It’s nearing the end of November, and while for some that may mean getting into the festive spirit, for others it may be peak burnout season. Deadlines loom closer, burnout from a year of tough work and pressure to reach End-of-Year targets increases. But this isn’t news, people have been experiencing burnout for years, so why is it so much worse now?
As economies struggle and the cost of living increases, workers need to put in more to stay ahead. Coupled with the aftermath of the pandemic and blurred work-life boundaries, people are stressed, anxious and depressed more than ever before. A study by Asana, looked at over 10,000 knowledge workers across seven countries and found approximately 70% of people experienced burnout in the last year.
McKinsey research showed that 25% of Gen Zs, 13% of Millennials, 13% of Gen Xs and 8% of Baby Boomers reported feeling emotionally distressed with low levels of well-being.
What is burnout?
Burnout is hard on people, but it also has a negative impact on organisations. According to the Asana study when people experience burnout they are also more likely to have lower morale (36% of people), be less engaged (30%), make more mistakes (27%) and miscommunicate (25%).
All of these can lead to high turnover, low job satisfaction and lower output, which all have negative impacts on organisational health.
But in order for an organisation to effectively combat burnout in the workplace they need to understand what is causing it and how it is manifesting within their employees.
So what do different types of burnout look like?
The most commonly understood burnout types are physical and mental.
Physical burnout can be seen through lethargy, tiredness, increased sickness and changes in appetite or sleeping patterns. Physical burnout can be caused by long working hours, not enough breaks or poor eating habits due to the job.
Mental burnout on the other hand results in a lack of motivation, a feeling of being empty, a sense of meaningless and overwhelming pessimism. Mental burnout is often caused by prolonged stress, too much responsibility, an overburdened workload, working long hours without a break or not enough separation between work and life.
Burnout has also been categorised into three different types
Unsurprisingly experts have struggled to agree on the definition of burnout. But as more research about burnout has started being done, new studies have seen pyschologts categorise burnout into these three different types.
1. Overload Burnout
Overload burnout is the most common type of burnout. It’s associated with the feeling of taking on too much and working too hard to the detriment of your health and wellness.
Toxic work environments can drive employees to over-commit themselves, or don’t establish good boundaries. You can identify people with overload burnout as they will often vent about their work, be too tired to socialise or constantly feel obligated to solve all the problems.
But how can you tell if you are experiencing overload burnout?
- You overlook your own needs or personal life to fulfil work demands
- You invest more than is healthy in your commitment to your career or ambitions
- You endanger your well-being to achieve your goals
How can you combat overload burnout?
Practise emotional regulation. This can include identifying and regulating your feelings and identifying how much time you spend talking about work during non-work hours. You can also reframe your priorities and try to get some distance from the work hustle. Perhaps you feel your identity or value is tied to your work. Try to find other interests or values that define you and work on lifting them up. This could be your family, friends, hobbies or charity work. Whatever it is, diversify your identity.
You can also start practising healthy boundaries. Have conversations with coworkers or managers to get some tips on how to enforce your boundaries. This could be turning notifications off after hours or setting an out-of-office appointment in your calendar to avoid late meetings. But remember, transparency and communication are important. Suddenly changing your approach can be jarring and more alienating to those around you. So build up your boundaries over time and express your concerns professionally and candidly to your manager or HR representative.
2. Under challenged Burnout
Under challenged burnout is the opposite of overload. It’s when a lack of stimulation, motivation and challenge can lead to boredom and apathy. Employees that seldom receive feedback, encouragement or new challenges can become lacklustre in their jobs. In order to stay on top of your game, employees need learning opportunities, room for growth, or meaningful connection with co-workers and leadership.
Workers who feel their tasks are monotonous and unfulfilling tend to lose passion and become cynical and lethargic. They cope with the stress of being under-challenged through avoidance — distraction, dissociation, or thought suppression
This could lead to “quiet quitting” where the bare minimum becomes the norm. Or the lack of motivation could result in missed goals or opportunities passed up.
Signs you might be experiencing being underchallenged are:
- You find yourself looking for opportunities and challenges elsewhere
- Avoiding social events with your coworkers or dreading 1-1 meetings with your manager.
- You cannot identify opportunities for growth or progression within your organisation.
- You try to distract yourself from monotonous tasks.
What can you do to breathe some life back into your job?
First, try to expand your skills and talents through professional development. This doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, there are plenty of free bite-sized courses online that can help you diversify your knowledge.
Another way to help with this type of burnout is to try to get involved with extracurricular activities at work. This could be a CSR or volunteering initiative.
And lastly, spend some time identifying what you enjoy most about your role. Then, try to mould your role into something you enjoy doing. This will require you to work with your manager or teams to find a good fit, but taking ownership of your position can do wonders for your mental health.
