Exhaustion. Weariness. Fatigue. Debilitation. Whatever words you use to describe burnout in the workplace, it’s an all-too-common occurrence. Putting too much effort into the wrong things can lead to a vicious circle that manifests itself in various undesirable ways.
If you’re the kind of person who defines themselves through their job, the effects of burnout can be extremely unhealthy, affecting both your work and home life.
So, when the 9-5 becomes a chore and you’re starting to feel the negative effects of your work life, make sure you’re taking note of when things are changing. Whether you catch them early on, or the burnout starts to get on top of you, take a look at these essential tips on how to recognise the symptoms before things start to negatively affect your health for the worse.
What is job burnout?
While burnout isn’t necessarily a medical diagnosis, it can be broadly defined as a type of work-related stress, one where physical or emotional exhaustion begins to affect carrying out your duties.
In his book Burnout: The High Cost of Achievement, Herbert Freudenberger defined burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results”. When this manifests itself in a work environment, we begin to feel exhausted, develop a dislike of the job and feel less confident in our abilities. And from here, the physical and mental effects can start to take their toll.
What causes job burnout?
The exact causes of job burnout are hard to pinpoint. Some experts think that other conditions, such as depression, are underlying elements that can create or exacerbate negative feelings about our jobs.
Of course, certain elements of your working life may play a part too. Perhaps you don’t get on with colleagues, or there’s a lack of recognition from your boss. Maybe the lack of progression, or a fitting salary, is contributing to the mounting feelings of dissatisfaction.
The common symptoms of job burnout
1. The signs: workaholism
Found yourself working longer hours or taking work home with you at the end of the day? Maybe you’re fretting about that email you forgot to send? Sounds like you’re a bit of a workaholic.
Being great at your job is a good thing. Knowing you’re good at your job is too. But thinking about your job constantly is a problem. Your home is your safe space, it’s where you can put your feet up, hit the sofa and binge watch Netflix without worrying. Once you start to associate your free time with work time, you’re more likely to get burnt out.
The remedy: disconnecting
Work should have an off button. If we’re on standby then that means we’re still using up energy that could be better spent doing other, non-work activities. The off button disconnects completely and lets us refocus ourselves. What’s done is done. You aren’t contracted to keep working, so why let it bother you?
It can be hard to switch off entirely, so try to ease into it – designate a specific time to answer calls or emails, for example, so you’re not completely losing your free time after work’s over.
2. The signs: not taking care of yourself
Whether it’s a physical symptom like a headache or stomach pain, or you’re feeling drained mentally, burnout can be exacerbated if we’re not taking care of ourselves. When these symptoms start to build up then that’s when focus, decision-making and memory go out of the window. Is your approach to your job worth going through these negative effects? Probably not, so have a think about meeting them head-on before they get worse.
The remedy: start listening to your body
Is that headache because of dehydration? Perhaps that big presentation is why you’re feeling nervous? You could be right. But what if these are recurring things that are starting to nag at you? Listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Don’t let physical or mental wear and tear spiral out of control. Recognise how you’re feeling and work on getting better before it gets worse.
3. The signs: poor performance
When burnout rears its head, work can start to suffer. Keep a note of your performance over a month – or even longer if needs be. If performance is dipping, take some time to consider that burnout might be the culprit. When your performance slips, losing the motivation and satisfaction you used to get out of work goes as well. Time to change up your working methods if this is the case.
The remedy: treat yourself
Keep an eye on whether you’re rewarding yourself with breaks. You can only work at full tilt for so long. Make sure you’re not overdoing it as that’s when the wheels may start to fall off – we work best up to a maximum of 90 minutes at a time, any longer and we can’t keep that focus.
Work consistently for that amount of time with the knowledge you’ll have a break after that – go for a walk, talk to a colleague, make a cup of tea. Sometimes it’s the small things that make all the difference.
4. The signs: negative thinking
Focusing on the negatives is never a good thing. When you start to look on the downside of things, or you find yourself getting more cynical, and that’s when relationships start to suffer and you let opportunities pass by. It’s an easy cycle to fall into, and one that builds and builds without warning. There’s nothing worse than a poisonous mindset in a work environment.
The remedy: steady exercise
This sounds like a weird one, but exercising or physical exertion of any kind helps. We’re not saying you need to join your local gym and hit the squat rack, but even something as simple as firing up your favourite podcast and going for a walk will do the trick.
Whatever you choose to do, the endorphins released when you exert yourself have a positive effect on your body. That euphoric feeling you get after a run is endorphins flowing through your body; they reduce your perception of pain and act like sedatives. So, whether it’s a spot of gardening, a body-blasting workout or just a bit of housework, devote some time to exercise and see how you feel.
5. The signs: disengaging
The things about your job that used to get you excited just don’t do it for you anymore. This makes regular tasks difficult – motivation and satisfaction start to dip, and that’s when deadlines get missed, people get let down and performance wanes.
The remedy: get organised
When you’ve disengaged yourself from your work, your organisation suffers. Rather than listing your duties, your working day becomes a trial of ad hoc tasks you complete without forward planning.
Make a to-do list. It’ll help you handle your work more effectively, and give you more of a sense of achievement with each completed task. It’ll help you improve your time management and make it feel like you’re not just on autopilot through the day. Make sure you’re taking regular breaks to reward yourself and change up your routines too.
6. The signs: worrying all the time
The problem with excessive worrying is it’s a “what if?” pattern of thinking. “What if I’m not working hard enough?”, “what if I constantly make mistakes?”, “what if things don’t get any better?”. We’re spending a lot of energy on what might happen rather than focusing ourselves on the present time.
It’s an easy cycle to get caught up in, and when we start to think like that, treating ourselves better takes a bit of a nosedive and getting away from the worries is a challenge in itself.
The remedy: talking about your problems
Withdrawing from your friends and family is what these thoughts want you to do. But having a strong support system is an absolute must when you’re caught up in worries. Lean on the people in your life who are sympathetic to your problems, talk to them about what’s bothering you or just distract yourself with their company
You’ve heard the adage “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Spend some time around people who care about you and take on the burnout together. That’s what they’re there for.
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