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Burnout from Work: Warning Signs and What Organizations Can Do

You can’t get out of bed. Nothing you do at work is good enough. You don’t make any impact at work. Why did you even take this job in the first place? Your body feels sluggish. These are signs of burnout.

Burnout isn’t just exhaustion or overwhelm.

Burnout from work is chronic, unmanaged stress. The hallmarks are energy depletion/exhaustion, mental distance and cynicism about your work, feelings of low efficacy at work (as in, you’re not having a positive impact of any kind). (WHO)

(Photo Credit: Anthony Tran, UnSplash)

Burnout isn’t “quiet quitting,” which is simply doing the job you were hired to do, setting boundaries, and not being unpaid for your excessive labor. Quiet Quitting rejects the cult of overwork so that companies hire the appropriate number of people they need, rather than squeezing their current staff.

I have battled burnout, and it wasn’t pretty. I dreaded work and thought I was useless there. I had no interest in projects that previously excited me. Every day was a struggle, and I dragged myself through. Eventually, I had to quit: It was my health or my work. I chose me.

I have worked with clients on the brink of burnout: physicians who lost their love of medicine, education leaders who were running on empty from COVID, faculty who are fed up with academia.

The problem with burnout is that you often can’t see that you’re in the middle of it and don’t see a way out. That’s why it’s important for us to look out for each other. As a leader, if someone on your team is taking a lot of sick days, seems disengaged, and appears to have lost their spark, CHECK IN.

Burnout from work is not a personal failing. It’s often born by unreasonable demands, systems, structures, and norms at work.

These organizational practices make burnout from work more likely:

  • Consistent, unreasonable expectations and demands that seem impossible for employees

  • An “always on” culture (emails at all hours, expectations of immediate responses)

  • Micro-management and other practices that undermine employees’ autonomy

  • Lack of predictability: constantly changing focus or direction, big shifts in organizational values, job role confusion

  • Practices that create disconnection, isolation, and loneliness among team members

  • Lack of psychological safety that creates a fear of failure, worry about sharing contrary opinions/feelings, constant criticism, and little acknowledgment of successes

  • Unfair treatment of employees

If you are a leader and your organization implements the unhealthy behaviors above, it’s time to stop. NOW. Start a conversation about centering the health and well-being of your employees, having clear and reasonable expectations, and prioritizing psychological safety.

The future of your work and your workforce depends on how people feel when they are at work (and how they feel when they lie awake in the middle of the night).

If you are an individual and need support battling burnout, or if you are a leader who wants to do right by their team and worry they are burning out, REACH OUT. Book a complimentary coaching call with me.

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