Today it can seem like there’s no such thing as work-life balance. We’re expected to put in more hours and work harder than ever before just to stay relevant. All this pressure takes a toll on employees. According to a new LinkedIn survey, 70% of people say their work-life balance is their biggest source of stress at work, and it’s leading to a condition called “job burnout.”
What Is Job Burnout?
In May, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) added burnout syndrome to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). According to researchers, it results from chronic workplace stress that isn’t properly managed. The WHO plans to study the phenomenon and gather evidence to create clearer guidelines for managing mental wellness at work. Although it’s not considered a health condition or disease at this point, it’s a burgeoning issue that affects a significant percentage of the workforce. According to a Gallup study that was published in 2018, 23% of full-time employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always; about 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes.
What happens when a person has reached their burnout point? It’s characterized by the following:
- Feeling depleted and exhausted.
- Increased mental distance from the job, often including feelings of cynicism and negativity.
- Reduced professional efficacy.
If you suffer from burnout, things might look pretty bleak. Your problems may seem insurmountable, but you also have little to no energy to care or take action. You’re unhappy and detached from your career, and likely feel mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted during the workweek.
All of these signs are caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
Signs and Symptoms of Work Burnout
Burnout isn’t something that just sneaks up on you. It occurs over time as you find yourself dealing with constant demands that leave you feeling increasingly helpless and resentful.
The signs of burnout are subtle at first, but grow as time goes on. It can creep up on you quickly, so you need to recognize the early stages and address them.
You could be on the road to job burnout if:
- You feel tired and drained most of the time.
- You’re experiencing frequent headaches and/or muscle pain.
- Every day feels like a bad day.
- You regularly become ill.
- You have a change in appetite or sleeping habits.
- You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
- You find most of your tasks overwhelmingly dull or mind-numbing.
- Caring seems like a waste of energy.
- You feel a sense of failure and self-doubt that causes you to also feel trapped or defeated.
- You begin to withdraw from your responsibilities and isolate yourself from others.
- You take longer to get things done and even skip out on work.
The difference between stress and burnout is how long you experience those emotions. When you’re stressed, you might not know how you’ll get everything under control, but you can imagine a possible solution; you’ll probably reach a resolution in a few days or weeks. When the stress doesn’t go away and lasts for several months, that consistent pressure can turn into burnout.
How to Prevent Burnout at Work
Once you recognize the signs of burnout, you can set boundaries for yourself before you reach a breaking point. One way to approach this is by working toward work-life fulfillment.
1. Ask for help.
Interacting with others, finding good listeners, and hanging out with friends will help you relieve stress and calm your nervous system. It’s not about finding someone who can “fix” or eliminate your stress—it’s about finding someone who can listen to you without judgement.
- Reach out to your partner, friends, and family to talk about what you’re going through, but also to just enjoy time spent together.
- Become more sociable with your coworkers and develop friendships that can provide a buffer from job burnout.
- Limit your time with negative-minded people who can drag you down emotionally.
- Join a cause or community that’s meaningful to you and provides a release from daily stress.
2. Reframe your approach to work-life balance.
If you’re like many people in the U.S., it’s impossible to work eight or ten hours a day and also have eight to ten hours to relax. The math just doesn’t work, especially when you factor in a long commute, household chores, and other responsibilities.
If you’re trying to find an equal balance between life and work, you probably won’t be successful. Instead, focus on being fulfilled in your life and work, which means paying attention to quality instead of quantity.
Which is more relaxing: Spending an hour at the beach or 4 hours watching TV on the couch? If you’re like most people, you probably feel happier at the beach than lounging at home. You can apply this logic to other activities outside the office. If you do what you love instead of just fill time, you’ll feel rejuvenated.
The key is to be intentional about how you spend your time. Travel, have fun, work toward a goal—all these activities will be much better for your mental health than being inactive.
3. Evaluate your priorities.
Take a closer look at your hopes, goals, and dreams. Where do you want to be in one year, five years, or a decade? Are you neglecting something that’s essential to your happiness? Are you working toward the wrong happily-ever-after?
Take this opportunity to slow down, rest, and discover what you really want.
- Set Boundaries: People and jobs will always want more of your time. Learn to say “no.” You don’t have to overextend yourself to make everyone happy.
- Take a Break: Every day, take a true break. Turn off technology and completely disconnect, even if it’s just for 30 minutes or an hour.
- Nourish Your Creativity: Being creative is a powerful antidote to burnout. Start a new project, like painting, learning an instrument, or keeping a journal. Just make sure the activities you choose have nothing to do with your work or what causes you stress.
- Exercise More: Exercise is a powerful tool for reducing stress and improving your mood. Just 30 minutes a day can change your entire outlook on life.
- Eat a Healthy Diet: Eating healthy can give you more energy, boost your mood, and make you feel calmer.
- Get Better Sleep: Feeling tired can make stress seem overwhelming. Get a good night’s sleep to replenish your energy sources.
Job burnout happens to almost everyone. The key is to pay attention to the signs and change your habits before the stress accumulates. It’s always a good time to change direction and prioritize your mental and emotional wellness.