three categories. The severity of the signs and symptoms can vary depending on where someone is within the stages of burnout. Remember that burnout can be a slow and gradual process, and the evolution of the symptoms can be subtle at first, leading to more risk factors than you probably think. 

Physical symptoms

If someone is feeling burnout at their workplace, these are the physical signs to look out for.

  • Feeling tired and drained for the majority of the day
  • A lowered immune system, which is then matched with falling ill more frequently
  • Frequent headaches and muscle pain
  • Fluctuating eating habits and appetite

Emotional symptoms

Feeling burnout at work can also lead to emotional symptoms, such as the following:

  • An increased sense of failure or self-doubt
  • A loss of motivation for professional and personal tasks or hobbies
  • Feeling defeated, trapped, or helpless
  • A cynical or negative outlook
  • Feeling detached or utterly alone in the world

53%

of virtual or work from home (WFH) employees are working more hours now than in the office.

Source: Indeed

Behavioral symptoms

Finally, these are some of the behavioral symptoms of burnout one may feel when experiencing job burnout.

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating from friends or family
  • Using alcohol, drugs, or food to cope with feelings
  • Taking frustrations out on others
  • Coming into work late or skipping altogether

Consequences of job burnout

When an individual is experiencing any of the above signs of burnout, there can be severe consequences leading to health problems and mental health concerns. 

If the signs go ignored or unaddressed for too long, it can have detrimental effects and long-term health care concerns. Some of these consequences and health concerns include:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sadness, anger, and thoughts of suicide

How to handle job burnout

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing job burnout, there are ways to get it under control before it’s too late.

If you ask yourself the following questions, and the answer is yes, it’s time to get your job burnout under control:

  • Is every day a bad day?
  • Are you exhausted all the time?
  • Do you feel like caring about your home life is a waste of time and energy?
  • Do you spend the majority of your day working on dull or underwhelming tasks?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with coworkers or clients?
  • Are you having trouble concentrating?
  • Do you consistently feel like the work you do goes unappreciated or noticed?
  • Have you become cynical at work?
  • Are you consuming alcohol, food, or drugs as a way to make yourself feel better?

Even though the term burnout makes it sound like it’s a permanent condition, it’s reversible when the necessary changes are made and stress management is prioritized. Consider the following methods and changes to reverse your burnout and feel like yourself again.

Turn to others who care about you

You don’t have to conquer the feeling of being burned out at work alone. When feeling an overwhelming amount of stress and being unsure of how you can get your life back on track, consider reaching out to others in your life for help.

Whether it be a partner, parent, family member, or friend, opening up about how you’re feeling is an excellent place to start. When surrounding yourself with a support group, you may find being with these people is enjoyable and can turn your mood around.

Also, consider being more friendly with your coworkers or peers at work. Having this buffer when you’re in the office leads to the opportunity to build relationships over a coffee break, during lunch, or scheduling social events outside of work.

Outside of the people already within your social circle, you can also consider joining a new cause or a community group for a chance to meet new like-minded people and make new friends.

Reframe how you look at your job

Whether you feel stuck in a monotonous environment or one that is continuously operating at a high intensity, it isn’t always possible, or practical, to quit and find a new career. If this isn’t possible, you may need to reframe how you look at your job or the responsibilities you have in your current role.

Take the time to compare the tasks you currently have on your plate with your job description. Is there a long list of extra tasks or responsibilities that have been added that are causing you to feel stressed and burned out? If so, bring these instances up to your manager or boss and see if you can get back on track to the job you were hired to do.

Additionally, try and find the aspects of your job that aren’t causing you stress or anxiety and focus on those. This could be chatting with coworkers at lunch or the areas in which you believe you’re helping others reach success. 

If reaching burnout still feels inevitable, take some much-needed paid time off. Whether it’s using the time to go on vacation or a sabbatical, it can be used to recharge and recover.

36%

of all workers said that more PTO could help reduce burnout.

Source: Indeed

Reevaluate priorities

Next, try reevaluating the priorities that matter most to you. Typically, the feeling of burnout is caused by something in your life being off-balance or not working, which means it’s time for a priority reset. To do this, take the time to think about your personal and professional goals, hopes, and dreams. 

