Work Burnout: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

Work Burnout: What It Is and What You Can Do About It - Style Nine to Five

In today’s hustle culture, with many demands coming from every direction, burnout is more prevalent than ever. Especially in a year like 2020, burnout was reached even quicker by people as we tried to fill our “spare” time with more and increase productivity levels, meanwhile blurring work and life boundaries. Those who in lines of work who help others are particularly prone to burnout – but that is a lot of us.

What exactly is burnout? And what does it have to do with my career?

While there are many layers to burnout – in its simplest form, it is a state of exhaustion – mentally, physically, and emotionally. This can happen both personally and professionally, and while the two are related, the focus here will be towards the latter.

When you hit burnout – it’s hard to miss but there are a few components of it that you may experience in smaller doses on your way to full burnout.

In Emily Nagoski & Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout – they explain that the term “burnout” was first coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1975, who defined it by 3 components. 

1. Emotional exhaustion – the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long

2. Depersonalization – the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion 

3. Decreased sense of accomplishment – an unconquerable sense of futility: feeling that nothing you do makes any difference 

Being in a state of burnout affects everything, including your work life – your productivity, creativity, drive, and performance will almost certainly take a hit. The sooner you take action to prevent it or combat it, the better and the sooner you can thrive in your professional life. 

How to Combat Burnout

In the thick of burnout, it can be really to hard to figure out what to do next or to see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are ways to combat burnout so if you find yourself in that place, this section is for you! It’s important to remember that how you will get out of burnout will be different than how someone else will. I find it helpful to take note of what others have done to get out of burnout – but I know that my path won’t be the same. 

First, I asked my followers how they combat burnout – because I know they’ve been there, and here’s what they had to say.

1. Diligent self-care routine

Routines can be hard to create in the first place but establishing one and being diligent in that every day will ensure that you are taking care of yourself. Even amid burnout – this is key to showing up as the best version of yourself in your career.

It’s important to establish this routine before burnout so it’s easier to continue to take care of yourself. It doesn’t have to be complicated – simple and intentional will do, and often works best. A self-care routine that is truly centered around you and your needs shouldn’t feel like a chore. How you define self-care will be different than how someone else does – but it could include daily movement, a skincare routine, journaling, or meditating to ensure a great start to the workday. Prioritizing your health inevitably allows you to do your best work.

2. Take a break, then assess, reassess and create an action plan

This is such a good one – and the key here is to take a break from work. I know for me personally, I’m quick to try and create new action plans without taking that break, which just leads to more burnout and continued exhaustion.

3. Cry for a few minutes, then keep working

While this might seem silly – sometimes the best thing you can do is release your emotions. It’s okay to take a few minutes and acknowledge that life is hard, busy and that it feels like you will never catch a break. We can’t always go on a 2-week vacation to clear our head – but releasing our emotions is something we can do in the here and now. 

4. Press pause on non-essential tasks

As mentioned, taking a step back is really important to getting mental clarity and getting away from the fog that burnout brings. The more that you have the ability to take a break from – the more effective this strategy will be.

5. Consider what you can take off your plate

In a state of burnout – everything feels exhausting even the most simple and ordinary of tasks. Is there anything you can take off your plate? Simplify as many decisions as you can so that they don’t take your already depleted energy. This could mean ordering take-out a few nights that week, or picking out simple outfits to wear.

Are you able to opt out of a meeting or ask your co-worker to help with a project? In addition to that, prioritizing your workload will also help – what tasks absolutely have to be done, and what things can wait until you are more energized? Another thing to consider is asking to move a deadline. If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer, are you able to hire a virtual assistant to take care of the mundane tasks?

How to Avoid Burnout 

Ultimately, the goal is to avoid burnout altogether because it can be a tough slump to get through (but if it happens – you will, I promise.) While much of life feels out of our control, there are things you can do to avoid reaching complete burnout. 

1. Take time to figure out what exactly brings you joy – and gets you feeling refreshed. This may take some experimenting if you’ve never given it too much thought but think about the activities that fulfill you at work. Consider what brings you joy at your job, and why you started the career in the first place. If you’re able to, try incorporating more of the components you love back into your job.

This might mean having a conversation with your manager – but it’s an important conversation to have! Be open and honest with them about your work goals, and what you would like to do more of.

Filling your cup outside of work is also important when it comes to being your best self at work – the possibilities are endless and are yours to discover. I know for me, I bring my best self to work when I’ve spent my days off getting inspired from books, podcasts and talking walks.

2. Don’t say yes to everything. This is particularly important to remember when you feel like you have a lot of energy. It can be easy to say yes when you are feeling good about life, are on a good track and have lots of energy – because at that moment you can really handle them all, but eventually, they will wear on you. Be conscious of the things you say yes to and where you are spending your energy. When it comes to your work-life, this is important to remember too. It might be tempting to say yes to everything that is asked of you, but you are in charge of your energy and protecting it.

3. Don’t let the “should do’s” get to you. In today’s social media and comparison era – it’s easier than ever to come up with a list of things you “should be doing” It can be easy to think that you must work a 9-5 while also running a side hustle, while also needing to cook your own healthy meals every day and getting in those hour-long workouts. While the things that you feel like you should be doing might work for someone else, that doesn’t mean they’re going to serve you. Assess what will work and be sustainable for you, and don’t get caught in the comparison trap. 

4. Don’t put too much on your plate too fast. It is possible to do a lot of different things in your career but you have to be mindful of how and when you add them into your life. It can be okay to say yes to a lot of career opportunities – when you do that in a sustainable way. Don’t go from just working your 9-5, to then adding a side hustle, a blog, volunteering, consulting all at once. It may all fit on your google calendar, but that doesn’t mean you will have the energy to match. Start with one thing and then add things in over time. After each new thing, assess how you’re feeling and check your energy and be real with it. There is no shame in changing your mind and reworking what makes the most sense for your career path. Maybe that extra freelancing gig you took on was fun and the money would be nice – but you’re left feeling more drained than ever before. 

5. Surround yourself with people (or have at least one person), that can help you spot the signs of burnout before it happens. Sometimes it can be really hard to spot the signs of burnout yourself, but an outside perspective can be really helpful. I wish that in the times that I’ve been burnt out (particularly in college, when I spent all of my time thinking and breathing school), someone would have pointed out to me the signs of burnout and how I was displaying them (constant irritation for example). 

Remember that burnout can happen to anyone – and it can sneak up even with the best of intentions – and get in the way of achieving your career goals. Being aware of what burnout even is – the signs and being conscious of what it feels like for you, will go a long way in preventing it so you can keep focused growing in your career and enjoying the work you do.

Looking for advice or have questions about your career journey?  Have a Virtual Career Meeting with Style Nine to Five Founder, Christie Lohr, to discuss and strategize your next steps.

By Jenna Yeomans – Jenna is a freelance community manager and writer in Hamilton, ON with a passion for storytelling, creativity and supporting small businesses.

Feature Image: Adobe Stock