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How to spot and act on work burnout

For months you’ve not been feeling yourself. You have no motivation to go to work. Your enthusiasm for your job diminishes day by day.

It could be you’re approaching, or have, job burnout.

The Mayo Clinic says job burnout is a special type of work-related stress. They describe it as a “state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

This expert article lists questions you can ask to test if you may be burnt out. It talks about possible causes and consequences. It also has ideas for making life better at work.

Qs to test job burnout

Here are some of the Mayo Clinic’s questions for testing burnout. Even answering “yes” to one question can be an indicator:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches or other physical complaints?

Possible causes of job burnout

Here are possible causes of job burnout:

  • Unclear job expectations. If you don’t know what’s expected of you at work, you’re likely uncomfortable and lacking in confidence.
  • Toxic work culture. If you work in an unhealthy environment, you’re no doubt stressed.
  • Personality conflict with a colleague. If you’re butting heads with a colleague, you’re probably irritable (read how to tackle a personality clash at work).
  • Boring, repetitive work. If your job is “same-same” all day, every day, you’re likely unenthusiastic.
  • Overworked. If your job is always chaotic with a heavy workload, you’re probably exhausted.
  • Lack of support. If you have no support at work, you could be demoralised.
  • Lack of work-life balance. If your work is all-encompassing, leaving you no time to spend on joyful activities, you’re likely feeling cheated.

Consequences of job burnout

While work burnout isn’t classified as a “medical condition”, its consequences can be significant. The Mayo Clinic report these consequences:

  • excessive stress
  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • sadness, anger, irritability
  • alcohol or substance misuse
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • type 2 diabetes
  • vulnerability to illnesses.

What to do about job burnout

Once you better understand the causes of your burnout, you can start acting. This isn’t always quick, but as Martin Luther King Jr said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

  1. Evaluate your options

Evaluate options and set goals around what you can change. You might need to talk to your supervisor about extra resources or rejigging your workload. You might need to be less hard on yourself. Perhaps you should accept that 90 per cent is pretty good—you don’t have to be perfect.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Avoid sweating the small stuff, which robs you of energy to deal with the big stuff. The minute you worry about something beyond your control, pinch yourself, let the matter go and move on.

  1. Take five during your workday

It’s amazing the difference a quiet cuppa or a walk around the block in fresh air makes to your wellbeing. Have lunch away from your desk. Schedule breaks on your computer so you remember to stop and smell the roses.

  1. Downtime from email

It’s so easy, with 24-7 access to emails on our devices, to continually check in to work. Be disciplined. After hours, don’t routinely check in. If there’s something critically urgent and you need to look at your phone, do so but ignore all other emails and messages.

  1. Don’t skip vacation time and take time-off-in-lieu

There’s a reason vacations are important and if you’ve earned time-off-in-lieu don’t let it stockpile. If you can’t take a two-week vacation because of an unavoidable work priority, try taking long weekends until you’re free to enjoy a longer break. While you’re away, don’t call the office or check emails.

  1. Talk to someone

If you’re confused about what action to take, talk to your supervisor, human resources department or employee assistance program. Explain how you’re feeling. Ask for help on options.

  1. See a general practitioner or specialist

If you want to make sure you’re not dealing with something beyond job burnout (perhaps something more serious), make an appointment with your doctor.

Keen to learn more?

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