What is job burnout and what can I do about it?

From spotting the signs to stopping it in its tracks, an expert explains what to do if you’re experiencing job burnout

It seems that ‘burnout’ is the buzzword on everybody’s lips these days. But, far from being a modern-day cliché, burnout is a very real phenomenon – and one that we all need to be aware of. Bringing with it unavoidable mental and physical exhaustion, burnout is catching up with more of us than ever before.

And, it probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that our careers are often the biggest contributors. In fact, research carried out by Indeed in 2021 found that more than half of UK employees have struggled with burnout as a direct result of their jobs and that (surprise, surprise) the pandemic only served to make things worse.

While things have been looking up somewhat from a coronavirus point of view, what is known colloquially as ‘job burnout’ still needs to be addressed. As career coach Alice Stapleton explains: “With general stress, there is often an end in sight. But, with burnout, it feels all-encompassing, relentless, and endless.”

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Thankfully, there are ways to spot job burnout, manage it, and even stop it in its tracks, and Alice is here to tell us how.

How to tell the difference between job burnout and other forms of burnout? 

According to Mental Health UK, common signs of burnout range from self-doubt and procrastination to feelings of defeat, tiredness, and cynicism. This is very different from everyday stress, says Alice. “While everyday stress carries with it a certain type of energy (albeit the heightened, agitated kind), burnout brings with it a lack of energy, and no desire or ability to focus or concentrate.”

Plus, it’s important to note that even though we can be burnt out by life in general, “with job burnout, it’s usually quite clear that it’s how you feel and think about the work you do, or the work environment that you’re in, that’s leading to the burnout.”

“It’s usually quite clear that it’s how you feel and think about the work you dothat’s leading to the burnout”

Inevitably, the lack of energy brought about by our working lives feeds right back into it. From a feeling of disengagement from the work you’re doing to a lack of motivation and pessimism about your performance, career burnout can affect your ability to do your job to the best of your ability.  

It’s important to act as soon as you spot the signs of job burnout. Alice explains that prolonged burnout can lead to headaches and stomach issues, as well as other ongoing health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

There are longer-term implications for your mental health, too, with unmanaged burnout often contributing to persistent low mood or depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Can I get job burnout if I enjoy what I do? 

If you love what you do, it can be easy to dismiss the idea of job burnout. But job burnout is usually caused by things like a high workload or an unhealthy work/life balance. This, says Alice, “can occur whether you enjoy the work or not.”

“For example, even though those in the helping professions often enjoy their work and find it fulfilling, they very often suffer from burnout.”

“Job burnout can occur whether you enjoy the work or not”

Crucially, though, although some professions are noted for their high rates of employee burnout, all jobs carry a potential risk. You see, careers of any kind are demanding. As well as challenging us to hit targets and boost productivity, they also take up a large part of our day-to-day lives. That’s why it’s so important to spot the signs and know how to look after yourself, even if you have landed your dream job.

4 top tips for managing job burnout 

Managing job burnout isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially when you’re struggling, but these insights from Alice will give you a great place to start:

  1. “Burnout is when the demands on your time exceed the energy you have, so it’s important to prioritise self-care. While you might not feel like it, prioritise getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, and doing activities that light you up in some away. Replenish your energy cup as much as possible – and try to limit the things you do that create holes in that cup.”
  2. “Manage expectations. Talk to your employer about your workload, and make it clear that you will be prioritising certain tasks over others. Be clear about what you can deliver, and what you can’t.”

3. “Create healthy boundaries between your work and home life. Turn off devices and notifications at the end of the day and during work breaks.”

4. “If you’re really struggling to see the meaning in your work, it might be worth considering a new role, industry, or career, where you feel there is a point and purpose to the working day.”

Image credits: Getty/Unsplash

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