Did you know that more than half of the US workforce identifies along the burnout spectrum? Burnout is not a new phenomenon in the workplace; however, when you recognize yourself within this term, it can be disorienting and disheartening as so much of our identity is wrapped up in what we do for a living. Still, if you feel like you’re hearing more about occupational burnout in recent years, it’s probably because you have.
Occupational Burnout has been reevaluated recently in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The surge of employees transitioning from an office job to a permanent or semi-permanent remote working status has undeniably blurred the boundaries between working remotely and life at home. As a primarily remote (or hybrid) workforce, we must deal with on-the-job stress, keeping up our daily work assignments, and the stress that comes from being at home, often simultaneously. While we have returned to some normalcy in our lives, achieving a work-life balance remains an issue for many people.
In this guide, we’re encouraging employers and employees to learn how to recognize burnout and avoid feeling drained by daily routines.
What is Burnout?
Burnout, in general, is the physical and mental response to unaddressed chronic or long periods of stress. Occupational burnout, in particular, manifests alongside factors such as unresolved tension at work, working endless hours, never moving up in status or title, and not being adequately acknowledged for work efforts. In addition, occupational burnout often results in the employee being unable to keep up with their employer’s excessive demands. It may feel like there is no way to escape.
Symptoms of Burnout
There is no such thing as a sudden onset or overnight occurrence of burnout. Instead, it is a series of events that build up over time, initially going unaddressed or under the radar until it finally cannot be ignored.
A few common scenarios leading to occupational burnout for employees include finding their jobs increasingly frustrating and stressful without any anticipated payoff, developing a cynical attitude towards their work environment, colleagues, or employer, experiencing a noticeable decrease in passion for the work leading to poor performance, and becoming emotionally detached and numb to their work. The effects of occupational burnout can vary from person to person; some may exhibit physical symptoms, emotional reactions, or behavioral responses more than others.
Physical symptoms: Headaches, stomachaches, frequent illness, change in sleep habits, or intestinal discomfort
Emotional symptoms: Feeling drained, easily overwhelmed, detached, tired, and lacking the motivation to do work
Behavioral symptoms: Lack of creativity, withdrawing from responsibilities, difficulty concentrating, skipping work or starting later and leaving earlier, and pessimism about tasks
Other Underlying Symptoms
As we consider humans to be holistic beings, with interconnected needs in all areas of life, the presence of occupational burnout has the potential to impact our wellness across all spheres of life. If occupational burnout continues to be ignored or handled through unhelpful coping skills (overeating, drinking, shopping, etc.), you may be at greater risk of developing significant health consequences. In addition to the health impacts you can imagine from turning to food or alcohol to numb the problem, burnout also tends to lead people to neglect taking care of themselves.
These practices can also contribute to:
- Heart disease
- Alcohol or substance misuse
- Type 2 diabetes
- Increased vulnerability to illness (immune system weakens)
The COVID Transition
Before the COVID-19 lockdown and the requirement for many jobs to be performed remotely, we had the opportunity to disconnect during our commute home from work and transition to our personal lives. Our minds were free to wander as we mentally and physically ended the work day. In fact, we’ve lost this transition in many areas of life. The insights that once came to us when we were stuck in Atlanta traffic, waiting on the bus to unload our kiddos after a day at school, or walking home after our evening gym class were stripped from us as the setting of our life became entirely singular. Remote workers, in particular, no longer have a firm boundary between work and leisure. Instead, our days have become blended; we can work during our downtime and rest while we work.
Consequently, we no longer have a commute time to unplug and disconnect from work. Instead, we remain plugged in and ready to respond at the drop of a hat. Everywhere with WiFi has suddenly become an office. Eight-hour days are slowly becoming 10, 15, or 20-hour days.
How to Prevent Occupational Burnout
Preventing burnout begins with understanding what it is and identifying it. Early recognition increases the likelihood that it may be avoided or stopped before it becomes detrimental. In addition, incorporating proper self-care into your daily routine can help prevent burnout.
You may have already settled on a routine that works for you, but you may want to consider other possibilities for occupational burnout prevention, beginning with taking some time every day to relax, enjoy yourself, and spend time with your loved ones. Protect this time! Don’t be afraid to say no if you no longer have the capacity and can’t take on that extra project. You can make a big difference in your work performance if you intentionally schedule a time to take a break from work throughout the day. This will enable you to unplug yourself mentally and physically!
The following are additional tips on how to prevent occupational burnout as an employee:
- Be realistic with your expectations
- Don’t be shy about asking for help
- You are responsible for your actions. Don’t assume additional responsibility for problems you haven’t caused
- Avoid the source of stress if you can
- Cooperate with colleagues to resolve any issues and reach a compromise
- Seek help from a professional to address your challenges
If you are an employer concerned about employee burnout…
Employers need to recognize that this is a workplace issue and not something to blame their employees for. Take the initiative to speak with your staff and find out if employees have been feeling lonely or burnt out. Include your employees in identifying targets and creating action plans to address and improve the factors contributing to their burnout. Additionally, incentivize employees to take steps to be healthier, eat and sleep well, exercise, and take breaks (as needed) throughout the day. The last thing you want to do is make them feel weak or less because of their current mental health status.
Coping Skills for When You Experience Occupational Burnout
We are humans and sometimes, life gets the better of us! Our most effective option sometimes is to cope and build resilience with our situation rather than find a way out of it. It’s helpful to remember that some people can reflect on previous experiences that they survived as a reminder of their strength. In contrast, someone without those life experiences can utilize tried and true coping skills. Some people may prefer a particular coping style or a technique over another, which is perfectly okay! Finding abilities that align with your personality will be fundamental to your success.
- Schedule time to take care of yourself
- Set new practical goals and adjust your expectations
- Organize your weekly schedule and remove or reduce unnecessary items
- Make sure you exercise regularly but know it is okay if you aren’t able to fit a long workout into your schedule every day.
- Ensure that you eat a well-balanced, healthy diet throughout the day, and accept that there will be days where this is a challenge
- Get enough sleep every night so you can wake up feeling rested
- Consider inserting “timeouts” throughout each workday, such as stepping away from your computer to do yoga or stretch, jog, go for a bike ride, or meditate to create a natural break in the day
- Build a support system you can turn to and rely on when things are feeling tough, and use it
If you didn’t already notice, many of these positive efforts that you can add to your life need to be balanced with a healthy dose of self-compassion. Through this balance between action and self-compassion, you will be able to overcome occupational burnout and experience whole-person wellness in your life.
Types of Effective Treatment
Just like it doesn’t manifest overnight, occupational burnout doesn’t disappear overnight. To effectively address and manage burnout, you must first identify and understand the root causes and environmental factors. This can be done in individual counseling sessions with our therapists or through career coaching sessions. From there, you will also learn how to equip your toolbelt with relevant strategies for building resiliency and balancing your professional and personal life.
If you or a loved one have been suffering from occupational burnout or just realized you are burnt out, our doors are open! Our therapists at Holistic Wellness Practice are ready to help you identify and make the necessary changes in your personal and professional life that contribute to occupational burnout. Don’t hesitate to call for a free complimentary consultation; you can also contact us through email or feel free to call us at (470) 740-7121.
We look forward to hearing from you!