Frustration. Exhaustion. Lack of motivation. Sound familiar? If so, you may very well be suffering from burnout at work.
What’s more, you’re not alone. Things were tough during the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, and research shows that many workers continue to feel overwhelmed. “Over the past year, career challenges and barriers faced by American workers have continued to be compounded,” says John Woods, PhD, provost and chief academic officer at University of Phoenix, which has just issued a new report on career optimism, which shows that workers feel major discomfort back at work. “We found that 74% of Americans still say they feel stressed about their job and their career, and 47% of workers are experiencing burnout at work,” says Woods. “Importantly, half of those people report that it has worsened over the past year.”
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What causes burnout?
There are many factors that can lead a person to experience burnout on the job, including feeling unappreciated, having more work than you think you can handle, working long hours and not having control over your schedule, according to the Mayo Clinic. “While burnout can look different for everyone, those who reported experiencing burnout are more likely to feel stressed, frustrated, anxious, bored and isolated at work compared to those who are not,” says Woods. “Additionally, 55% of workers say their work-related stress has a negative impact on their personal life.”
Some people were able to reimagine their lives during the last few years, quit or change jobs and find greener pastures. But what if that’s not an option for you? Luckily, there are straightforward ways to get your mojo back right now, so you can feel – and work – better than ever.
Common symptoms of burnout
You hate being back in the office post-pandemic.
After getting into the groove of remote work during COVID-19, everything about being back on-site at your job now bothers you. Were the lights in here always this blindingly bright? Was it always this noisy? Was it always this hard to concentrate?!
This may seem like you’re just having trouble getting back into the swing of things, but it can actually be a symptom of big-time burnout. “If you’re unhappy in your environment, when it comes to your work, you’re going to think to yourself, ‘I don’t want to do it,” says Christina Maslach, PhD, professor of psychology and a core researcher at the Healthy Workplaces Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of The Burnout Challenge. “You start doing the bare minimum instead of doing your very best.”
You think people you work with are out to get you.
You find yourself looking for ulterior motives in everyone on your team. Did the way my manager said “How’s it going?” just now sound kind of snarky or judgy? This must mean he’s secretly not happy with my work!
Well … maybe not. It might just be your perception, and an incorrect one at that. Research from the National Institutes of Health shows that cynicism and negativity are major red flags of burnout; they show that it’s making you think in ways that are too extreme. “If you think in terms of ‘always’ or ‘never’, you’ve hit a wall,” says Jennifer Moss, a workplace culture strategist and the author of The Burnout Epidemic.
The key is to remember that if you’re burned out, you don’t see people clearly — you see them as worse than they really are, Moss points out. And in turn, that makes you pull back from them as much as possible – because you think, mistakenly, you need to protect yourself. Soon, you can find yourself isolated from everyone you work with, communicating only when you absolutely have to through email because you just don’t want to deal with them face-to-face.
You’re dying to quit — but have no idea what else you want to do.
“I want out!” has become your new mantra – it’s stuck on repeat in your brain. Yet this feels weird, because you’ve always liked your job until now. You can’t think of another career you’d want, or another company you’d want to work for.
It takes you a super-long time to complete a task.
You’ve been stuck on writing the first paragraph of your report for hours. It’s due tomorrow, but you keep getting distracted – it’s a case of procrastination, plus lack of inspiration.
This often happens because you’re rushing to complete a job you haven’t planned enough time for in the first place. Then, you get overwhelmed and freeze up when you need to get things finished. A new study from Pakistan found that workers who have a poor work-life balance, specifically in terms of time management, do worse on projects.
“Ask yourself, ‘Do I feel this way two or three times a week’?” says Moss. If so, cramming in work at the last minute has become an energy-zapping habit.
How to recover from burnout
Determine your true comfort level.
“Ask yourself, ‘What does success look like to me now?’” says Maslach. Do you absolutely have to work in person? Not everyone has the option to switch back to remote work, of course, and for some people it might mean giving up their shot at a promotion they were working toward. Yet if working from home feels more happy and productive, you might just find that your goals have shifted. Talk to your supervisor about how you feel, and try to work out a solution that lets you take on different tasks that excite you. This might be just what you’ve needed to feel satisfied both professionally and personally.
Meet with co-workers IRL.
“Meet people in real life–not just over texts or calls,” says Moss. Face-to-face interactions will not only show you that your co-workers are kinder and more supportive than you thought. It will also help pull you out of wanting to retreat from the world – a classic symptom of burnout. Walk to your co-worker’s desk to ask them a question – and why not bring them a latte too, as a goodwill gesture? Sending out good vibes may just bring good vibes back your way.
Think before you act.
“If you’re getting to the point where you want to change your job, but you don’t know what you’d change it too, take a pause,” says Maslach. “The job may be able to be fixed! It’s not always about, ‘If I can’t stand the heat, I need to get out of the kitchen.’ Instead, you could just turn the heat in the kitchen down.”
There’s a good chance that it’s not really about moving on to something else – it’s making the most of where you are. “Ask yourself the ‘why question’,” says Maslach. “As in, Why do I feel the way I do, and what’s the solution? Am I overextended? Do I want more recognition for the work I’m doing?”
Talk to your supervisor about delegating some work if you feel swamped. Boost your potential by asking to join a more high-profile project. If you make serious, proactive changes and you still feel like you want to leave, then you can start a job search – after you figure out whether you can get what you need, right where you are.
Try the “frivolous 15” trick.
Take a serious, big-picture look at your calendar, and be realistic when scheduling in the hours for the work you need to complete. And try this right now: Stop working for 15 minutes, and do something fun, silly or superficial. Watch a Real Housewives table-flipping clip. Order that lip gloss you want. Call your sister and dish about your cute neighbor. Zone out with this purpose: to refresh. “The ‘frivolous fifteen’ can be great, productive rest,” says Moss. “It’s OK to let yourself off the hook.”
Feel better? You’ll find it’s much easier to do whatever your task you’ve been putting off. Building in regular mini-breaks is a powerful way to bust burnout – and you deserve them!
Lisa is an internationally established health writer whose credits include Good Housekeeping, Prevention, Oprah Daily, Woman’s Day, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parade, Health, Self, Family Circle and Seventeen. She is the author of eight best-selling books, including The Essentials of Theater.