You may need to set new boundaries for yourself, both at work and in your personal life. Learn how not to overextend yourself and say no to more requests that come your way. It could also be in your best interest to take a break from technology – especially checking work emails in your downtime or scrolling through social media. 

Lean on self-care

Last but not least, invest in some serious self-care and enhanced mindfulness. Self-care looks different to everyone, and what you think qualifies may not work for someone else. 

Here are some examples of what self-care may look like for you:

  • Taking a deep dive into your creative side by starting a new project 
  • Reigniting a passion for an old hobby or book series
  • Upping your relaxation levels with yoga or meditation
  • Committing to 30 minutes a day of a light exercise or some sort of workout, like weight training, running, or swimming
  • Reworking your diet to limit sugar and refined carbs, while drinking alcohol in moderation
  • Finding new healthy recipes that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids to boost your mood

Ten real-life stories of being burned out at work

If you’re feeling burnt out at work, know that you’re not alone. We talked with 10 professionals who’ve experienced burnout to hear what they went through and how they came out the other side.

Here’s what they had to say. 

“I felt like I was treading water.”

“From 2008–2015, I established a social media program and later shifted roles to scale the company's app developer program. Even after consistently exceeding my goals and shaping the program's future, I frequently felt out of place, like I was treading water. 

Eventually, I began to dislike going to work. My motivation waned, and I couldn't give it my all as I did in previous years. The company's workforce turned over at a higher rate in parallel, causing gaps in institutional knowledge and more layers of bureaucracy and approvals.

The inner flame driving me to give my best went out. No matter how much I tried, it wouldn't ignite.  Some tasks became less about the outcome and more about the output. There's a vast difference between the two. I would sometimes elevate issues to the executive level with a strong sense of passion for them. Eventually, I no longer had this will. 

Burnout often gets mixed up with being overworked. It's a factor, but not the primary one. Burnout has to do with the motivation and desire to show up every day. It's silent – it won't show up in an employee review. It will surface itself when there's a deep sense of trust established with your manager, making it a safe environment to share these concerns.

In mid-2015, I explored an opportunity with an entrepreneurial startup with its sights set on changing automotive manufacturing. After giving it much thought, I felt satisfied with what I learned, contributed to the customer community, and was ready to move on.”

- Joe Manna

“I always felt guilty relaxing.”

“For me, burnout came when I was running my marketing agency. Because I was the owner, I always felt guilty relaxing because I knew I could be working. When I shifted back into full-time salary work, it helped my mental health and a host of other factors I didn't realize at the time were tied to my burnout and anxiety: muscle tension, headaches, insomnia. 

I know I'll go on to run another company someday, but shifting into a non-business owner mindset has helped me improve my mental health and grow as a person.”

- Kelsey Jones

“Everything that recharges you gets put on the backburner.”

“When people experience burnout, we attach that label to the individual when it’s the environment they’re in creating an imbalance by demanding more energy, attention, and support than it’s willing to give in return. Own your environment and make it healthy for you! 

This is crucial because by the time you know you’re experiencing burnout, it’s too late. You’ve already paid the price. Nobody careens towards that horrible place knowingly. Proactively monitoring yourself will help you address issues early, correct your environment, and protect both your health and happiness. 

The main symptom of burnout that I was feeling was apathy – the most dangerous feeling of all. When your mind shifts into an apathetic state to save itself from the carnage your environment is wrecking – everything that recharges you gets put on the backburner: your health, your hobbies, your relationships. You’re just trying to get ahead of the mess at the office, and then you’ll allow yourself to care for your needs. 

To avoid falling into this feeling of burnout at work, don’t allow the career siren to coax you into dangerous waters where you’ll wreck yourself and your health. Adopt a bi-annual check-up. List everything you love doing, that you’ve stopped (gym, friend, happy hours, vacations, etc.). Everything on that list is stolen life.”

- Amy Knightley

“There’s never going to be a perfect moment to take time off.”

