3 Reasons You're Burning Out at Work (And the 3 Steps to Fix It)

Have you ever had a job where it seemed like every day was a bad day? That caring about your work was a waste of energy and you were simply exhausted all the time. Perhaps you felt like the majority of your day was spent on doing tasks that you either found exceedingly dull or overwhelming and that you never got praise or appreciation for your work. If this sounds like something you’ve experienced before, or perhaps are experiencing currently, you know what it’s like to burn out at work. A survey conducted by Morar Consulting in November of 2016 stated that 95% of HR leaders connect burnout to low retention rates. These HR leaders consisted of managers, directors, chief officers and vice presidents of HR who all worked at organizations of 100+ employees. With statistics like this, it’s easy to see why it is important to make avoiding burnout at work a top priority. 

Stress vs Burnout

Though it might not be obvious at first, burnout is not the same thing as stress. Of course, both can be caused by similar circumstances and are detrimental to one’s physical and mental state, but understanding the difference is the first step to solving the issue. One of the biggest differences is that stress takes a toll on your body and burnout does so on your mind. With stress, you feel physically depleted and have no energy, whereas burnout depletes you emotionally, reducing your motivation to nothing. Put plainly, stress makes you anxious and burnout makes you depressed. Neither are ideal, certainly, but a small amount of stress can actually be healthy for you, whereas burnout will leave you disengaged and even feeling like life is not worth living. 

Causes of Burnout

So we’ve determined (somewhat unnecessarily, I’m sure) that burnout is bad, but what causes it exactly? Well, there are a number of things, and not every cause is something you can remedy overnight. In fact, some of these causes can’t necessarily be remedied at all. However, once you understand what is causing you to burnout, you can take the appropriate measures to solve the issue without having to quit your job. Here are the major causes of burnout:  

1. Too Much or Too Little to Do

As you would probably expect, being over (or under) worked is one of the leading causes of burnout. If you’re dealing with unclear or overly demanding expectations, you’re going to wear yourself out trying to keep up. There is a fine line between having a job that is challenging and invigorating and having a job that overwhelms you to the point of exhaustion. On the flip side of that problem, if your work is too monotonous or not challenging enough, your mind will shut down on you after a time. Lastly, working long hours can cause burnout, regardless of how challenging (or unchallenging) your job is. Missing out on social events or family time will run you into the ground in no time. 

2. Minimal Pay

It might go without saying, but being unfairly compensated for the work you do is a fast way to burn yourself out. This is particularly true if you have access to pay information for other workers in your same position. More and more companies are publishing their wage and salary information online for anybody to access, and there is nothing more disheartening than discovering others are making significantly more money than you while doing the same job. The current threshold for overtime-exempt employees is $23,660, which means many people are putting in overtime hours without getting compensated accordingly. This coupled with a low rate of pay to start will make you feel the effects of burnout in no time.

3. Lack of Support

It’s important to have support from your management. Having a supervisor that micromanages you and gives you no control over your work can be very frustrating, but it’s also true that not getting any direction or recognition for what you do can be just as bad. In a leadership role, you should be sure to provide the right amount of guidance. This includes understanding that everyone is different and one employee may need more direction than another. Once you get to know your team you should easily find what works best for your employees.

How to Solve the Issue

Understanding the causes of burnout is a great first step, but it won’t fix the issue just like that. There are certain steps you have to take if you want to stay happy and healthy mentally. The best thing to do is be proactive and avoid burnout before it hits. However, that doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause if it has already happened--it will just be a little more challenging. So here’s what you can do to counteract burnout:

1. Increase Social Interaction

It’s super important to invest your time and energy into your close personal relationships. Make a point to spend an evening alone with your significant other, or plan an evening out with a few of your close friends. One good evening with the person or people closest to you will do wonders for your mental and emotional state, especially when it’s so easy to put off because you’re “too exhausted.”
Additionally, try to be more sociable with your coworkers. Get a group to go to happy hour after work one day, or else place candy at your desk to encourage people to stop by. Taking a few breaks out of your day to chat with your colleagues will release some of the tension you build up while working, and will make coming to work a more enjoyable experience. You don’t have to be best friends with them, but creating a friendly atmosphere in the workplace will lift everyone’s spirits and is instrumental in avoiding burnout. 

Another great thing you can do is find a community group or cause that is meaningful to you. Being a part of something with a group of people with shared interests or experiences will remove that feeling of disengagement that comes with being burnt out. You should also consider volunteering for an organization that you really stand behind. Studies show that giving back to your community directly increases your happiness, which in turn would help ease the emotional stress of your job. 

2. Reframe How you Look at Work

To an extent, everybody has the ability to change their attitudes toward certain situations. Finding value in your work can really help increase your morale. Rather than waking up every morning and dreading the workday, think about the positive aspects of the job and verbally say them aloud. Maybe you’re saving money for a vacation, or perhaps there’s a funny billboard that you pass by on your commute. It’s important to focus on the little things if there aren’t many big things to keep you going. Then when you’re feeling a little more positive, make the big things happen. Apply for a raise or a promotion, or else plan a trip somewhere. Finding a good work/life balance is important, and makes it easier to have a more positive outlook. You might not be able to control everything that’s causing you to burnout, but take charge of the things you do have control over and use them to improve your lifestyle. 

3. Adjust your Priorities

Sometimes the root of an issue is a simple matter of having your priorities out of line. Putting yourself first sometimes is key to success in both the workplace and life in general. Set boundaries at work to keep you from being overwhelmed. This doesn’t mean you should refuse to do certain jobs, but rather create an open dialogue with your supervisor so they know how you’re feeling. Let them know what works best for you, and if they aren’t willing to compromise, go above them. Chances are upper management will be willing to meet you halfway. 

Even though burnout primarily takes a toll on you emotionally, you can avoid (or cure) it by taking care of yourself physically. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night, and try to exercise whenever possible. A healthy diet is also important; if you can, keep healthy snacks at your desk and make sure you’re eating a solid three meals every day and drinking lots of water. If your workplace isn’t cohesive to getting enough to eat and drink, talk to your human resources manager. A happy body means a happy mind and lower chances of getting sick. 

If you’re an administrator within your company, you should consider putting more effort into employee retention rather than recruitment. Keeping your employees happy will prevent burnout and reduce the lost productivity that comes along with it. One of the best ways you can do this is by having a well-mapped applicant tracking system, so you don’t have to put so much energy into your hiring process and instead can focus on keeping your current employees happy and healthy.