Have you felt critical, disillusioned, or irritable recently at work? Do you find it hard to concentrate throughout the day? Are you experiencing difficulty sleeping, or unexplained headaches or stomach problems? Is it a challenge for you to feel motivated or find satisfaction in your accomplishments?
If so, you might be experiencing burnout.
At Empower Work, we regularly hear from texters experiencing burnout who feel stuck, isolated, and uncertain about how to move forward. One texter shared:
“I just feel like I am stuck in this situation of knowing that this situation is unmanageable but not knowing how to get out of it.”
“I don’t even know how to climb out of the burnout cycle.”
Given the unprecedented ongoing stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic recession, against the recent backdrop of racial violence and political turmoil in this country, it’s no surprise that many workers are exhausted—and worse.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress, and often characterized by cynicism, depression, and lethargy. Job burnout is a specific type of work-related stress: a state of exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.
According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Lack of control, or the inability to influence things like schedule, assignments, or workload that impact your daily experience;
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics like dealing with an office bully, feeling undermined, experiencing microaggressions, or being micromanaged;
- Activity extremes of an environment that is either monotonous or chaotic: either extreme requires constant energy to remain focused;
- Lack of social support or feelings of isolation at work or in your personal life;
- Work-life imbalance, when work takes up so much effort that you don’t have time or energy to connect with friends and family.
In one recent survey, 52% of respondents reported experiencing burnout, and two thirds of respondents said burnout has gotten worse since before the pandemic. A recent poll from Monster.com found that 95 percent of workers are thinking about finding a new job—and a third of respondents cited burnout as the reason why.
These numbers are staggering. They also have significant implications for the workplace.
How does burnout affect people at work?
Burnout can affect people deeply at work. If half the workforce is feeling critical, disillusioned, and irritable, and having trouble concentrating, that’s not good for anyone.
In some workplaces, though, burnout can be part of the culture—which poses an even greater challenge. At Empower Work, we regularly hear from texters in helping fields (frontline workers, medical staff, etc.) who struggle with burnout, not just in themselves, but in their organizational culture as well.
One texter wrote:
“There is burnout but the burnout is actually self-inflicted in my field. They create more work than is necessary since I am in a helping field. I see people that do too much for others and do not take care of themselves and then have no energy to take care of others. I see a culture of guilt where we are expecting to do everything to fix a crisis and if we don’t do everything perfectly more work is added to our plates.”
Burnout is a common phenomenon among other groups as well. Parental burnout has received increased attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, as working parents struggle to be employees, homeschoolers, and parents with no additional hours in the day. For Black racial justice activists, activism burnout can threaten long-term efficacy of movements. According to the 2020 Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org, LGBTQ+ women are almost twice as likely as employees overall to cite mental health concerns and burnout as one of their biggest challenges in the workplace.
Burnout leads to decreased productivity, higher rates of depression and anxiety, and lower quality of life. It impacts not only the person experiencing burnout, but everyone around them—their family, coworkers, and more.
If you’re experiencing burnout, there are some small, tangible actions you can take starting today.
What can I do if I’m experiencing burnout?
If you’re experiencing burnout, it can be easy to feel stuck. Many workers don’t have the ability to quit their job, find a different one, or get help to remove some of the burden at home. If you want to try to find a way to deal with your burnout without making major changes, here are a few things to consider.
Complete the stress cycle
In their recent book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, authors and sisters Drs. Amelia and Emily Nagoski describe how stress is the body’s natural response when faced with a perceived threat, or stressor—and moving through the full beginning, middle, and end of the stress response cycle will help avoid long-term burnout.
Picture navigating frustrating traffic on the way home: even when you’re out of the car, you walk in the door still feeling tense. Similarly, if you have a stressful run-in with your boss, you’ll leave her office feeling shaken. In both cases, even when the stressor (car/boss) is removed, the stress is still in your body—and your body needs a way to release that stress and know it’s safe. This is called completing the stress cycle.
Evidence-based strategies for completing the stress cycle include:
- Move your body. Run, dance, jump, stomp your feet, shake out your arms and legs, or tense your muscles for a slow count of ten and then release.
- Laugh or cry. Both tears and deep belly laughter help the body release stress.
- Hug someone. A long, strong hug (of about 20 seconds) with a person or pet slows the heart rate and tells the body it’s safe.
- Create. Write, sing, paint, draw, or play an instrument.
- Practice deep breathing. Inhale for five seconds, hold for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds. Repeat for several minutes.
While practicing these strategies won’t get rid of the source of the stress, completing the stress cycle can help you get unstuck, clear your mind, and have space to think through actions.
Determine what is within your control
One of the main factors leading to burnout is the inability to influence things that impact your daily experience, like your schedule, workload, workplace culture, or broader structural inequities. When you feel overwhelmed, it can be helpful to focus on things that are within your control.
You can control yourself, your reactions, and your breathing (like completing the stress cycle).
Depending on the source of the stressor, there may be other actions you can take. For example, if you’re having a scheduling issue, you might be able to exercise control by talking to your manager about a change. Or if your workplace doesn’t have COVID protocols in place, you might be able to influence the situation by sharing examples of local resources and recommendations to help your workplace be safer.
Often we have more control than we realize in stressful situations. Sometimes, culture change can start with one or two people making different choices.
Whatever you’re feeling, and whatever your workplace dynamic or relationship to burnout, you have the power to ask for help. If your company offers mental health benefits or sick leave, consider using these resources. Connect with a friend, family member, or a trusted coworker to discuss taking some things off your plate. Or, you can always reach out to Empower Work to talk through your options with a peer counselor immediately and anonymously.
It won’t be like this forever
Burnout can feel endless, but the first step is remembering that another way is possible. You can take the first step today.
If you’re feeling burned out and want to explore your options, free, confidential support is just a text away: 510-674-1414.
This post is from Empower Work’s website.