Navigating occasional workday blues is par for the course. We all experience the Sunday scaries or entertain the idea of playing hooky on occasion. Yet, when these fleeting moments of work anxiety morph into a prolonged mood, it's time to investigate. If you find yourself dreading work akin to anticipating a root canal, besieged by the belief that your efforts are inconsequential, and overwhelmed to the point of teeth-grinding stress, it could be indicative of burnout. It’s a legit phenom that should not go untreated. Discover how to identify its signals and unravel practical steps to restore your work-life balance.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout has officially earned its stripes as a "certified occupational phenomenon," thanks to a 2019 survey by the World Health Organization. They revealed that a whopping 75% of employees find themselves caught in the clutches of burnout at some point in their careers. According to the WHO, burnout is characterized by persistent fatigue, low productivity, feelings of cynicism, and low job satisfaction.
Common Symptoms of Burnout
- Chronic Exhaustion
- Reduced Productivity
- Heightened Irritability or Cynicism About Work
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Feelings of Detachment from Responsibilities
- Emotional Fatigue
- Sense of Diminished Personal Accomplishment
Source: Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). This measuring instrument for assessing burnout syndrome is used in approximately 90% of all published scientific studies on burnout syndrome.
Strategies to Prevent Burnout
Establish Clear Boundaries
Put bluntly: Don't be the office doormat or punching bag! Employment is a reciprocal arrangement wherein you contribute your skills and services in exchange for compensation. This dynamic forms a relationship that should be built on the foundation of mutual respect. To facilitate this, clearly define your personal and professional boundaries. Identify what is acceptable to you in terms of working hours, communication style, and the types of tasks you are willing to take on. Clearly communicate your boundaries to your colleagues and, especially, to your superiors. Be assertive but respectful when expressing your limits. Also hugely helpful: Learn to say no! It's okay to decline additional tasks or projects if you are already overwhelmed. Be realistic about what you can handle, and don't be afraid to say "sorry, can't do" when necessary. It's better to do a few things well than to spread yourself too thin.
Take Regular Breaks — and a Vacation
Taking regular breaks at work is essential for maintaining your well-being. Your brain needs some time out. Resist the urge to scroll through Instagram or check your emails during lunch. This time is meant for recharging your batteries and taking a true repose from responsibilities. Go to lunch with coworkers, take your sandwich to a park and sit in the grass under a tree, indulge in a quick a nap in your car — do whatever it takes to leave that nagging to do list behind.
Breaks also extend to vacation time! Yet going on holiday is a rarity in the U.S. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, "every year more than half of Americans give up paid time off." But taking time off from work that’s longer than a weekend is vital for your health. According to the Harvard Business Review, the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind-Body Center reported that "taking a vacation increases positive emotions and reduces depression," among a slew of other benefits, such as preventing burnout. So book that flight for some pool time and piña coladas!
Navigate a Toxic Work Culture
Are you grappling with a toxic work culture dominated by negative behaviors, attitudes, and dynamics that compromise your well-being and job satisfaction? This situation can significantly impact your mental health and lead to burnout. In toxic workplaces, communication is often broken, leading employees to fear expressing opinions or providing feedback. Managers may engage in excessive micromanagement and fail to outline clear expectations, leading to employees feeling at a loss or undervalued and contributing to a decline in morale and motivation. High turnover rates can also have hugely demoralizing effect.
What to do? Step back and assess your workplace dynamics objectively. Identify specific toxic elements and root causes to develop coping strategies. Connect with colleagues facing similar challenges for support and guidance. You might be surprised to learn that you are not alone with your feelings of discomfort! If comfortable, address issues directly with your supervisors or HR, using assertive communication to express your feelings and concerns. If anything, it will feel empowering to advocate for yourself.
Ask for Hybrid Work Situation
Perhaps you can talk to your supervisor and create a flexible work arrangement, such as remote work options or flexible schedules, to reduce stress. According to the latest Q2 Employee Experience Insight Report 2023 by WorkL, “a combination of working from home and collaborating face-to-face with colleagues in the office leads to the highest satisfaction levels among employees. Globally, individuals practicing hybrid work reported an impressive happiness score of 73 percent.” So ask if you can WFH a couple of days a week. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no!
Focus on Self-Care
Ensuring self-care is vital for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Commit to physical self-care through regular exercise, choosing activities like jogging, yoga, or hiking to invigorate your body. Enhance overall health by establishing a consistent sleep routine and fueling your body with a balanced diet that supports your physical and mental well-being. For emotional self-care, embrace mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing. Cultivate social self-care by spending quality time with supportive friends and fam, setting boundaries, and participating in fun activities aligned with your interests. Engage in intellectual self-care by indulging in pleasurable reading or an audiobook, acquiring new skills or hobbies, and expressing creativity through activities like going to art shows, seeing bands, creating a vision board or even just making a new "happy" playlist. Implement a digital detox by unplugging during designated times, creating screen-free zones to disconnect from technostress. When all else fails, take a personal self-care day off to "rot" for 24 hours with utter abandon!
Seek Joy and Find the Thing You Love
If you reach a critical juncture where getting out of bed in the a.m. becomes a daily struggle, insomnia torments you in the p.m., and overwhelm hinders your ability to function, it might be time to assess whether your current environment or career path aligns with your well-being. Realizing such a shift is challenging, given responsibilities and bills, yet objectively evaluating your situation might reveal that the optimal solution lies in distancing yourself from the triggering circumstances and pursuing a path that brings you genuine joy.
If an immediate change is not feasible, consider cultivating small moments of joy in your everyday life. Pick a dandelion and make a wish, really savor your cup of coffee, buy yourself some fresh flowers... Or engage in so-called "micro-acts." The BIG JOY Project, a scientific initiative, uncovered that engaging in daily micro-acts of joy can yield a remarkable 25% enhancement in emotional well-being within just one week. As reported by NPR, these micro-acts encompass small positive activities, including acts of kindness such as helping a sick neighbor or extending gestures to friends or strangers.
In the pursuit of preventing burnout and attaining a harmonious work-life balance, it's essential to heed the early warnings and navigate the occasional workday blues. The World Health Organization certifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon, affecting a staggering 75% of employees at some point in their careers. Recognizing burnout entails deciphering persistent fatigue, disappearing productivity, increased cynicism, and a melancholic march towards job dissatisfaction.
To thwart this malaise, establish clear boundaries, communicate assertively, and master the art of saying no. Embrace regular breaks as vital reprieves, allowing your brain the breather it craves. Addressing a toxic work culture requires stepping back, objectively assessing dynamics, and seeking support from colleagues facing similar challenges. The hybrid work situation emerges as a potential savior, offering flexibility and collaboration satisfaction. Finally, prioritize self-care across physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and digital realms. This holistic approach forms the cornerstone for a resilient defense against burnout.