It’s 6:00 am and your alarm clock’s shrill tone forces you to haul yourself out of your warm and cozy bed. You’re angry, anxious, and tired. With a heavy sense of resentfulness, you trudge to the office to begin another day of work. You turn on your computer and stare at the screen lacking any motivation to get started. You know you have tasks to complete but you feel hopeless and wonder what the point is.
When you finally push yourself and get into your work, you struggle to stay interested. You find your mind drifting and you’re unable to stay focused. You’ve noticed that you’re easily distracted and you spend more time surfing the web or checking your phone than actually accomplishing anything.
You’re upset — even frightened — that your productivity has faltered. You find errors and mistakes in your work that you wouldn’t have made in the past. You know the quality of your work is waning, and it’s upsetting you. The satisfaction you once derived from a successful day has gone. You dread having to come back and repeat the same pattern tomorrow.
If this is close to describing your workday, it’s likely that your experiencing burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout was first coined in the 1970s by Herbert Freudenberger as,
“the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship does not produce the desired results.”
It has only been in recent years that health and human resources organizations have begun to study burnout and the effects it has on the emotional health and productivity of workers.
In May 2019, the World Health Organization formally defined burnout as,
“a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by a sense of exhaustion or depletion, mental distance from or negativity or cynicism about work and decreased effectiveness at work.”
If you’re feeling exhausted, unmotivated, unproductive, anxious, angry, or just plain loathe going to work, you’re showing all the symptoms of being burnt out.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
The study of burnout is new and no definitive list of symptoms has been created as of yet. However, there are several behaviors that are increasingly being linked to burnout.
A lack of enthusiasm
While you may not have been doing back-flips on the way to the office every morning, at the very least your job was an accepted part of your routine. Like most people, there were likely parts of your job you enjoyed and others you didn’t.
With burnout, any thrill or satisfaction you derived from your job is now gone and has been replaced by a sense of restlessness or apathy. You cannot find the slightest bit of joy from your work. Tasks that once excited or satisfied you now leave you feeling indifferent.
While burnout can affect your home life to a certain degree, you’ll likely notice that outside of work you generally feel and act as you normally would.
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Barely putting in the effort
When you’re at work, you typically wish to put your best foot forward. You want to complete the tasks that are expected of you to the best of your ability. You may even anticipate additional tasks that aren’t necessarily required but you decide to be proactive and take them on anyway.
Over a sustained period of time, this attitude has changed. You may still get the work done, but you have no real drive to do it. Rather than taking pride in your work, you are doing the bare minimum required to get tasks done.
You may also be noticing that it’s taking you longer than ever before to complete even the most routine parts of your job. For example, an end of the month expense report that you used to put together in a few hours now sits on the back-burner for a day or two before you bring yourself around to doing it.
With burnout, the desire to do well and succeed seems to evaporate. In many ways, you feel you are simply going through the motions caring very little about the end results.
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You’re making simple mistakes
You’re only human and even the most meticulous workers make mistakes from time to time. From grammar or spelling errors to a slight misunderstanding with a customer or client, everyone makes slip-ups. When these mistakes start becoming a regular pattern, it could be a sign you’re burnt out.
This is particularly true if you’re making frequent mistakes with the most repetitive tasks of your job. If you’re finding that tasks you could have done in your sleep have become challenging or stressful, it’s probable that you’ve reached a breaking point.
The increase in mistakes likely stems from a lack of interest in going beyond the basics, and you can no longer focus on double-checking your work. You might not even notice this trend until a co-worker — or your boss — starts asking what is wrong. Burnout often manifests itself by making routine tasks feel like a burden.
You’re always tired at work
Even when you’re happy with your job, there are days when you just feel tired. If you’re feeling exhausted every day that you’re at work and there haven’t been any significant changes to your sleeping pattern, this could be a sign of burnout.
One telling sign of being burnt out is that your extreme fatigue begins to rapidly dissipate once you leave work. At work, you feel so tired that even continuous cups of coffee, soda, or energy drinks don’t seem to help. Miraculously, however, when you leave the office for the day you suddenly feel wide awake. This is a clear sign that your fatigue stems from emotional stress at work.
