Burnout At the Top of Your Game: Why Success Doesn’t Mean You’re Thriving

What Does Burnout Mean for Successful Professionals?

Burnout is a hidden syndrome for many high-powered professionals. Everyone knows it exists, but all too often the tell tale signs of burnout can slip by unnoticed. In many industries, working long hours and giving it all to the bottom line is not only common — it’s expected. The ugly truth is that it can take a toll on your health.

Many professionals maintain successful, even thriving, careers, before they recognize burnout. It may look a bit different than you expect. If you spot some of these symptoms in yourself, take action to re-energize yourself. The good news is you can take back your well-being without sacrificing your career.

Who’s At Risk for Burnout?

Almost anyone can suffer from burnout. Executives and those in high-stress professions may be particularly vulnerable. The time and energy their jobs require often mask a lack of balance that becomes increasingly unsustainable. Since giving it all to the work is theWho’s At Risk for Burnout? conventional wisdom, few stop to take a second look and see if there are other ways of doing things. Things are changing, but corporate culture still tends to prioritize productivity.

What Are the Culprits?

There are a few specific causes of burnout. Although it’s a bit different for everyone, some of the factors that lead to burnout are:

  • The stress of executive positions, such as responsibility for a department, employees, and the company as a whole
  • Regular management of and exposure to conflict, which is a common element in corporate boardrooms, legal services, and a host of other professional environments
  • The complications of home life, which should provide relief but add to work-related stress
  • Personal attributes, like trying to do everything without help, or deliberately taking on more challenging projects in order to get ahead
  • Lack of boundaries between the demands of the position and the amount of time and energy you are able to give

Some individuals thrive under these conditions, while others thrive only temporarily. That’s why, for some business leaders, burnout sneaks up on them. As a result, they don’t experience the same enjoyment in their work as they once did.

Signs of Burnout

It’s not unusual for someone suffering from burnout to still achieve success on the job. That may be why spotting burnout takes a little bit of self-reflection. Many people have a few, or several, of these signs of burnout:

  • Fatigue that can’t be cured by rest. Often this is a feeling of emotional and physical exhaustion.
  • Depersonalization, sometimes called “compassion fatigue.” This can manifest as not caring about the people your organization is supposed to help.
  • Detachment or feeling disengaged from the position and your role.
  • Cynicism, often connected to disengagement.
  • Inefficacy, or feeling like the effort you put in is for nothing. This is an occurrence of not seeing the results of your efforts, even though they may be easy for others to see and appreciate.
  • Inattention or distraction. It is hard to focus on work or specific tasks.

A general feeling of malaise, or depression, is another sign of burnout. A lot of people experience these signs from time to time, but if they last it can signal a deeper problem.

Strategies to Prevent and Reverse Burnout

So what if there is a deeper problem? Fortunately there are a number of ways for executives to stop or stem the tide of burnout. Here are a few suggestions:

Seek help. Know it is perfectly appropriate to speak with a mental health professional. Your well-being is essential.

Prioritize. Many people balance the demands of a business with what’s personally important. Prioritize one aspect of your personal life that’s essential to you, like dropping your kids off to school. You can also prioritize among competing work demands to find better balance.Prioritize

Rediscover your passion — at work. Recall why you chose to enter this industry. Remember what you used to love about your job and find that resonance again.

Rediscover your passion — outside of work. Find a hobby or activity that’s just for you. Often devoting energy to something you enjoy will give you more energy overall.

Surround yourself with good people. Rely on your family and friends outside of work. Make it a point to spend more time with them. If you can, limit your interactions with toxic people at work. If informal distance is not possible, see if you can refine working arrangements so you spend your days with team members who contribute to your sense of well-being.

Set boundaries. Long hours may go with the territory, but there are limits. Set a schedule to come to work and to leave. Let everyone know about your schedule so you won’t be bothered after hours.

Delegate. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Trust your team members to take on more of the burden of projects. You can still check in regularly, but leave the day-to-day tasks to others who want more responsibility.

Join peer mentoring groups. Networking isn’t just about getting a heads up about the next business opportunity. Peer mentoring groups are an excellent resource of people who know what it’s like to do the job you do. Engage in conversation with these folks to gain insight and coping strategies.

Break away from technology. Turn off your electronic communications when you leave work. Then you won’t be tempted to slip back into the habit of working at all hours of the day.

Stay healthy. Exercise and good eating habits can help you to manage stress. In the process, this can also help you prevent burnout.

Take Heart — You Can Achieve Success and Prevent Burnout

Burnout can cause a great deal of disruption in the life of a professional. But you can take steps to prevent burnout and stay on track career-wise. Spot the signs of burnout and implement strategies to find balance. You can stay healthy and continue to climb the corporate ladder.

Mindfulness strategies can help high-powered professionals to stave off burnout, watch our webinar with Executive Career Coach Avery Roth to learn how.

About the Author

Catherine Lovering has written on personal finance and careers for the past 10 years. She has been published on, Healthline, and Paste.