In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment, it’s not uncommon for professionals to experience career burnout at some point in their lives. Financial insecurities, blurred lines between work and home life, and overwhelming workloads have created a boiling pot of pressure and stress that has led to 1 in 5 workers taking time off work in the past year. Negatively impacting employee wellbeing, workplace productivity and job satisfaction, burnout is a risk factor on an individual, organisational and societal level that needs to be addressed. 

Burnout can sneak up on you, gradually draining your energy, motivation, and passion. But by recognising the signs early on, you can take proactive steps to prevent it from negatively impacting your wellbeing and career.

Defining and Identifying Burnout

So, what exactly is career burnout? It’s common to experience stress and pressure in the workplace and in life generally. It can even motivate and drive us in some situations. Stress turns into burnout when someone experiences a state of chronic physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress in the workplace. It can manifest in various ways and affects individuals differently. 

Burnout has become such a widespread issue that the World Health Organisation has recognised it and it’s a priority for mental health organisations such as Mental Health UK which published The Burnout Report. The first step to overcoming and preventing burnout is recognising it from the early signs. Here are some common signs to watch out for:

Exhaustion and Fatigue

Feeling constantly tired, both mentally and physically, even after a good night’s sleep is a prominent sign of burnout. You just can’t seem to refill your cup. You may find it difficult to summon the energy needed to tackle your daily tasks and responsibilities causing greater stress and creating a vicious cycle between tiredness, stress and reduced capability to perform tasks.

Lack of Motivation

If you find yourself struggling to find meaning or motivation in your work, it could be a sign of burnout. You may feel detached, disengaged, and unable to muster enthusiasm for projects that used to excite you. It’s like losing your spark or your reason for turning up to work.

Increased Irritability

Burnout often leads to heightened irritability and a reduced tolerance for frustration. You may find yourself snapping at colleagues, feeling impatient, or becoming easily overwhelmed by minor setbacks. The exhaustion and detachment from meaningful purpose have eroded your patience.

Lack of Concentration

As burnout takes its toll, your ability to concentrate and stay focused may suffer. You may find it challenging to complete tasks that previously came easily to you, leading to decreased productivity. Again this only advances burnout as you feel the pressure to keep up with your usual workload and turnaround time without physically being able to. 

Decreased Job Satisfaction

When burnout sets in, job satisfaction can plummet. You may experience a sense of disillusionment, feeling unfulfilled by your work and questioning its value or impact. You may have been perfectly happy in your job previously, and even have worked really hard to build a career in your industry, but it doesn’t light you up like it used to anymore. 

Physical Symptoms

Burnout doesn’t just affect your mental wellbeing; it can also manifest in physical symptoms. Headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, and even a weakened immune system can all be signs of chronic stress and impending burnout. Your nervous system is on overdrive as you’re constantly on high alert which just isn’t healthy for you. 

Neglecting Self-Care

As burnout takes hold, you may start neglecting your self-care routines. You just don’t have the energy or motivation. You might skip meals, forego exercise, sacrifice sleep, or isolate yourself socially. These behaviours further exacerbate the exhaustion and amplify the risk of burnout.

 

There are no ‘rules of burnout’ so you may not experience all of these signs of burnout and the ones you do experience may be of varying degrees of severity. The good news is that it is possible to break the burnout cycle.  

Preventing and Managing Burnout

If you identify with one or more of these signs, it’s crucial to take action to address and prevent burnout. It won’t just go away. If anything, it will only get worse. By taking action you are giving yourself what you need to thrive in the workplace and find fulfilment from your job which everyone deserves. Here are some strategies to help you regain balance and wellbeing:

Assess your priorities

Re-evaluate your goals and values both personally and professionally. Determine what truly matters to you and consider how you can align your work with your passions, interests and values. It will reinvigorate your motivation, energy and satisfaction. This doesn’t mean you have to change jobs. Assessing your priorities could give you a fresh perspective on your current job and your future in the organisation. 

Set boundaries

In Mental Health UK’s Burnout Report, 54% of workers reported ‘a high or increased workload or volume of tasks at work – unpaid’ to be a contributor to burnout and 45% reported ‘regularly working unpaid overtime beyond contracted hours’ to be a contributor. Working beyond what can be reasonably expected especially without fair compensation is not a healthy work environment.

Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life such as not checking your emails during dinner. Learn to say no when your workload becomes overwhelming. You need the time and headspace to be able to prioritise self-care activities that enable you to show up as your best when at work.

Lean on your support system

Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or colleagues who can provide emotional support. Sharing your experiences can help you gain perspective and find potential solutions. Having an outlet to process work and get advice is a great stress release and a great way to tackle feelings of isolation and overwhelm. 

Take breaks and practice self-care

Create a healthy working environment for yourself that minimises stress. Make time for regular breaks throughout the day to recharge and reset. There’s no point in working yourself into the ground each day. You won’t be producing your best work. Engage in activities that help you relax and promote wellbeing, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies. This can also help to distinguish between the workday and personal time. 

Communicate with your manager

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, have an open and honest conversation with your manager. Together, you can explore strategies to manage your workload and find support within the organisation. You can’t get help from your employer if they don’t know that anything is wrong. There are lots of reasonable adjustments they can make and it’s in their best interest to do so as addressing burnout improves productivity and reduces turnover. 

Seek professional help

If you’re finding it challenging to cope with burnout on your own, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counsellor. They can provide guidance and support tailored to your specific needs. While burnout itself is not a mental health condition, it has a serious impact on mental wellbeing and can be connected to mental health conditions.

Explore career changes

If burnout persists despite your efforts, it may be a sign that a career change is in order. Does your current role align with your intrinsic motivations? Does your job allow you to spend most of your time in your zone of genius using your strengths? That’s how you garner energy from work and maintain interest in what you do. Both are needed for optimal performance. Reflect on your long-term goals and consider whether a new path or a different role within your organization could reinvigorate your passion for work.

 

Recognising the signs of burnout is the first step towards reclaiming your wellbeing and finding fulfilment in your career. By prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, seeking support, and evaluating your career path, you can prevent burnout and cultivate a balanced and thriving professional life. Remember, your wellbeing should always be a top priority. Without it, you can sustainably achieve amazing results at work, support your team and drive your organisation forward. 

 

If you would like to talk to a professional about your next steps for your career, whether you want to make the most of your current role or find a role and workplace that better suits your needs, you can book a career coaching session with me. In particular, you might find it useful to book a career coaching session that includes strengths profiling and motivational mapping as these two assessments uncover what makes you tick at work and therefore what to look for to support job satisfaction and workplace wellbeing. 

 

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