Why Work Burnout Happens And How To Deal With It

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW

If you believe you are feeling the effects of work burnout, you are not alone. Most people experience work burnout at least once in their careers. The Mayo Clinic defines work burnout as “a special type of work-related stress – a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” The length of time it takes to realize that you are experiencing work burnout can vary. However, when you do realize you are burnt out, it should not be brushed off or taken lightly. Work burnout can have a large impact on every aspect of your life. So, why does work burnout happen?

Why Work Burnout Happens

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As mentioned above, work burnout is very common to experience. There is nothing wrong with your work ethic if you are experiencing the effects of work burnout. But the problem should be resolved as soon as possible. Work burnout can affect your home life, social life, and even your work-life balance. There may be a variety of symptoms and causes of work burnout that you are experiencing. This is because the word “work” can mean a variety of different things to different people. No matter if you work from home, work at a corporate office, or work as a full-time mom, you could potentially be experiencing work burnout. Any age or stage of life could be impacted by the reasons listed below that typically result in work burnout.

Exhaustion is Setting In

You could be dealing with work burnout because you are overworking yourself. You may be putting too many hours on the clock, draining your mental capacity. Sacrificing too much of your mental capacity for your job will exhaust you very quickly. Or, you may be experiencing more and more exhaustion after a long day, week, month, or year of work. Exhaustion can make you feel like you have no more energy to put forth. This can cause you to feel like you are simply “surviving” each day. Your work life should not make you constantly feel as though you are using every last drop of your physical or emotional energy to simply survive. Don’t you want to thrive and feel content with your energy levels at the end of the workday? It is normal to have a bad, exhausting, or challenging day every once in a while. However, when you feel so consumed that you feel trapped and overly tired frequently, you may be utterly exhausted. Exhaustion is, as expected, one of the most common causes of developing work burnout.

You Are Consumed at Work and Home

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Similar to exhaustion, a cause of work burnout is being all-consumed at work and at home. If you find yourself feeling consumed from the happenings at work even after you have left the building, this could likely be a cause for how you are feeling. You may be distracted at home by your grievances or worries from work. Your work may be causing you more stress than you can handle. Feeling trapped under the chains of constantly being pulled down by your work life can spill over into home life, which affects your relationships with family and friends. This can happen because your boss, coworker, or fellow employee is not letting you enjoy your time when you are not on the clock. Whether you are just trying to enjoy your weekend, or out of town on a family vacation, your headspace could potentially be clouded by your boss or coworkers constantly contacting you for any reason. People in your workplace can also be contributors to job burnout. They may be too harsh of a critic on you or underperform on their job, which could stress you out even more. Feelings of annoyance or feelings of not being trusted with your job could be a reason for how you are feeling.

If your home life is just as stressful and consuming as work, this could be another cause for feeling burnt out. Constantly feeling stressed out can have serious effects on your body. Some symptoms of chronic stress include anxiety, insomnia, headaches, stomachaches, and even muscle cramps. Having a harmonious and peaceful home life is very important for people, especially when they have a stressful job. If your home life is the reason you can’t get away from your negative feelings, try to take steps to resolve it. Whether if it’s the overall environment or the relationships with those you live with, try to reach a harmonious state.

You Want More from Your Workday

Are you satisfied with your work? Do you get in your vehicle every day after work wishing you could have done more? Are you yearning for more responsibilities or more ways to use your talents? You may not be fulfilled with your current job. You may have finally landed your “dream job,” but is it exactly what you thought it would be? If not, you could feel disappointed with your job. You may have thought that you could apply all of your skills at work, whether they be technical skills or personal skills. Job burnout can occur because you feel unsatisfied with your work. This leaves you with the urge to constantly be doing more. The potential you have inside might be withering away because you are too busy fighting fires that are below your level of training. Feeling fulfilled by your work is very important for your happiness and your excitement. If you are left feeling uninterested, your job will get exhausting and possibly even boring.

Lack of Self-Care

You may feel like your spark is burning out because you have neglected to take care of yourself outside of work. The wellbeing of yourself may have been put on the back burner in order for you to finish your tasks at work. You may be jumbled in the mix and not even realize it. Self-care for you could include things like reading, doing a face mask, taking a long bath, or even getting dinner with a good friend. It could also include things like making a home-cooked meal or taking a longer lunch break. Self-care is defined on an individual basis. If you take a step back and notice that you have not done anything specifically for yourself lately, this could play a part in why you are fizzling out at work. Putting yourself first rather than others can seem very negative. However, in this context, taking some time for yourself and putting yourself first can help you to take a deep breath and reset your mind so you can enjoy work again.

Pessimistic State of Mind

Pessimism is when someone sees every situation through a negative lens, and it is when you think the worst-case scenario is always going to take place. If someone is constantly spreading negativity in your mind and around the workplace, it can be difficult for them to find joy in their work. When someone’s mindset causes them to constantly think the worst, how could they not burn out? Be sure you do not have a pessimistic mindset when working. This can be difficult to achieve, but it will be well worth it when you notice the great things that come with your job.

