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5 tips for managing workplace burnout
Stressed woman sitting at her desk in an office.
When people are burned out at work, low energy, indifference, lack of excitement about tasks, workplace pessimism, and cynicism about the future take over. The World Health Organization also warns that when people are burned out, they start to feel unaccomplished. According to the American Psychological Association, they suffer—and so do the innovative ideas and productivity they might otherwise bring to the table.
In an economy where productivity is at a premium, employees face increased workplace stress, which can lead to burnout if not managed in healthy ways. Using information from leading business schools and academic research, Wysa compiled five useful tips to help manage burnout at work.
A survey commissioned by management consulting firm Deloitte of 1,000 full-time U.S.-based professionals found that 91% of respondents experienced unmanageable stress levels and frustration at work. And 77% of respondents reported suffering from burnout at their jobs. Most said they’ve encountered burnout more than once at their workplace.
And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which sent stress and burnout rates skyrocketing, according to the American Psychological Association.
Burnout is a serious condition with real health consequences. The APA reports that employees suffering from burnout are at nearly triple the normal risk of experiencing depressive disorders and have a 57% higher risk of being absent from work, an 84% higher risk of suffering from Type 2 diabetes, and a 40% higher risk of experiencing hypertension.
Integris Health, a nonprofit health care system in Oklahoma, notes the condition does not spontaneously appear but occurs and develops over five stages. It starts with the “honeymoon phase,” when people begin their jobs or a new project with lots of energy and optimism. However, no honeymoon lasts forever, and stressful periods come as responsibilities build up, moving to the stress phase.
The stress phase turns chronic as intense stress becomes a fixture in the workplace. Prolonged chronic stress finally leads to the burnout and habitual burnout phases, where burnout becomes chronic.
While stress can lead to burnout, many symptoms of burnout and stress are opposites, according to the Midwestern University Counseling Center. Stress is characterized by over-engagement, overreactions, and feelings of urgency, while burnout, according to the center, involves disengagement, emotional detachment, and feelings of hopelessness.
Unaddressed burnout can lead to problems in personal relationships as well as the workplace, depression, substance abuse, and, in some cases, self-harm and suicide. Licensed medical professionals can help those dealing with burnout overcome it and avoid it in the future.
Continue reading for five strategies that can help you manage burnout.
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Connect with friends in your industry
Group of people chatting at a networking event.
Friendship and networking with people in the workplace and across your industry can help manage and reduce the risk of burnout.
According to a 2021 study from team-building firm Wildgoose, 57% of respondents reported having a good friend at work made their job “more enjoyable.” Harvard Business Review notes friendships and workplace connections improve the quality of workplace recommendations and job satisfaction and reduce turnover.
Making connections within your industry can also help build support systems for encouragement, mentorship, and advice. Networking can also help identify common problems within and across workplaces and may yield ideas for solving them.
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Approach your boss
Two professionals having a discussion.
If you can, talk to your manager about feeling burned out. See if tasks can be delayed, shared with someone else, automated, or removed from your plate. Knowing what is stressing employees and burning them out can help managers make the necessary adjustments. Bosses should work to create a stigma-free environment where workers feel comfortable enough to be honest about stress and burnout concerns.
Seemingly small acts, like taking sick days for mental health, something a 2022 report by Wysa says American workers tend to avoid doing, can start an honest conversation about burnout concerns. According to the report, which surveyed more than 1,000 American employees, 40% of employees screened positive for symptoms of depression and anxiety, yet the majority were more likely to misrepresent it as a physical illness or go to work anyway.
As Ron Carucci wrote in Harvard Business Review, a key hurdle is a reluctance to be considered needy. Open communication is critical to ensure managers understand behavior by burned-out employees as intentional sabotage rather than exhaustion and overload.
Because some 70% of employees avoid difficult conversations with their boss, both parties can foster open communication by regularly practicing active listening and choosing direct, specific honesty in interactions
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Set a defined schedule
Professional working at laptop.
Burnout can come from unclear or blended boundaries between work and life. Setting boundaries is a potent form of self-help, according to Psychology Today, which ensures your needs are met and your time isn’t abused.
Boundaries limit the ability of work—or coworkers—to intrude on other key parts of life, like family time, exercise, and recreation. Schedules delineating time for family, work, leisure, and self-reflection are valuable tools for setting boundaries. Schedules also help with avoiding procrastination, which can lead to stress before deadlines.
Perfectionists and people who are often afraid to say no may benefit from boundaries even more than others, finding help setting limits around people-pleasing or taking on more tasks than they can handle.
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Take small breaks during the day
Coworkers having a conversation outside office.
In general, as the workday progresses, employee productivity gradually decreases due to fatigue. That can increase stress, especially about finishing key tasks before the day’s end.
Breaks help refresh workers and keep them more productive throughout the day, according to Harvard Business Review, which reduces the likelihood of burnout. Breaks don’t have to be very long to be effective—even microbreaks with a stretch or a short walk can make a difference.
According to Michigan State University, taking breaks during work helps improve decision-making and focus. Breaks also help reduce the risk of sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease by helping manage stress.
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Create space for fun and self-care
Couple with dog hiking.
According to the Midwestern University Counseling Center, one of the ways one can prevent burnout is adequate self-care. This could include resting properly, eating a healthy diet, and setting time aside daily for leisure and relaxation. Traveling and vacations can also help take your mind off work-related stress.
Self-care and fun activities help stimulate positive emotions, which are essential to avoid falling into burnout. Self-care must also go hand in hand with setting boundaries and planning a schedule to ensure that spending time in self-care doesn’t lead to neglect or running away from challenging tasks.
Additional research by Emma Rubin. Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.
This story originally appeared on Wysa and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.