“I realized I reached the point of burnout when every meeting, every project, every message felt like a burden. I was not looking forward to or excited about one thing at work. I was irritable and exhausted, not sleeping well at night because of anxiety about work, but then napping immediately after my workday was finished. 

Luckily, I have a great support system in my manager at G2 and it became clear that I needed to prioritize myself rather than making excuses for not being able to take some time off. I took a Friday and a Monday and made myself a four-day weekend. Friday morning, I slept in, took a SoulCycle class, did some shopping, treated myself to Starbucks, and by the time I got home that afternoon I felt truly refreshed. 

After the long weekend, work on Tuesday didn’t seem so overwhelming. The lesson I learned is there’s never going to be a perfect moment to take time off, and it takes work to prioritize yourself but in the end. everyone benefits.”

- Stacy Turenne

“Everything felt like a chore.”

My burnout was after an exhaustive list of too much internal pressure on myself and some terrible work experiences. I probably realized it happened too late because I concluded that it was a problem when I was crying nonstop almost every day and had lost interest in things outside of work. I am a super-driven person and I was at a point where I had no interest in doing anything. 

I felt like I was barely making it through what I had to do. Outside of work, everything felt like a chore. For example, I love to cook and it made me overwhelmed to even think about having to do it. When I say I cried, it was a lot. At one point, when I finally realized I needed to ask for help, I spent every minute of my day that was not on a work call bawling my eyes out.

I feel like burnout is something that takes a lot to get over. Mine is certainly a lot better, but it is still overwhelming to think about. Some things that did help were telling people how I was feeling, talking to my manager about it so I could take some time off, and going to therapy, so I had somewhere to get my feelings out.

Therapy allowed me to create time for myself because I was so stuck in a place where I always worried about what I was doing for other people, especially work. I also got a new job, which has been the biggest game changer. I feel like I tried everything in my power to make the job I had more manageable, but the culture as a whole wasn’t going to change. I still put unrealistic expectations on myself, but I do make a considerable effort to try and focus on giving myself as much care as I give to everything else.”

- Kirsti McNabney

“My mental state began to deteriorate.”

It took me some time to realize I had reached the state of burnout. Initially, I thought I just wasn’t getting enough sleep. I also wasn’t working on an exciting project, so I thought that was why I was so exhausted and worn out all the time.

However, as projects changed and I began focusing on getting sleep, my exhaustion, daily headaches, and apathy towards my work didn’t improve. It seemed to be getting worse. What made me realize something was wrong was when my mental state began to deteriorate. I had no motivation to do anything, during work or after. I didn’t feel like doing work during the day, so I would just sit at my desk and zone out. I found my ordinarily extroverted self, opting for being alone. Nothing was making me happy anymore.

I was speaking with a colleague I trust about all of that, and he mentioned burnout. It was the first time I’d really heard the term, and as soon as I looked it up, I realized that was what I was experiencing.

I had so many of the signs. Fatigue, headaches, imposter syndrome, a negative outlook, and feeling helpless and trapped at my job, to name a few. I was also drinking more and isolating myself, something extremely out of character for me.

I eventually made it a point to communicate with my colleague and my boss about how I was feeling and they worked with me to find some avenues for alleviating some of the main stressors that had long been present in my job. I took a few days off to try and get away from the constant bombardment of work requests and spent that time at my parents’ house for a change of scenery. 

That helped get me started back in the right direction, but it’s still a balancing act. Educating myself about burnout and learning to recognize when I’m starting to feel it again and being able to take quick action to avoid it has been key to trying to manage it.”

- Dakota Snow

“I have so much to do and no time.”

“The point of knowing I was burned out was realizing I was spending so much energy on how much work I had to do and wondering where to find the time. I also had the tried and true symptoms, like

my sleep wasn't the best, I was stress eating, I would say negative phrases like ‘I have so much to do and no time’ instead of making time. To distract myself, I would be spending more time scrolling on social media. 

One of the healthiest things I did to fight the feeling of being burned out was therapy. It helped me talk out all scenarios and prioritize things better. It helped me practice more gratitude and use affirmations like ‘I have time to get this done.’ Affirmations have become a daily habit and to me, they genuinely make a difference. 

