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ATD Blog

What to Do About Work Burnout

Monday, July 15, 2019

Burnout at work is a stress-related condition that can strike no matter the size or function of your organization. It can cause low productivity and high employee turnover—both leading to client dissatisfaction.

Training yourself to spot the signs of burnout early—and apply a few simple remedies—can help you avoid the downside of this pervasive workplace issue. What’s more, in the process, you will create a workplace that thrives.

What is work-related burnout?

Merriam-Webster will tell you that burnout is “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” The Mayo Clinic adds that job burnout involves a "sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity."

Though not a medical diagnosis, according to Mayo, burnout can affect the physical and mental health of your associates and employees. If unaddressed, job burnout can have significant consequences on sufferers, including:

  • fatigue and insomnia
  • increased blood pressure
  • heightened vulnerability to illnesses.

Burnout also can lead to sadness, anger, and irritability in those suffering from it.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to spot this hazardous condition and minimize it. Even better, you may be able to avoid its negative effects on your organization altogether.

What are some symptoms of job burnout?

We’re all familiar with the phrase, "Physician, heal thyself." If you're going to try to diagnose and treat job burnout in your organization, you might want to check the state of your own work-related health first. Try asking yourself a few questions:

  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Do you feel like you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you get there?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently and truly productive?
  • Are you finding it hard to concentrate?
  • Are you making more errors?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Have you become cynical or overly critical at work?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers or clients?

If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, you could be suffering symptoms associated with job burnout. You can't make a proper self-diagnosis, of course, without eliminating other possible causes. A doctor or mental health professional might be able to tell you whether these symptoms can be traced to underlying health conditions like depression.

Once you’ve done your best a diagnosing yourself for job burnout, you can more comfortably go about applying this set of questions to others in your organization.

What are some causes of job burnout?

Factors and underlying causes that can lead to burnout at work are many and varied, and they can depend on the nature of your business and staff. Some of the more common ones, however, include:

  • Lack of control: inability to influence decisions that affect one's job or position, such as work schedule, nature of assignments, and workload size.
  • Unclear job expectations: lack of clarity about degree of one's authority or what's expected from him.
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics: working with an office bully, feeling undermined by colleagues, a supervisor micromanaging one's work, and so forth.
  • Work/life imbalance: work so overwhelming the employee’s personal life he doesn't have sufficient time or energy to spend time with friends or family.

After spotting symptoms of job burnout at your organization and considering some of the most frequent underlying causes, you can start treating responsible factors.


What can you do to avoid job burnout?

There are many practical approaches you can take to minimize or eliminate job burnout to address its underlying causes. Some effective options include:

  • Provide clear job expectations and descriptions.
  • Ensure staff have resources and skills necessary to meet expectations.
  • Set realistic workloads and enforce reasonable work hours.
  • Encourage breaks, physical activity, and social support throughout the workday.

Your overall aim should be to help employees understand their value to your organization, making them see how their contributions advance its goals. Your responsibility is to see they have what they need to bring the most value possible, which may include safeguarding their mental health.

Avoiding burnout at your workplace means evaluating the situation and taking practical steps to resolve it. Your hope is to reduce work-related stress and increase engagement while enhancing work enjoyment. If you succeed, you will have taken major steps toward resolving the job burnout issue. More importantly, you will have helped create a work environment that helps employees thrive at work—with beneficial effects on their home life, too.

Want to learn more? Join me July 26 for the webcast, THRIVE – The Anti Burnout Remedy.

About the Author

Greg Zlevor is the president and founder of Westwood International. He has more than 25 years of experience in executive leadership development and education and has served as a coach, consultant, and facilitator collaborating with Fortune 50 companies, governments, and emerging industry leaders all over the world on programs that have profoundly shifted the way they do business. He has worked globally across Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and Australia. For additional information regarding Greg Zlevor, contact [email protected]

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