Job Burnout? Get tips to reignite your drive and health
Learn how to recognize job burnout and try some ways to help reverse it
You've started feeling cynical. You’re worn out, unmotivated and less productive at your job. The end of your shift can't come soon enough. You may find yourself snapping at your loved ones at home. Everyone has bad days at work. But if you feel like you're trudging through every workday, you may be facing job burnout.
Job burnout, though not a medical diagnosis, typically refers to mental, emotional and physical exhaustion caused by ongoing stress at work. That can be any kind of work. Whether you fill out spreadsheets at a computer, sell jewelry at a counter, weld pipes in the field, care for children at home or anywhere in between.
Stress that doesn't let up can put your "fight or flight" system into overdrive. It also releases hormones that, if you’re exposed to them for too long, can damage your physical and mental health. In the short term, ongoing stress may lead to anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia and a weakened immune system. It may also lead to chronic health problems like obesity, heart disease and depression.
Let’s talk about how to tell if you may be at risk for burnout and what you can do to help prevent or alleviate it.
Building blocks of burnout
You may be at risk if you:
- Work in a high-pressure or chaotic environment
- Are not rewarded or recognized for your good work
- Find your work unchallenging or monotonous
- Have multiple, unclear job priorities or overly demanding job expectations
- Feel you have little to no control over your work
- Don’t have a good support system where you can discuss your stress and challenges
Your personality traits and lifestyle habits may add to burnout, too. For example, if you have a high-achieving, Type A personality or you’re a perfectionist, these traits can put you more at risk for job burnout. Similarly, if you lack supportive, close relationships, you may be more at risk for burnout.
Recognizing the signs or risks of burnout is the first step. But what can you do to turn things around? Here are some tips you can try to help confront burnout:
Talk to your manager. Talk about your stressors and discuss a plan for getting what you need to perform at your best. It could include setting clearer expectations, giving you more authority, lightening your load, getting more resources and support, or setting a path to improve your skills. If you can't get what you need, you may consider whether moving to another department or position would be helpful or practical for you.
Set boundaries. Work-life balance isn’t always easy to achieve, but it’s important to try. Everyone’s work and how they like to work is different. But creating some boundaries between your work time and your own time may help you relieve some stress. Generally, you may need to work on saying “no” when you don’t want to do something, if you can. Say “yes” more often to the things and projects you actually want to do!
Look for joy in what you do. You may generally find your job monotonous or unrewarding, but try to focus on what you enjoy. What about your work do you like? To start, maybe create a list. Does your job let you help others? Are there tasks that challenge or intrigue you? Are you providing a valuable service or product? Do you enjoy chatting with your coworkers? Find some positive aspects to focus on to help get you through tougher times.
Unplug more often. Take technology breaks every day. Stop checking email, put away your laptop and turn off your phone. Make your days off a time to unplug from work and concentrate on yourself, your friends and your family.
Focus on an outside-work activity. Get back to enjoying a favorite hobby, try something new or start a fun project. Choose something unrelated to work. Paint something, make something, build something or write something. Unleashing your creative side may help reignite your energy and keep burnout at bay.
Make time for relaxing rituals. For example, meditate for 15 minutes, write in a journal, or do some deep breathing or gentle stretches. Try some ways to relax your mind and body. Maybe take a bath, get a massage or go for a leisurely bike ride. Find something that lets you turn off the work part of your brain and recharge.
Sleep, eat well and exercise. These are building blocks for good health. Getting enough sleep can help you feel refreshed and more productive. Instead of coping with junk food or alcohol, eat regular, healthy meals to give your body what it needs to thrive. And move your body – both your heart and mind can benefit from it. Just check-in with your doctor before increasing your activity level.
Seek support. Reach out to family and friends, even if you feel like isolating yourself. Many companies have an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, to teach you skills to manage stress. There are also in-person and online support groups for people going through the same experience as you.
If you’re experiencing job burnout or feel like you can see it approaching, give one or more of these tips a try. Your physical and mental health are important; you don’t have to let a taxing or unsatisfying job stand in the way of them.
Several of the symptoms associated with job burnout—such as extreme exhaustion, a sense of hopelessness or a continued drop in productivity—can also be a result of depression or a medical condition. If you feel like these symptoms or other stress symptoms aren’t just work-related or they don’t seem to be letting up, it may be time to talk with your doctor or a mental health professional. A counselor, therapist or psychologist can help you manage your mental health symptoms, whether or not they are related to your job.*
*If you or someone you know is in crisis— seek safety and get help right away. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or go to the closest emergency room.
To talk with a trained counselor, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline any time at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
By Geri K. Metzger, Contributing Writer and Michael Phillips, Contributing Writer
American Heart Association. Lower stress: How does stress affect the body? Accessed May 24, 2022.
American Psychological Association. Coping with stress at work. Accessed May 24, 2022.
National Institute of Mental Health. I’m so stressed out! Fact sheet. Accessed May 24, 2022.
Mayo Clinic. Job burnout: How to spot it and take action. Accessed May 24, 2022.
Updated May 31, 2022