manage workplace burnout

Fatigued at Work? 4 Ways to Identify and Manage Workplace Burnout

Have you felt increasingly tired, unfocused or disengaged at work? Has your productivity and performance diminished? If you answered yes, you might be experiencing burnout.

Burnout can have significant impacts on sufferers’ mental and physical health. As highlighted by The Black Dog Institute, “While burnout is not currently recognised as a standalone clinical diagnosis, the World Health Organisation officially listed burnout as an “occupational syndrome” in the eleventh edition of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).”

So, how can you manage workplace burnout? Let’s discuss how to detect signs of burnout, the risk factors and share our top tips for how to avoid burnout in the workplace.

What is Burnout? Signs, Symptoms and Risk Factors

In the workplace, burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged work-related stress. Often, burnout causes flow-on effects to other areas of your life, negatively impacting your work performance and your lifestyle and personality traits.

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. Signs and symptoms may appear subtle but can quickly worsen over time. So it’s best to know how to identify and how to manage workplace burnout.

manage workplace burnout

What are the common burnout symptoms and signs of burnout? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have trouble getting yourself to work and struggle getting started?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Are you experiencing tiredness, frequent headaches, muscle pains, changes in appetite, sleep habits or other physical complaints?
  • Do you lack a sense of motivation, satisfaction or feel increasingly cynical regarding your work?
  • Do you feel like nothing you do is appreciated or makes a difference?
  • Do you find yourself withdrawing from responsibilities or isolating yourself from others?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be experiencing emotional exhaustion and burnout – and you aren’t alone. In fact, the signs of burnout are so well documented that it is known to affect workers in every industry at every level. According to research, there are six leading causes of burnout:

  • Lack of control
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Insufficient rewards for effort
  • Lack of support
  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Mismatched values

The WHO recognises that whilst burnout affects individuals, it is not simply an individual problem. Instead, it is caused by organisational problems which require organisational solutions.

In a previous blog, we explored how to prevent burnout from the manager’s perspective. This week, we look at work burnout from the employee’s perspective. We discuss what to do if you’re experiencing work burnout symptoms and how to start a conversation on the topic.

Below are our top tips for how to manage workplace burnout.

Tip #1 – Reach out for support

wellbeing at work

If you’re experiencing burnout or noticing early burnout signs, one of the most effective steps you can take is to turn to other people for support. Try opening up to friends, family, or talk to a trusted colleague. You can also speak to a professional service, such as an employee assistance program.

Social connection is a great way to relieve stress and prevent burnout. Having workplace friends that you can chat and joke with during the day can relieve stress and counter the effects of burnout.

Your friends and family might also be good sounding boards for you to re-evaluate your priorities. Are you neglecting something important to you? For example, even though physical exercise might be the last thing you feel like doing when stressed, it is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Even a 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours. Exercise is a powerful antidote to stress. Try to schedule a time to exercise, get plenty of sleep and eat well.

Tip #2 – Speak to your manager

What do you do when your workload is too much? Do you talk to your manager to reduce or reallocate tasks? Many employees are intimidated by the idea of talking about mental health, but avoiding the issue could ultimately hurt your productivity and career in the long term. Remember, it is in your best interest to take action and manage workplace burnout.

Sometimes your manager may not be aware of your workload and may be open to working with you to reallocate or manage your workload more effectively. Psychiatrist and chief medical officer Anisha Patel-Dunn offer some advice on how to prepare for your talk:

  • Ask for a one-on-one, open conversation with your manager
  • Be as honest and candid as possible
  • Know what you’d like to request and come prepared with solutions
  • Understand your manager’s communication style

If you’re not clear about your role or purpose, you should also speak with your manager to clarify your role. A greater sense of purpose may help to prevent burnout at work. For some, this requires a better understanding of the team’s purpose and vision whilst identifying their individual challenges to prioritise high-value tasks. It’s a good idea to clarify your goals to help you focus on what’s important. You may also benefit from additional support, such as our clarity of result and planning resources.

If speaking to your manager is too daunting, start with a friend, colleague, or even a coach or therapist, which will allow you to rehearse the conversation in advance. By starting a conversation about burnout, you will be helping yourself, and your manager create a more productive work environment.

Tip #3 – Managing up for when your manager experiences burnout

If your manager is suffering from burnout, the impact on you and the team can be devastating. You might notice that they have little energy to meet with you or not react appropriately to the problems or people around them. You may feel obligated to match their pace or energy level, which could also hinder your own work or development and leave you feeling drained.

It is important to remember that your manager is not immune to the effects of burnout. While you may not be able to get them to take a vacation, there are a few strategies to help them recognise and treat burnout:

  • Be empathetic: show genuine concern by having an open and honest conversation about their wellbeing.
  • Help them detach from work: restrict communication within work hours, schedule essential meetings with them only, don’t interrupt their workflow unnecessarily.
  • Be a problem solver: consolidate questions rather than sending intermittent emails, bring them solutions and recommendations to their concerns and prioritise work based on what is causing them the most issues.

These strategies can be helpful not only for your manager but are also excellent skills for your own career development.

Tip #4 – Take breaks and practise self-care

If you’re experiencing burnout, it might be necessary to take time off for your wellbeing. While a holiday can offer temporary relief, a week or two away from the office won’t be enough to beat burnout. Instead, regularly schedule breaks from work. This includes scheduling regular breaks during workdays, such as going for a walk or doing a short meditation.

wellbeing at work

When you do go on holidays, make sure that you plan ahead and organise a colleague to cover your workload while you’re away. Provide clear hand-over instructions so that they know what they need to do, how to do them, and where to find key information. That way, you’ll feel more relaxed being away.

Switching off mentally is essential for your wellbeing. Regular breaks and regular exercise are great self-care strategies to avoid burnout. When we invest in self-care, we can amp up energy and engagement, minimise errors, and increase productivity. So decide on your list of non-negotiables, and complete these before starting your day. It could be walking the dog, talking to loved ones, or as simple as taking a shower.

If you’re experiencing burnout, or are at risk of burnout, now is the time to pause and change direction. Burnout is reversible. With the correct support, you can regain your sense of wellbeing. At PEPworldwide, we work with teams and individuals to increase their workplace wellbeing and productivity. Find out how we can help you avoid burnout and build resilience through productive workplace habits.

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