Careers advice

How to deal with burnout at work: signs and solutions

Burnout from work shouldn't be ignored. Here are the symptoms, and some strategies for coping.

Working hard is one thing, working to the point of making yourself ill is quite another.

Most people suffer from work-related stress sometimes, but if you’re constantly overwhelmed or lacking energy – you could be experiencing burnout.

But how can you identify this syndrome, and what can you do to avoid it? Let’s find out.

Employees in all industries can suffer from burnout.

What is work burnout?

According to HelpGuide, “burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.''

While burnout isn’t something that just happens due to work, it’s easy to see how this definition applies to employment settings.

What causes burnout at work?

While a carpenter has very different workplace duties to an IT consultant, the causes of burnout are similar across many industries. Common culprits include:

1. A heavy workload

If you’re constantly overburdened, you could be heading for burnout. This is because a big workload will mean you find it hard to rest and rebalance, both within work hours and at home.

2. Lack of reward

There are two sides to this.

On one hand, there’s job satisfaction. If you don’t find your work stimulating or satisfying, you’re less likely to feel motivated and give 100%. Boredom burnout is as real as burnout from being overwhelmed.

Secondly, if you know you’re busting a gut, but not receiving any recognition for it, it can be easy to become demoralised and not see any point in what you do.

3. Being unsure what’s expected from you

It’s uncomfortable not knowing what you’re expected to do, what deadlines you have or how your position relates to other people in the organisation.

4. Your social environment

What’s the community like? Are you regularly talking to your colleagues (not just about work), or are you on your own for the majority of the day?

While some people prefer to work independently, for others isolation can be a real issue. This is especially true if you’re already struggling with the day to day realities of your job – at times like that, you need a network around you.

Perhaps even worse is when you’re dealing with unhealthy workplace relationships. This could take the form of micromanagement from a leader, bullying from a colleague or a lack of trust. Environments like these make it ever harder to come to work.

Got too much on your plate? You might be at risk of work related burnout.

What are the signs of burnout?

A single day wishing you were on holiday doesn’t mean you’re burning out. But you should look out for these common red flags:

  • Lack of motivation.
  • Feeling tired or drained of energy.
  • Little to no sense of job satisfaction.
  • Headaches and stomach aches.
  • Feelings of helplessness and inability to cope.
  • Frustration and cynicism.
  • Not looking after yourself – this could be anything from not sleeping enough to drinking too much.
  • Not switching off.
  • Worsening job performance.

How to avoid burnout at work

1. Learn to say no

We New Zealanders like to help each other and usually don’t mind taking on extra tasks. However, if you’re already drowning in work, agreeing to do more isn’t helping yourself, or your team.

Learning to politely, but firmly, say ‘no’ when you don’t have the capacity to take on additional duties is a key employment skill, and actually a sign of a good employee.

2. Rediscover your work life balance

As much as possible, leave work at work and ensure evenings are put aside for what you want to do.

This means not answering emails outside work, not booking meetings when you should be relaxing and realising when tasks can wait until the morning.

A healthy work life balance is crucial to avoiding burnout.

3. Spend time with friends and family

The tiredness and frustration that comes with burnout can lead people to withdraw from those around them. But being social is one of the best ways to combat your symptoms.

As well as talking about what you’re going through, make sure you’re having fun too. Regular meet-ups with friends, and not just on the weekends, are a good way to break the routine – and we all know the mental health benefits of having a laugh with mates.

4. Prioritise exercise

It’s widely accepted that exercise is effective for reducing stress levels, increasing productivity and slowing cognitive decline.

Different people will prefer to do this at different times of the day, but a great option is getting active during your lunch break. This gets you out of your seat, and gives you a break from the office environment. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself returning to the office with more energy, ready to take on the afternoon.

  • But what exercise can I fit into a lunch break?

Depending on how long you take, you could fit in a gym class, a run or a swim. But even a few laps walking around the park is better than nothing.

5. Get enough sleep

Insomnia is a classic symptom of burnout, and creates a vicious cycle of decreasing energy. Making sure you catch a decent number of Zs is crucial to feeling on top of your work, and stopping yourself becoming overwhelmed.

For some, following these steps will be enough to get back to feeling good about work. However, if this isn’t happening for you, it might be time to start looking for a new role. While burnout is never fun, you can go into your job hunt with a better understanding of what you want from work, and what isn’t healthy for you. Onwards and upwards!