3. Neglect Burnout
The next type of burnout is neglect. This is when you feel helpless in the face of challenges. This could be a result of your work being under-resourced, staff shortages or a lack of guidance and skills. You may find it difficult to keep up with demands or otherwise feel unable to meet expectations. Over time, this can make you feel incompetent, frustrated, and uncertain.
The worn-out worker copes through learned helplessness, which occurs when a person feels unable to find solutions to difficult situations — even when ones are available. This could look like someone always waiting for someone else to find a solution, to do the heavy lifting or mental labour. Or when things don’t go their way, they become passive and stop contributing.
What are the symptoms of neglect burnout?
- You stop trying when work situations don’t go as planned
- You give up in response to obstacles or setbacks you face
- You feel demoralised when you get up in the morning and have to face another day at work
- You wait for others to innovate or find solutions
- You don’t take risks and isolate yourself from difficult situations.
How can you overcome neglect burnout?
First, acknowledge that you have agency in your role and life. Remember taking risks or making mistakes is a part of life. In fact in Western culture, people are more likeable when they make and own up to mistakes. This is called the Pratfall Effect.
Another way to manage this is to delegate tasks that are not within your remit. Knowing what you are capable of, and what is better suited to someone else’s skillset will help you to manage challenges and find solutions.
And lastly, focus on what you can control. Outside of office hours, be deliberate about self-care. Create routines and rituals that ground you, such as a daily walk or journaling practice. When you feel helpless about work, find ways that you can take control and regain agency. Don’t wait on others to make decisions for you.
What are the effects of letting burnout go untreated?
What are the risks of habitual burnout? If left untreated, burnout can become a part of your everyday life and eventually lead to anxiety or depression. This will have serious consequences across other areas of your life like family, health and friendships.
You can also begin to experience chronic mental and physical fatigue that prevents you from working. When experiencing long-term burnout you will also experience a drop in motivation. This can actually be counterproductive to your goals and aspirations. Rather than helping you accomplish your goals, burnout stifles your success and leads to resentment towards your work.
Speaking up about burnout in remote work or freelance situations
What can people who are not in an office environment do if they are feeling burnout? Firstly you need to create a framework for your work that allows you to set and maintain boundaries. This could be with your employer, or with family members. Have clear working hours and dedicate time and focus to your family outside of those. This will help you maintain boundaries and avoid burnout.
If you are feeling burnt out, set some time to talk to your manager. Work with them to create solutions that work for you. Perhaps flexible working hours, fewer meetings and more dedicated deep work hours can help you maintain more balance.
Five common situations that can lead to burnout in employees
1. Tight deadlines
This is especially common when working for clients or agencies that don’t have good work systems in place. If your employer is not managing your deadlines at timelines this could lead to undue stress placed on you. While managing your own time is your responsibility, your manager should allocate workflows. If you are not being given enough lead time, this is likely a company-wide issue and should be discussed with your manager or HR teams.
2. No support from the team or managers
That being said, if you are not getting the support you need from your managers or team, then you are likely taking on too much. Not only does this overburden you with work, but might lead to emotional burnout. Feeling isolated and alone at work will quickly lead you to burnout. It’s essential to have social connections at work and create a professional support structure, regardless of whether you work from home or in the office.
3. Not taking time off
Lack of rest is the quickest way to reach burnout. Rest can come in many forms: screen breaks, sick leave or active participation in things that you enjoy. Rest for some might be kayaking in the ocean, for someone else it might be reading at home. Rest can also look different depending on your needs at the time. Mental and physical rest might require different strategies.
But whether you need an emotional break, or a physical one, using your time off is crucial. There are no heroes in working overtime habitually and burning out. Look after yourself first and the rest will follow.
4. Exposure to continuous stress for a long period of time
Everyone is able to handle stress for a short period of time. Work has ebbs and flows that keep it exciting. However, if you are working at a continual level of high stress you are very likely to burn out.
Stress is also relative to each individual. So if you find that most things cause large amounts of stress, it might be time to seek help on how to manage stress internally.
What are the steps to take if you are burnt out?
- Speak to those who can directly help you. This could be your manager, partner or a family member. Seek out constructive conversations rather than just venting as this will help you plot a path forward.
- Take time off. Remember, things will usually be okay in your absence. Taking a little time off is great for your mental health will pay off in the long term.
- Turn off your tech. Silence your notifications after hours. Set up that Out of Office reply. You are not obligated to be available at all hours.
- Triage your tasks so you can be more productive at work. What is urgent? What can wait? And what can be delegated? Don’t try to do everything yourself.
The importance of speaking about stress and mental health at work
Burnout is an epidemic across the world and is one of the leading causes of anxiety and depression. Your mental and physical health are equally important. So if you are feeling burnt out, reach out to a mental health professional. Being honest and open about this in professional spaces can feel scary, but overwork needs to be brought out of the shadows. When you speak up, you share your courage with others to also speak out.
Is your current job burning you out? Then it might be time to find a new role. Sign up to Nomad Now and search for available positions in your field! Get to work, your way.