Here's Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Workplace Burnout
A few years ago, tennis star Naomi Osaka stepped away from the French Open, citing concern for her mental health. And she isn’t alone: Nearly 60% of U.S. workers say they’re feeling burned out lately, according to a survey by Eagle Hill Consulting.
Work burnout isn’t new. Feeling overworked and struggling to balance their work and home life has weighed on American workers for years. But the pandemic has both exacerbated and shed light on the problem according to Dr. Adam Borland, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Cleveland Clinic.
“The combination of work dynamics, family responsibilities, and then trying to find a happy medium during the pandemic has absolutely increased burnout rates,” he says.
People working from home during the pandemic have also worked an average of 2.5 more hours each day. And, a recent World Health Organization report showed that working long hours increased the risk for heart disease, stroke and even death, especially for people working 55 or more hours a week.
“In our society, there's a badge of honor in terms of put your head down, just work, work, work—almost like a machine or a robot,” he adds. “I think people are finally taking a step back and saying this isn't healthy. I can't continue at this breakneck speed. It's affecting my health. It's affecting family dynamics. So, I think people are finally voicing their symptoms. Hopefully, organizations are receptive to that.”
Not exactly sure what burnout is or what it feels like? Parade.com asked mental health experts to explain. Here's everything you need to know.
What Actually Is Burnout?
The WHO defines work-related burnout as a “syndrome” of “chronic workplace stress.”
Burnout stems from many sources, including feeling overworked, under-appreciated, and unrecognized for your efforts, says Liz Kelly, LICSW, a therapist at Talkspace. Not getting enough sleep, a poor work-life balance, a sense of not having a purpose, or a lack of guidance at work can also cause burnout.
“It makes sense that more people are feeling burned out given that so many during the pandemic were working from home, isolated from their friends and colleagues, and juggling additional responsibilities,” Kelly adds.
Related: What is Millennial Burnout?
Signs of Burnout at Work
The Maslach Burnout Inventor, developed by University of California, Berkeley professor Christina Maslach, is considered the “gold standard” for measuring occupational burnout, which consists of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment, explains Dr. Vanessa Kennedy, PhD, director of psychology at Driftwood Recovery.
Many people with burnout feel disconnected or resentful of their work, emotionally depleted, or that they can’t get anything done or can’t get organized.
“Something you typically feel passionate about and excited to accomplish may begin to feel mundane, and you may notice that you don’t care about the result of your efforts,” Kennedy says.
Related: 15 Best Journals for Anxiety
Burnout affects people differently, but some common signs include:
Chronic exhaustion, both physical and mental
Lack of motivation
Changes in appetite
Burnout may also bring on the “Sunday Scaries,” Kelly says, or “ a sense of anxiousness or dread on Sunday about the upcoming week.”
How Is Burnout Different from Simply Having a Bad Day?
Everyone has a hard day now and then, but you’ll usually get better after a good night’s sleep, exercising, or chatting with a loved one. “With burnout, it’s difficult to feel restored,” Kelly says.
You might start relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drinking, excessive online shopping, or overeating, which she explains will end up making your stress levels worse. You may start isolating yourself or neglecting personal care habits like brushing teeth or exercising.
Burnout is a chronic problem that affects your relationships and daily functioning, Borland says.
“People often describe that they can’t leave work at work, and they bring it home,” he explains. “It’s becoming all-encompassing. During the pandemic, where people work from home, it’s become even more significant because there’s no buffer zone.”
How to Deal With Work Burnout
Self-care is vital to our well-being and can help with burnout, Kelly says. If you’ve been neglecting hobbies, interests, or friends, put those things on your calendar and treat them with as much importance as a work obligation.
“It’s important to make caring for yourself a priority by getting enough sleep, incorporating physical exercise into your routine, eating regular meals, and scheduling medical appointments,” she adds.
Talk to your supervisor or another supportive person about your work burnout, Kennedy says. Try to identify whether the issue is workload, an unhealthy work culture, feeling isolated, or work-life balance.
Most of all, be compassionate with yourself, Borland says, “We often hold ourselves to a much higher expectation than we do a loved one or a co-worker, so really trying to be as sensitive and patient with ourselves as we would be with someone else.”
Re-examine your boundaries and look for small changes that you can make to improve your workload or make you feel better, he adds.
Related: 10 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety
When to Seek Treatment for Burnout
There’s no right time to seek treatment for burnout. Kelly says any time you notice symptoms, talking to a mental health professional can help.
“A therapist can assess your symptoms and discuss strategies to reduce stress,” she explains. That could include making lifestyle changes, learning to manage negative thoughts and emotions, setting better boundaries and limits, developing healthy coping mechanisms, and meditation and mindfulness techniques.
Definitely seek treatment when burnout is contributing to depression, anxiety, or interfering with your daily life, Kennedy emphasizes.
Along with helping you reframe your thinking and developing healthy coping skills, talking to a trained clinician can also simply give you an opportunity to vent your frustrations in a safe place, which can be beneficial, Borland says.
“When those feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, chronic low mood and stress become really prevalent, and, obviously if there's any concern about self-harm or harming others around you, access emergency services,” he says. “It's really up to the individual if they recognize this is becoming too much of a problem in my day-to-day life or if others are commenting on noticeable changes.”
Next, read more about what you should know about burnout.
Dr. Adam Borland, PsyD, clinical psychologist at Cleveland Clinic
Liz Kelly, LICSW, a therapist at Talkspace
Dr. Vanessa Kennedy, PhD, director of psychology at Driftwood Recovery
Employees working from home are putting in longer hours than before the pandemic, CNN.com
Employee Burnout from COVID-19 on the Rise, With 58% of U.S. Workers Reporting Burnout, Eagle Hill Consulting
Comparing the Maslach Burnout Inventory to Other Well-Being Instruments in Emergency Medicine Residents, Journal of Graduate Medical Education
Long working hours increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke: WHO, ILO. World Health Organization
Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases, WHO
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