You’d have to be a superhero to feel positive at work all of the time. Even if you love every aspect of your job, sometimes the pressure can get to you. It’s normal to sometimes feel disheartened by the daily grind or stressed out by the pressure of deadlines and long hours, but when does this become more serious?
‘Occupational Burnout,’ is something different. It’s not depression, or simply having a bad day or week, Psychology Today are keen to point out. They define burnout as “the chronic state of being out of sync with one or more aspects of your life, and the result is a loss of energy, enthusiasm, and confidence.”
Burnout can occur in other aspects of your life, but this article is specifically about burnout at work, which is characterised by feelings of exhaustion, often combined with “doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”
According to The American Psychological Association (“APA”) signs that you’re experiencing work burnout can include:
- Exhaustion – a feeling of constant tiredness or of no energy at all
- Lack of motivation and decreased satisfaction – no longer feeling any enthusiasm for your work
- Frustration, cynicism or other negative feelings – being generally more pessimistic than is usual for you
- Cognitive problems – work burnout can make it harder to concentrate, remember things or make decisions
- Poorer job performance – “because burnout tends to happen over an extended period of time, taking [a] long-term view might reveal whether you’re in a temporary slump or experiencing more chronic burnout,” says The APA
- Interpersonal problems – if you’re getting into more arguments with your family, friends, or co-workers then usually, or you’re withdrawing into yourself and interacting less, this could be a sign of burnout
- Taking less care of yourself – you may be “engaging in unhealthy coping strategies” such as eating unhealthily, drinking or smoking excessively, sleeping too much or too little, or relying on substances such as coffee, alcohol or medication
- Not switching off – being preoccupied with work even when you’re at home, unable to switch off from the stresses of your day
So what are the causes of work burnout? It’s commonly associated with employees working long hours in high-pressure environments, yet it can happen for a number of reasons.
Psychology Today pinpoints several possible sources:
- Lack of control – having little say over what’s going on or what you do, combined with high pressure
- Values conflict – there is a disconnect between your own core values and the core values of the organisation
- Insufficient reward – you feel your salary and/or recognition is not equal to the work you do
- Work overload – you have too much to do, your work is too complicated and you don’t have enough time to do it in. Around half of doctors display some signs of burnout, and this is likely to be the cause
- Unfairness – you or others are treated unfairly, there is a culture of favouritism, and assignments and promotions are made in an arbitrary fashion and discussed behind closed doors
- Breakdown of community – working with negative colleagues, poor conflict resolution or poor working relationships
Forbes.com recommends several ways to overcome work burnout. If you feel you may be experiencing the symptoms, you might want to consider their advice and take control of your career again.
Get help from within your company
Chances are, if the structure of your company, your work culture or your workload are to blame, then you’re not the only one experiencing burnout. “Identify other employees who may be experiencing the problem and collaborate with them to start to fix it. People have to work together to figure out what’s creating a less than ideal working environment,” says Forbes
Find meaning in your work
Identify the things you like most about your job, or the things you’re best at and concentrate your efforts on those. Keep learning and take advantage of on-the-job training if you can, or take a short course to expand your skills. The important thing is to feel like you’re going somewhere and not stuck in one place.
Take breaks and find time to relax
Working non-stop for eight hours a day can contribute to burnout. If your employer expects you to do that, you may want to discuss it with them and see if you can arrange a more flexible working schedule. You should ideally take a short break every hour or so to move around, stretch and recharge – you’ll actually return to work feeling much more able to focus on the task in hand.
Change your career or company
If you really feel like your job is the problem, it may be time to consider a change. But don’t worry, changing your career is easier than you might think, no matter what age you are or qualifications you have.