What are the biggest warning signs of burnout? And what can you do about them?

Burnout affects a significant number of people every year. But how can you tell if it’s happening to you? Learn how to spot the signs, and what you can do about it.

According to HSE, around 15.4 million working days are lost in 12 months due to work-related stress or anxiety last year, with 23% of full-time employees admitting to feeling burned out at work all the time.  

Collectively, 63% of this group are more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times more likely to be actively seeking a different job. 

In response to these statistics, Lucinda Pullinger, Global Head of HR at Instant Offices, has identified the early signs of burnout and how to effectively avoid hitting ‘rock bottom’.

What are the six key factors that lead to burnout?

While January is one of the toughest times of the year for career blues in the UK, it is especially important to look out for signs of burnout later in the year as well.

Stress and exhaustion at work impacts employees of all ages around the world, and at every level of the career ladder. Similar to imposter syndrome, high achievers and perfectionists are particularly susceptible to burning themselves out.

Here are the six key factors that lead to burnout at work:

  1. High workload – in the UK, 44% of stress or depression at work is caused by a high workload.
  2. Unclear job expectations – in America, only 60% of employees say they know what is expected.
  3. Conflict – one of the main work-related factors causing burnout.
  4. Lack of managerial support – those with a strong support system are 70% less likely to experience burnout.
  5. No work-life balance – the inability to manage work and personal life can have a snowball effect.
  6. Stressful working environment – there is a correlation between stressful jobs and burnout.

Most people only realise they’re suffering from burnout when it’s too late

If your work and family life are consistently stressful, you’re almost certainly at risk of burnout.

Most people only realise that they are truly burnt out when it’s too late and then they need to work towards eliminating the symptoms, often while still having to deal with the stresses that caused it in the first place. 

By keeping an eye out for warning signs can help you make changes proactively, making it easier to prevent burnout, while you still have the will and motivation to make the changes required.

What are the career burnout symptoms?

To help you spot burnout as soon as possible – so you can take action to avoid it, here are the symptoms to look out for.

1) Disengagement

Over-engagement is a symptom of high-stress levels. Going to sleep and waking up thinking about a problem or a deadline is a perfect example of over-engagement. When you start to disengage with your work or personal problems by ignoring or avoiding them, burnout warning bells should start ringing.

2) Helplessness

Stress usually manifests as a sense of urgency, often resulting in hyperactivity. Anyone facing perpetual deadlines knows the feeling. Burnout, however, is characterised by helplessness and hopelessness; the belief that nothing you do is going to have any effect on your situation or drive any real change.

3) Blunted emotions

When under stress, you may find that your emotions are exaggerated and more difficult to control, resulting in you becoming angrier or upset easier than usual. With blunted emotions, however, you may feel that you do not have the energy to react emotionally to situations, or that you are unable to feel excited or worried at all.

If you’ve started exhibiting any of these symptoms, you may be approaching burnout and should act to minimise the severity and effect of burnout. The following are some of the most effective in addressing the issues that are leading to your exhaustion.

Five effective ways to deal with burnout 

So what do you do if you recognise any of these symptoms? Here are five effective ways to deal with burnout.

1) Acknowledge your problems

It’s easy to ignore or downplay other issues in your life that may be contributing to your burnout. Make a list of all things you worry about daily, including the things you feel that you have no power to change. By ordering these by a level of importance, you’ll know which issues you need to address first.

2) Seek support

Whether it’s from a co-worker or manager, talking about the problem and seeking advice is a critical step into addressing the causes of your burnout. 

3) Book time off

In some cases, merely having some time away from work, helps re-evaluate your priorities and enables you to get to the root of your stresses. If you’re worried about using up all your annual leave, strategically book leave in to optimise your time off. 

4) Slow it down

It’s vitally important to learn to create a mental divide between work and your life outside it, as it’s extremely unhealthy and unproductive to be thinking about work during ‘off time’.

5) Ask for more flexibility

With a huge shift towards businesses becoming more agile, the growth of remote working, and an increasing amount of co-working and flexible workspace options around the world, more companies are starting to introduce flexible working hours to reduce commuting time and increase happiness.

Take a few minutes each day to acknowledge your anxieties for what they are; irrational and exaggerated, and prioritise things like spending time with friends and family and outdoor activities. 

Be honest with yourself and seek professional help

It’s important to be honest with yourself during the onset of burnout. Remember, these are simply tips to help you improve your situation in the short term.

Burnout has genuine health implications, and it’s important to get help with it. A mental health professional will provide you with tools to aid your recovery.

Feel burned out and ready for a complete career change, but don’t know what to do? Take our Career Audit.

Photo by Brooke Cagle