Burnout is Inevitable – Here’s How to Recognize and Manage It at Work

Most companies value hard work and dedication, but sometimes both organizations and employees can take those ideas too far and prioritize productivity over self and employee care. When you constantly work late, focus on your tasks above all else, or make work the center of your life, you can easily overwhelm your mind, your emotions, and even your body.  

This feeling is called burnout, and it’s common to employees in every industry and field. In fact, 75% of employees have experienced burnout at some point in their careers. The pandemic certainly didn’t help, with the added stress of navigating remote work and the new health concerns of everyday life.  

Fortunately, there are things you can do that make managing burnout a little easier and can help you feel more stable, focused, and in control.  

Recognizing the signs of burnout 

It’s not always possible to avoid burnout, so it’s important to understand the signs and recognize them when they arise. Everyone experiences burnout differently, but it is an indicator that you need a break and should listen to your body. Here are some of the common burnout symptoms to watch out for: 

  • Feelings of anxiety or worrying all the time 
  • Emotional, physical, and/or mental exhaustion 
  • Struggles with falling or staying asleep 
  • Headaches 
  • Problems with memory 
  • Fatigue 
  • Feeling hopeless 
  • Poor job performance 

If you experience any of these symptoms, especially in the workplace, burnout may be the culprit. Many burnout symptoms are similar to those of depression, and it’s important to know the difference. The feelings associated with burnout are much more likely to diminish or disappear when you rest or take a longer break.  

How to handle burnout 

Recognizing the symptoms of burnout is half the battle, but it’s critical to deal with it as soon as possible. Untended, it will likely get worse, decreasing your energy levels and motivation, and can cause problems both in your professional and personal life.  

It’s important to learn how to deal with burnout to help ease those feelings of exhaustion and stress. If you’re an employer, it’s critical to be able to recognize the signs in your employees too. Employers who ignore burnout or encourage the behavior that leads to work exhaustion will find it difficult to keep quality employees. If burnout has reared its head, here are some actions you can take or encourage in others. 

Take breaks 

It may sound obvious but taking regular breaks from your work is essential to your health. Schedule a few minutes in your workday to step away from the computer, put your tasks out of your mind, and just breathe. If you can, schedule longer breaks for when you really need help recovering from burnout, like a vacation or just a day off to relax and rest. A little time away can help you regroup and remember that you are more than your work.  

Practice mindfulness 

If you only have time to take a few minutes between meetings, a short meditation can help reduce stress and other burnout symptoms. Mindfulness can also improve your mood and help you get better sleep.  

You can use apps like Headspace or find meditation practices online, or simply practice mindfulness on your own with these tips: 

  • Take a deep breath 
  • Focus on just one task at a time 
  • Move your body, even minimally 
  • Listen to calming music 
  • Pay attention to what you see, hear, smell, and feel around you  

Set clear boundaries 

Burnout can sneak up on you when you don’t protect your personal time and let work seep into all aspects of your life. One of the best tips to prevent burnout is to make sure to take breaks from technology and go for a walk outside if you can. It also helps to set a time to be finished with work for the day, especially if you work from home. Turn off your computer and even lock your office to signify to yourself that you’re done with work until the next day. It’s even more important to maintain clear work-life boundaries if you are already experiencing burnout. 

Add exercise to your routine 

You’ve likely heard it before, but exercise can help reduce stress and decrease burnout symptoms, not to mention its many other benefits to your physical and mental health. Get up a little earlier or make time in the evening after work to move your body for just 30 minutes. You can also make physical activity a part of your daily routine by incorporating stretching or even seated dance breaks into your day-to-day work schedule.  

Connect with friends and family 

A sense of community and connection is essential for your well-being. Spending time with those you love can help with burnout recovery, as well as improve your confidence, self-esteem, and motivation.  

It’s also a good idea to connect with communities who share your experiences. Look for dedicated spaces for any marginalized groups you may belong to, like Black, Asian-American, or LGBTQ+ communities. In these groups, you can find support and community with people who share your backgrounds.  

Rely on support systems at work, too. Reach out to coworkers you trust and can rely on for extra guidance, inspiration, or even just commiseration. Sometimes we all just need a little more kindness in the workplace.  

How to avoid burnout 

Knowing how to reduce burnout can be life-changing, but it’s just as important to know how to prevent burnout in the first place. There are several changes you can make to your habits and daily life to avoid the symptoms of burnout.  

Find creative outlets 

For many people, work is about a paycheck, not necessarily about fulfilling their dreams and passions. If you have your dream job, that’s great! But if you don’t, it’s important to find outlets and hobbies that can help you flex your creative muscles. That ability to think flexibly can help you stay motivated both in your personal life and in at work.  

Boost your self-efficacy 

Self-efficacy is all about believing in your own abilities and exercising control over your goals and day-to-day tasks. When you develop stronger self-efficacy, you’re more likely to experience less stress because you believe you can handle any situation. 

So how can you increase your self-efficacy? It can be as simple as accomplishing tasks. When you successfully cross an item off your to-do list, you start wondering what else you can do and look for more goals you can reach.  

Practice self-care 

Self-care may have become a buzzword in recent years, but it’s incredibly important in burnout treatment and avoidance. Let go of the idea that you have to always be at your desk, staring at a computer screen. Take breaks when you need them. Get some fresh air, catch up with a friend, or just take time to sit and do nothing.  

At its core, burnout is a sign that our bodies and minds need rest, to step back and take a break from the stressors of professional (and sometimes personal) life. Take time to listen to what your body is telling you, notice the signs, and you can work to mitigate burnout before it grows worse.  

By adding a few simple practices to your life and routine, you can prevent burnout, which in turn makes you happier, healthier, and more productive in every aspect of your life.