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Recognizing Burnout

We have all had bad days, or weeks, at work. But when do those bad days start to turn into something more serious? Burnout is a hot topic, pun intended, in today’s workplace. But when does the normal work routine become burnout, and what are some of the things we should be looking out for?

Psychology Today calls burnout “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” But what does this mean? Being at work is inherently stressful, this is the thing that enables you to pay your bills and live your life, so some stress is healthy. It makes you want to do a good job, and it makes you work harder and perform your best. The relationship between work, stress, and burnout is interesting. Too little stress at work can cause your productivity and creativity to slip, but too much stress at work can cause serious mental health issues, including burnout. So how do we find that balance, and how do we maintain it?

If there were a simple answer that worked for everyone, I would tell you. I am no mental health expert, but I have done research on this topic and talked to some experts about how to manage stress, and unfortunately there is no answer that is right for everyone. Each individual must learn to manage their stress themselves, and the first step to that is self-awareness. You need to know how your mind, and body, (since stress can have physical effects as well) react to stress. You also need to know when you are approaching your stress limit.

Once you understand how your mind and body react to stress, you can start to work on reducing your stress levels when you are approaching burnout. Taking time with friends and family (assuming this is not stress inducing) or enjoying hobbies away from work stressors can be a way to prevent your stress levels from getting too high.

But at the end of the day, the work must still get done. If just the thought of doing the work is causing strongly negative stress reactions, more dramatic measures may be needed. Talking with your supervisor/manager about your work should be your first step. This does not have to be a conversation about removing work from you. There are other steps to try first, such as having your manager assist you with the prioritization of your tasks. Maybe there are some things that can wait while you finish larger tasks, therefore freeing your mental state up to focus more on what is most important. Or there could be tasks assigned to you that are more suited to another person on your team, so a rearranging of assignments may make everyone happier.

This may seem crazy to some people reading this, and I get that. I was, and still am sometimes, the guy that will not ask for help. If you assign me a task it will get done and it will get done on time. But what happens if I get assigned another task, then another, then another. There are only so many things one person can do, and it is your responsibility to say when your plate is full. There have been times where I had to let my manager know that my plate runneth over. I had to acknowledge that I would not be able to do this task to the level of quality that I expect from myself, and a good manager will listen and acknowledge that. Burnout and stress are two sides of the same coin, but as long as you can acknowledge when you are feeling the effects of too much stress, burnout should be avoidable.

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More about burnout

on this week’s podcast episode.

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