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You’re experiencing physical aliments
As burnout is an emotional issue like anxiety or depression, for some people it can manifest itself in physical symptoms. They can include:
• Chest pain
• Headaches (mild or migraines)
• Heart palpitations
• Dizziness, or shortness of breath
• Stomach problems
• Heavy perspiration
• Contracting frequent colds or other mild illnesses
Any physical ailment should be discussed with your doctor as they could be a sign of something more serious. If you find that these symptoms only — or most frequently — occur at work, burnout is a probable cause.
What can you do?
So, you’ve come to the conclusion that you’re burnt out. What do you do? There is only one word that accurately sums up the treatment — CHANGE.
Often times when you recognize you’re burnt out, family members, friends, co-workers, or your boss may contend that you just need to take some time off to recoup. While their advice is well-meaning, and a break may provide a limited amount of relief, in order to overcome burnout you’re going to have to make long-term changes.
The first step is to assess your current workload. One of the leading factors of work-related stress is overwork. This could be as simple as having too much on your plate or it could also be a result of your own inflated expectations of how much you can take on.
Many of us dread having to talk to our boss about our work performance, but this is likely a route you’ll have to take. Before meeting with them, however, take some time to review your job description and outline how you normally perform key tasks. Think of ways you might be able to streamline duties or how some reallocation of work or priorities may help.
Also, you should ensure that the tasks you identify as the most stressful and time consuming are actually part of your job description. If they aren’t, ask yourself why you’re taking them on. If they have become your duties because of the evolving nature of your job, raise this with your boss as your job description may need to be modified to better reflect the true nature of your work. Sometimes only minor adjustments are required to get you back to feeling motivated and productive.
When you meet with your boss, it’s important to be professional and positive. Avoid complaining about your job. Provide them with concrete examples of which parts of your duties you’re struggling with and suggest some solutions. Giving your boss clear examples will help to create a sense of collaboration and give them a clearer idea of what is going on.
Additionally, avoid complaining about your co-workers unless it’s absolutely connected to your workload or the direct cause of your burnout. Complaining about a colleague without a highly justifiable cause may be interpreted as an attempt to shift the blame for your stagnating job performance. Go in with a positive attitude and remember that your success is also your employer’s success.
Finally, free yourself from unrealistic expectations. Pushing yourself to always be perfect is setting yourself up for failure. Putting too much pressure on yourself increases your stress and decreases your alertness. By adjusting your attitude from perfectionism to ‘always giving it your best,’ you’ll likely find you do better work.
Time to move on?
There may come a point when even changes in workload or attitude will fail to help. When this happens, it could mean your time in your current job is coming to an end.
Putting financial considerations aside, we are trained to think that you shouldn’t leave a job unless you’re moving on to something better. The reality is that sometimes we just need a change for change’s sake. You don’t necessarily need to think about seeking a more senior-level position or an entire career change — of course, if you want that you should go for it if you can — but sometimes something as simple as doing the same type of work in a new environment might kick that burnout to the curb.
If you’re at the point where you know that no amount of changes in your current job are going to help, it may be time to update your resume and hit the job boards.
If you work at a big company with multiple departments, you may wish to consider requesting a lateral change to a similar position in another area. Another option is a sector change. For example, if you’ve worked in the corporate sector for a long period of time, perhaps a move to the public or not-for-profit sector will provide the change you need.
Burnout is unlikely to simply disappear on its own. It requires you to really look at yourself and your job in an objective manner. Burnout can only be eradicated by making the necessary emotional and performance changes.
Daryl Bruce is a freelance writer, blogger, and writer of flash fiction. Writing across an expansive range of topics, he specializes in personal development, the craft of writing, LGBTQ+ issues, and politics. He is the owner of the Top 3 Publication on Medium. When he’s not writing, Daryl can be found in the kitchen or at the local movie theater. Daryl holds a BA with Specialized Honours in English from York University and is currently working on his first novel.
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