Workplace Burnout is Real—Here's How to Beat It
Avoid complete and utter office exhaustion with these expert-approved tips.
The feeling of utter exhaustion at the office is certainly real, and now that feeling officially has a name: burnout.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently added "burn-out" to its International Classification of Diseases—a manual used by mental health experts around the globe. In the update, WHO stopped short of calling burnout a medical condition, and instead called it an “occupational phenomenon.”
Since it happens at work and occurs as a result of overwork, burnout is a relatively new concept that should be managed with work, as well. But, how exactly can one beat office burnout? We asked two experts, Dr. Craig Dike, a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand, and Lissa Minkin, a 25-year veteran of employee relations who now works as the Vice President of People and Workplace at Tile, for answers. Here’s what each office pro had to say about workplace burnout and its potential solutions:
What is workplace burnout anyway?
“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” WHO officials wrote in the organization's update. It adds that burnout is characterized by three dimensions: Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job (or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job), and reduced professional efficacy. The phenomenon, it adds, refers specifically in the “occupational context” and should not be used to describe experiences in other areas of life.
What are the symptoms of workplace burnout?
According to Minkin, all employers should stay vigilant for employees who exhibit a “loss of interest in what they’re doing,” a lack of sleep, lack of eating, and general changes in behavior such as a “talkative person not talking as much.”
Dr. Dike says that it’s easy to get daily stress and fatigue confused with true burnout. With stress, he explains, there is an end in sight. But with burnout, it’s more about the “negative emotions and withdrawal that result from investing too much into something emotionally, intellectually, or physically without doing anything to restore yourself.”
He notes, if you believe you’re experiencing burnout it’s imperative to seek out professional help as its main symptoms encourage “further and further isolation and withdrawal, potentially to the point of depression.”
How should you approach your employer if you feel burnt out?
“A note from your doctor would be needed if a leave of absence is requested, but a diagnosis is private,” Minkin says. If presenting a doctor’s note makes you feel more comfortable about talking to your boss about burnout, then go ahead and get one. However, if you feel safe in your environment, you should be able to bring it up to your manager without a note. If you’re looking for the appropriate medical professional to reach out to, Dr. Dike suggests seeking out a psychologist who can also act as your advocate to help you learn different ways to best approach and resolve your burnout symptoms.
What's the easiest way to tackle office burnout before it happens?
There are several ways employers can be proactive about burnout, according to Minkin. That includes creating an environment where people feel safe to talk about what is happening in their lives, both personally and professionally. “Foster psychological safety so people can talk about what may be impacting them,” she says.
Dr. Dike also suggests companies take a hard look at their workplace culture and make appropriate changes if needed. “Intentionally or unintentionally encouraging employees to stay late, to not ask for help, excessive competition, and working on weekends or working when sick can promote a burnout-rich work environment,” he says. “While hard work can be rewarded, rewarding unhealthy work/life balance creates a work culture that inadvertently promotes burnout.”
Minkin notes it’s key to allow for a flexible work environment focused work/life effectiveness over work/life balance.
“It’s not about the hours you keep or the face time in the office," she says. "It's about the results and team communication—that can do wonders in helping prevent and manage burnout.”
Minkin adds that it’s a good idea to encourage empathetic leadership, have regular check-ins with direct reports, conduct wellness programs for employees, and provide psychological support resources for any employee in need. “It’s important for companies to recognize that we're all human and in need of support," she says.