7 Red Flags of Job Burnout — and What You Can Do

Expert tips to change your perspective
Woman unhappy and not challenged by her job

A healthy dose of pressure at work can give you fuel — and make you even better at what you do. Job-related burnout, on the other hand, empties you out and kills your motivation. If it lingers too long, it also can negatively affect your feelings about life.

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The good news is you can take steps to reverse job burnout. You also can avoid it altogether if you pay attention to the signs.

When stress is prolonged

“Workplace burnout involves a prolonged and heightened response to work stress in which a person becomes drained from work demand,” says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD.

He says to be on guard if you notice these signs:

  • Your performance at work is declining.
  • Your efficiency at work is dropping.
  • You’re losing confidence that you can achieve your goals.
  • You avoid work-related tasks.
  • You feel exhausted.
  • You’ve lost interest in your work.

“Engaging in tasks that feel meaningless can promote burnout,” Dr. Bea says.

“However, if something in your work effort is consistent with your commitments and values, each day can be an opportunity to live these values in a tangible manner.”

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For example, people in caregiving professions can notice positive results with their consistent effort to help others.

It depends on where you place your attention.

“Try to notice the rightness of your work effort and the positive outcomes rather than dwelling on the stressors, obstacles or negative characteristics of work,” he says.

Emotions are a tip-off

Before you experience job burnout, your feelings will give you some clues that something is amiss. If you’re not sure if you’re just going through a rough patch or heading down the road to burnout, here are seven questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are you feeling cynical or negative about work, and are these feelings escalating?
  2. Is your motivation decreasing?
  3. Is it becoming difficult to perform work-related problem solving?
  4. Do you feel yourself getting more agitated or angry at work?
  5. Are interpersonal difficulties at work spilling over into your home life?
  6. Do you feel depressed as a result of work-related stress?
  7. Is work-related stress causing you anxiety?

If you answered yes to many of the questions above, there are various ways to address these feelings for a healthier outlook.

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Change your perspective

“Come to work intending to ‘give your gift’ as an alternative to approaching work fearfully about outcomes or penalties,” Dr. Bea says. “It helps when we lean into the experience with positive energy and a positive belief in ourselves.”

Here are some other in-the-trenches strategies to fight burnout:

  • Establish good self-care: Maintain healthy habits such as exercise, nutrition and interpersonal connections. Limit the use of quick fixes such as alcohol, nicotine or drug use.
  • Set healthy limits: Find a way to manage expectations in your workplace so that you don’t become overextended.
  • Keep a healthy pace: Strive to get into the flow of your work, and take periodic breaks.
  • Develop a mindfulness practice: Rehearse being aware of the present moment, rather than getting into thoughts about the future or past in a way that escalates tension.
  • Take breaks from electronic devices: Do this at predetermined intervals so that you are not “always on.”
  • Attach your work efforts to something you value: Notice how your work makes something in the world, the culture, or in other people’s lives better.
  • Be yourself. Do what you can to reduce the strain of having to project some image that is not authentic.

If you are struggling over a prolonged period, you also want to consider the source of your feelings. Is it that you are not a match for this particular career? Or is it that the work, and amount, has gotten beyond your control? It may be time to consider a change or talk with a supervisor about workloads or roles.

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