Dwindling Motivation

Motivation is generally a key indicator of job satisfaction. Job burnout can happen because you are not motivated to meet performance standards or complete tasks effectively. If you dread waking up in the morning to go to work, or if you dread coming back to work after lunch, you may have low levels of motivation. Your motivation can also have a lot to do with the approval of your boss. According to an article from Time Magazine, a boss showing their appreciation for an employee’s work on mundane and simple tasks is very impactful on motivation. If no one is telling you that you are on the right track or doing your tasks well, then why would you want to keep going? If the thought of heading to work simmers down your mood, you probably feel unmotivated to do your tasks altogether.

Your Job Could be the Wrong One

This may be a difficult thought to consider, but if you are feeling burnt out with your occupation, could you possibly be in the wrong one? You may have outgrown your job. Your needs could have changed, or your family’s needs could have changed. Your job title could be right for you, but your scheduled hours in the day could be causing you havoc. Maybe you need to switch locations or switch positions within the same company. It could possibly be that your job roles were not clearly defined to you. If you feel like you are out of place or uninterested at work, you can easily get burnt out. If you work a full-time job, on weekdays, you spend more of your waking hours at work than you do at home. Don’t you want something that is so time-consuming to feel worth your energy? Even if your job is the right one for you, work burnout is still something that should be addressed.

How to Deal with Work Burnout

Take a Break

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To get over your feelings of burnout, you may need to take a break. Sometimes, the remedy to feeling overworked, tired, or not like yourself, in general, is to take some time to recharge. When you find yourself too drained to function normally, a break will likely be very beneficial for you. A break could consist of things like catching up on sleep, taking a vacation, going on a date night, or, if you feel this is the right choice for you, maybe even taking a sabbatical. Think about what type of a break would make you get back to feeling fulfilled and passionate about your work.

Release Your Feelings

Sometimes, issues start to build up internally and get trapped inside your mind. This can be a big contributor to mental exhaustion. Something that could help you combat your work burnout is to try and talk it out with someone. Whether it be your boss, your spouse, or someone else important in your life, releasing your feelings to someone else can help take off the pressure. It also might help you identify exactly where your problem areas are. When you bottle up your emotions, they are trapped with nowhere else to go, unless they come out during a stress-induced breakdown. This can take a large toll on your state of mind.

That being said, not everyone’s preferred method of release is to let it out by talking to others. Another method of expressing feelings is journaling. If you start journaling, you will have a place for you to explain day by day how you feel or what is happening at work. Writing things out can be an amazing escape for people. It can help clarify the wounds that need mending to help your motivation and your work-life balance.

What is Your Why?

Why do you work? Realizing why you choose to work in the first place may help remind you of what is truly important. Most of the time, people work to provide for themselves and their families. Other times, people work to satisfy their need for a creative outlet. Why did you choose your specific job? If you bring the reason you chose your job back to the surface, you may re-fall in love with it! Maybe you have been caught up in deadlines and forgot about the tasks that truly bring a smile to your face. Work burnout can come from your passions getting blurred within the chaos. If you make a conscious effort to think about your “why” while you work, you may come out with a more positive outlook.

Change Things Up

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Don’t be afraid to mix things up at work! A change of routine can sometimes feel refreshing. Depending on your situation, it could include rearranging your workspace or altering your work hours. Sometimes a new and refreshed perspective can be exactly what you need to reignite your creativity or drive. Humans tend to be creatures of habit and easily get settled in a routine. Eventually, that routine gets old and our minds can run a little wild. If you constantly try to implement a new element, big or small, into your life, job, or routine, there can be benefits across the many aspects of your life.

Better Manage the Stress That is Up and Coming

No one knows precisely what is going to happen at work before it happens. You do not know when plans will change, when people will quit, or what obstacles will be thrown in your path. Despite some deadlines, events, or important meetings on the schedule, how things will play out may not go to plan. One thing you can do to help attempt to manage your work stress is to write down important upcoming deadlines in a planner. This can help you stay organized and less stressed. It may also be beneficial to add things to your planner that you need to do. This will give you something to look forward to, knowing that you have fun tasks on your schedule.

Seek Help from a Professional Counselor

If you feel that you are unable to find your motivation to work again, it is a great idea to seek help from a counselor. Although work burnout is not commonly associated with the need for counseling, it can help you greatly. For affordable counseling online, BetterHelp is an amazing resource. The online services offered by BetterHelp’s counselors can also help you save time if you are already struggling to manage a busy work schedule. A licensed counselor will meet with you either through a phone call, video chat, or text messaging. There, they will help you find the root cause of your feelings, and then help you come up with a solution to solve the problem.


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