Working late
Credit: Alan Cleaver / CC BY 2.0 with Attribution

Burnout can happen to anyone and may manifest in different ways. On rare occasions burnout happens suddenly, but most of the time it is a gradual build up that it isn't noticed until the exhaustion appears. The burnout can affect a person physically emotionally, or mentally.

One person's tolerance for burnout is usually different from another person's level. Additionally, the organizational environment almost always comes into play; in these cases sometimes it is difficult to deal with burnout because there are certain aspects in the workplace that are beyond an employee's control.

Whether burnout sneaks up on you or hits you with a blast, the best approach is to examine and try to change the things you do have control over. Once you pinpoint the areas in your job that you can change to reduce feelings of stress and exhaustion, you can get to work on making potential changes.

In some cases you might be able to remove the sources of your stress. You can do this by done by making adjustments to schedule, work habits or personal philosophy. Here are a few contributing factors to burnout and what you can do to try to cut out some of the stress:

Warning Signs of Burnout

There are a number of red flags that may signal you are heading towards or have reached burnout. [1] These include:

  • A negative attitude and general apathy towards your job
  • Stagnated feelings and a lack of interest in a social life
  • You've been neglecting yourself and/or your health is beginning to suffer.
  • Inability to concentrate on work or personal business
  • Sharp reactions to issues that are not worth losing your temper over
  • Boredom and detachment at work
  • Physical health problems
  • Denial you are in burnout

Once you can identify and recognize the problems that have led to your burnout, this is half the battle. The other half is more difficult. The primary key to battling and eliminating burnout is to learn how to effectively eliminate the stress factors you can do something about, and then find ways to manage the ones you can't completely get rid of at work.

Take Designated Breaks

Taking a breather is a good way to help combat burnout. Everyone needs a break once in a while. If you come to work, sit down and work straight through until quitting time, over the course of time there is a higher chance of exhausting yourself. The way to lessen the chances of you totally exhausting yourself is to make sure you take lunch hours and other designated breaks throughout the work day. A change of pace, if only to give your eyes, body and brain a rest, will do wonders—even a couple of minutes will help.

Additionally, according to the Mayo Clinic, computers and digital screens are one of the most common causes of eyestrain. [3] So walking away periodically throughout the day not only gives your brain and body a rest to recoup from the stress of the day, it does your eyes a big favor too. If you use mobile a good part of your day, you could also be struggling with a growing health issue called "text-neck"; taking a break during the workday is a good idea for many reasons.

Cat nap
Credit: Alan L. (Eye of Einstein on Flickr)/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Are you too tired after a hard day's work? Remember to take breaks to get some "breather" time throughout the day.

Shift Energies 

Does a specific project make you want to pull your hair out? If so, ask your boss if you can take on another project or perhaps trade with someone else for a day, a week, maybe long-term.  This might not be a possible option, depending on priorities, but it can't hurt to ask, especially if the boss sees you are beyond fatigued and it has begun to impact your productivity[2] Even if you can get a brief reprieve from a stressful schedule, it may help relieve some of the feelings associated with burnout.

If not shifting to a new project, varying up your work routines might help. Sometimes by making some changes to daily routines, this can do wonders to reduce stress. Mundane routines can lead to burnout because there is no variation. Often a change in one's daily schedule is the trick to getting motivated again.

Personality Conflicts

It is not uncommon for the occasional personality conflict to happen in the office. This is often hard to cope with and can also help contribute to burnout. If there is a conflict, often human resources can intervene if the situation is severe, but this should be a last resort.

Any problems should try to be worked out between you and the person you are in conflict with (and your immediate supervisors if you can't work it out with your colleague). Sometimes conflict can be eliminated, or at least reduced, by a simple conversation. This way everyone is on the same page and can share mutual understanding while simultaneously clearing the air.

Don't Forget to Take Time Off

While short breaks are helpful, time off completely can also rejuvenate. If you feel the seeds of burnout coming or have reached the breaking point, you may want to consider planning to take some vacation time. You don't even have to travel away from home if this is not doable (although it can help!)

Taking several days vacation can give you a chance to refresh and flush out some of that burnout. If you don't have vacation time, and can't afford to take non-paid vacation time, see if you can take a long weekend instead.   The key to being successful by taking time off is not take work with you. Instead, forget the laptop, turn off the cellphone, and any other work-related gadget. Leave it all behind and focus on recharging your batteries during your time off.

If you can't take a vacation, at least end the work day at quitting time. Many people continue to work long hours beyond the workday through electronic communication (or through second jobs).

It is all too easy these days to get caught up in these patterns. Bottom line, if you're too stressed, shut down for the day. 

Office - Stress
Credit: v1ctor Casale/CC BY 2.0 with Attribution

Take time off work - leave the phone and other gadgets behind!

Positive Attitude

Trying to keep a positive approach is a roundabout way to combat burnout. Negativity has a tendency to weigh people down. The upside is by changing your own behaviors to reflect a positive attitude is you can help make difficult work situations more positive too. Try adjusting your approaches to people who stress you out, or if possible, eliminate contact if they aren't directly a part of your job.

The latter is not always possible depending on what role the person plays in the workplace. If you can't avoid a particular person, but he or she tends to grab your ear and talk about personal problems, work issues or exerts negative energy which weighs on you, switch your correspondence to email or messaging if possible.

Distancing yourself doesn't mean to cut yourself off completely, but only to remove the negative energies as best you can.

Consider Changing Jobs

Leaving your job is likely a worst case scenario, but if your organization is drenched in negativity or the organizational culture is the primary source of your burnout, it may signal it's time to move on. Quitting a job is usually not the best solution and, in a rocky job market, may not be a wise one. So before quitting that job, think twice and weigh this decision out carefully and don't do anything rash.

Eliminating burnout is not always an easy task, but by taking care of yourself (including enough water, healthy food, sleep and exercise) and using preventative and proactive strategies to battle stress and find ways to relax you can recover from burnout.


Other reading you may be interested in: A Look at the Problems and Dangers of Group Think