April is Stress Awareness Month so we thought this was an ideal opportunity to talk about burnout. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized burnout as an official ‘syndrome’ related to chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. So what exactly is burnout?
How do you know if you or someone you know is burned out? Here are some ways to check.
In addition to checking for these signs, here’s a 2 minute quiz from our friends at Yerbo to help you assess your burnout.
We sometimes throw around the term burnout whenever we’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, so we think it’s important to clarify some myths and misconceptions.
While long hours can definitely contribute to feelings of burnout, it’s often more about how you feel while working than just how much you work. This is why we recommend taking frequent breaks throughout the day for your mental and physical well being. One of our favorite methods for people who spend a lot of time on screens is the 20-20-20 rule, which encourages that after spending 20 minutes on the computer, a person should spend 20 seconds looking at an object 20 feet away. This is because it takes about 20 seconds for your eyes to rest. This is also the perfect opportunity to remind yourself to hydrate or to take a few deep breaths and stretch. We recommend setting a calendar reminder or pop up for these mini breaks.
Although burnout is connected to work-related stress, the signs and symptoms of someone experiencing stress are different than those of burnout. Stress usually causes employees to over-engage with their work, while someone who is burned out will exhibit symptoms like disengagement and a lack of productivity due to feeling detached. Additionally, the symptoms of stress are primarily physical while those of burnout are primarily psychological.
While the symptoms can be similar and they can be linked, it’s important to differentiate burnout and depression as they have very different treatment paths. With burnout, most problems are related to work and adjustments made to your work will typically help. Depression has symptoms that burnout doesn’t usually exhibit, including low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness. With depression, treatments such as therapy or medication might be needed.
Burnout can feel isolating, but it’s helpful to remember that it’s actually very common. According to a recent Gallup poll, 76% of employees experience burnout at work at least sometimes. In fact, only 4% of people surveyed say they never experience it. In 2020 alone, there was an estimated 33% rise in feelings of burnout as the lines between work and home became very blurred for many.
So you’re feeling burned out. What should you do? Depending on your industry and situation, you may have different levels of control over your workday and environment. One thing we know helps is to check in on yourself and those around you frequently so you can catch burnout early.
A few other tips that have helped us:
- When you’re in work mode, think about being a candle instead of a match. A candle can last for many days burning brightly while a match puts in its all upfront and can’t last long. Thanks to the recent Call my Girlfriend podcast episode on burnout for this reference.
- Set boundaries for your work hours and when you need to be on and available (and put these on your calendar so your colleagues know too).
- Take digital detoxes and/or scheduled extended periods of time away from your screen.
- Take frequent short breaks throughout the day, ideally with some fresh air, movement, or stretching woven in.
- Make plans to do things you enjoy and things that challenge you outside of your job and work hours. This gives you something to look forward to and also ensures you don’t work when you don’t have to. It also helps you find purpose in things other than work, which helps you have a healthier relationship with your work.
- Take mental health days. We recommend doing this once a quarter if you can. We find that these days of checking in with ourselves and unplugging often help us recharge more than a vacation.
- Think about why your work matters to you. This could be thinking about meaning behind the work itself, or what it allows you to do with other parts of your life.