I also re-did my calendar to block out certain days for client work and work on personally rewarding projects. I also set up chats with my fellow freelance and Twitter friends. Having a community to share laughs and relatable stories, and importantly, receive encouragement helped a lot.”

- Terry Schilling

“I had stopped taking time for myself and my family.”

“My burnout was pretty public. I was running over capacity for months and it came to a head during the conference, VMworld. The realization crashed over me during an interview when I was asked what my family thought about everything I had ‘accomplished’ in the past year or so.

I had been ignoring the signs. I was overwhelmed, anxious, my sleep was poor, and my diet was awful. The most important thing was that I had stopped taking time for myself and my family. I had added a lot of strain to my relationships.

The number one thing I did to ensure I didn't spiral deeper into my sense of burnout was to make room for myself and my family. I pulled out of nearly every project I had been working on. I started to carve out and protect time with my spouse and young family. I worked to take regular walks, reduce my alcohol consumption, and be mindful of what food I was consuming. 

The hardest part was reminding myself that it was okay and essential to not be doing all the work all of the time. Eventually, I changed jobs to something that better aligned with my career growth and the life I wanted to live going forward.

Your most significant indicator of potential burnout is how much time you are investing into yourself, your interests, and investing in your support network. All of those things provide a healthy counterbalance to demanding jobs and the feeling of being overworked. They will always help you restore equilibrium unless you neglect them for long periods.”

- Josh Atwell

“I wanted the week to be over on Monday.”

“Running three businesses can take a lot out of any person. I am a writer, business owner, and trader, so I am pretty busy from Monday to Friday. I knew I reached a point of burnout when I would cry because I had so many things to do in one day. But everything had to be done. I’d realized I was burned out because I just wanted the week to be over on Monday. I worked from sun up until sun down 5-6 days per week and never had time for myself. 

Eventually, I didn’t want to wake up in the morning. I was drinking every night because of stress and not answering calls or texts from family and friends. I had no control over client relationships or life in general. 

If you're starting to feel burnt out, the first thing to do is look at your schedule. Have you taken on too many clients? Are you working constantly without a break? If these are the cases, scale back on your workload and make some time for yourself. Find something that you love to do and shut off the computer for a little. I started exercising and taking care of my mental health again. 

Managing my workload was another critical way to prevent burnout. I had to figure out how many projects I could realistically take on. My tip for folks experiencing burnout is to remember to make time for themselves. It’s hard to step away from the computer. You may always feel like you have endless to-do lists, but at the end of the day, it’s just a work project.

Your health is more important than any client's editorial calendar. Be realistic with how much work you can take on each week. If you accidentally take on too much, be transparent with your clients, tell them I took on too much work this week, and lighten your load. 

- Michael Keenan

“I was thinking a hundred thoughts at the same time.”

It became evident to me that I was experiencing burnout when, in June 2020, I woke up in the hospital after an asymptomatic appendix rupture. Six months before this happened, I read about stress effects and burnout, so I chose to focus on my workout routine and nutrition – but it wasn’t enough.

Then came the pandemic and lockdown when my workload increased and I was pushing myself to constantly be working on something out of the fear that I would lose my job. The last few days before I ended up in the ER I was thinking a hundred thoughts simultaneously. I couldn’t remember anything and my head hurt all the time – it felt like it was going to implode. 

After three weeks in the hospital and one month spent recovering at home, I started researching ways to prioritize my health. In addition to REBT therapy, I made an effort to journal, exercise, change my diet, go outside as much as I could, and I quit my job and found a new one that I love.

- Bojana Vojnović

Make your physical and mental health a priority

Recognizing that you’re experiencing signs and symptoms of job burnout is only the first step. You must make the necessary changes to ensure you don’t spiral too far into feeling burned out at your place of work. Whether it’s a complete career change or taking some much-needed time off, it’s okay to take a step back and get your health back on track.

In addition to reducing burnout in your employees, find out how to create a paid time off policy with the best interests of your team in mind.

absence management software
Don't get burned

Utilize absence management software to create custom leave policies that work for your employees.

absence management software
Don't get burned

Utilize absence management software to create custom leave policies that work for your employees.

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