Difficulty concentrating. Low motivation. Not wanting to pull yourself out of bed as the morning rays peak through your window. Getting a bad case of the Sunday Scaries before Monday rolls around. If you’ve experienced burnout from chronic stress at work, research suggests you’re not alone.
According to a report published by global management consulting company McKinsey, 49% of workers reported feeling at least some occupational burnout.  McKinsey noted that burnt-out employees are often less likely to respond to surveys, and many may have already left the workforce. This suggests these figures may actually be much higher. 
While the pandemic saw increasing levels of burnout as work/life boundaries became blurred, this is by no means a “pandemic problem.” In fact, the term “burnout” was coined nearly 50 years ago in 1974 by psychologist Herbert Freudenberg.
Contrary to popular belief, burnout is far more than feeling a little bit stressed. Rather, it refers to overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, and depletion of the energy to continue on. In Freudenberg’s words, burnout is “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” 
Working with this level of mental exhaustion can feel nearly impossible. With burnout levels and job stress higher than ever before, many are searching for both personal and organizational solutions. Read on to explore burnout’s early warning signs, three types of burnout, and our tips for recovery & management so you can continue showing up as your best self and produce your best work.
Early Warning Signs of Burnout
Because of the extensive toll burnout can take on our physical well-being, mental health, and career success, it’s essential to know the warning signs before they become an issue.
According to the World Health Organization, burnout typically features :
- Feelings of energy depletion, fatigue, and exhaustion
- Reduced feelings of efficacy at work. Meaning you feel less capable of achieving success at work
- Increased feelings of mental distance from your work. Or heightened feelings of negativity and cynicism surrounding work
But beyond these core features, burnout can prompt a number of red flags to look out for. Explore the list below to see if any sound familiar to you.
- Almost nonexistent motivation at work
- Lack of pleasure or fulfillment from work
- An increasingly negative perspective of your career and future
- Feeling constantly overwhelmed, incapable of succeeding, or hopeless in your career
- Difficulty getting a good night’s sleep
- Experiencing the Sunday Scaries
- Getting sick more often
- Withdrawing from social relationships (both at work and at home)
- Resenting or withdrawing from work obligations and communicating with colleagues and teams
- Becoming more short-tempered with colleagues
- Physical symptoms of exhaustion (stomach pain, headaches, muscle pain)
- Higher rates of anxious thoughts
- Finding it harder to focus (you may procrastinate to avoid difficulty concentrating)
- Neglecting your own needs, boundaries, and self-care
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it gives you a good idea of what to look out for in your own career. Taking swift action is essential to prevent the long-term consequences of burnout and high-stress levels, which can be difficult to recover from.
Long-Term Consequences of Burnout
When left unchecked, burnout can contribute to a wide range of devastating consequences that can make even base-level functioning feel difficult.
A review of the 36 qualitative studies confirmed the familiar anecdotal experiences of burnout, finding that it is a significant predictor of consequences for occupational outcomes, and psychological and physical well-being that can even prompt the development of medical conditions. 
- Coronary heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Hospitalization due to heart disease
- Changes in the experience of pain
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Prolonged fatigue
- Digestive issues
- Respiratory problems
- Severe injuries and mortality under the age of 45
- Depressive symptoms
- Use of antidepressant and psychotropic medications
- Hospitalization for psychological ill-health symptoms and mental disorders
- Job dissatisfaction
- Absenteeism (not showing up for work)
- Presenteeism (decreased productivity from employees not fully functioning while at work)
- Increased use of job resources
- Higher use of disability pension
Burnout can become unwieldy and difficult to recover from once it becomes full-blown. This is why it’s so essential to pay attention to the warning signs and take action quickly and regularly to stay at the top of your game.
3 Types of Burnout
Researchers have identified three main sources of burnout .
#1 Overload Burnout
This type of burnout can be defined as working at an unsustainable level and pace. People prone to this type of burnout may find their sense of self-worth is tied to accomplishments or that nothing they ever do is good enough. This can push them to work harder and more frantically for success, sacrificing self-care in the pursuit of some unachievable goal or status.
Making sure to set boundaries at work and preserving work/life balance is essential for people with this type of burnout.
#2 Under-Challenge Burnout
This form of burnout is prompted by a lack of challenge, boredom, or a lack of self-development opportunities at work. Here, people find it hard to feel any sense of passion or drive at work since it requires so little of their effort and does not feel fulfilling. Here, mentorship and providing learning opportunities can help inspire and energize people with under-challenge burnout.
#3 Neglect Burnout
Neglect burnout is caused by feelings of hopelessness and helplessness at work. Individuals may feel that they’re unable to keep up with the demands of work or that they’re incompetent. Additionally, this burnout often leads to a lack of fulfillment and purpose at work.
Often, people with this type of burnout benefit from support and guidance.
7 Practical Approaches to Manage Burnout
When it comes to managing burnout, there are two approaches to consider: personal and organizational. Often, burnout can not be addressed only by taking a personal approach. Burnout is rooted in an organization’s structure, culture, and how it takes care of its employees.
For this reason, organizational action to shift working conditions and promote well-being as a core goal and value for the company is essential.
1. Lean on social support.
Building strong connections with coworkers or your team can create a supportive network; it can enhance resilience and make you feel not so alone in your journey. Sharing your struggles with family members and friends can also relieve the burden of shouldering burnout alone.
2. Block out time for self-care.
The importance of self-care cannot be understated. Setting boundaries around your time off and preserving your daily routines that involve healthy eating, getting physical activity, and time to relax is essential to maintaining holistic health.
3. Incorporate mindfulness into your days to counteract stress with calm.
Meditation and mindfulness practices have been well researched for the effective pathways they provide to reduce anxious thoughts and depressive symptoms, and for improving focus and ability to self-manage emotions.
This doesn’t have to involve signing up for an hour-long yoga class (although mindful movement certainly can help). Mindful moments can take the form of meditation, mindful eating, breathing exercises, and a range of other mindfulness techniques.
4. Consider whether you need to make bigger changes.
If you haven’t taken a vacation or a sabbatical in a while, now could be the time. If time off doesn’t do it for you, it might be time to consider looking for a new job. While this process can be scary, taking the leap and finding a career that truly fulfills and challenges you will serve you, in the long run, to help ward off burnout.
1. Consider the source of burnout for your workers.
First — identify what is driving burnout in your organization. If it’s overwork, it might be time to consider implementing new structures and strategies to make sure your employees feel they are supported, appreciated, and empowered in setting boundaries that preserve their well-being.
2. Don’t continue prescribing band-aid solutions.
While benefits and mental health support can help, they don’t solve the root of burnout. Although taking the time to really shift company culture so it supports your employees as they need it can be challenging, it is the only path to sustainable well-being.
3. Contact experts to support you in your prevention initiatives.
Sometimes it can be hard to make large-scale organizational changes from within. This is where working with experts in stress management, organizational structures, and burnout prevention can be game-changing.
Are you ready to help your team embrace inner calm, resilience, and empowerment at work?
We at Muse have developed a program just for you. Learn more about how Muse can help you bring the best out of your team >>
- Explore the results of McKinsey’s survey on burn out in the workplace HERE >>
- Read Herbert Freudenberg’s “Burnout: The High Cost of Achievement” HERE >>
- Learn about the phenomenon of being burnt out with the APA HERE >>
- Discover the research on the consequences of burnout HERE >>
- 3 Types of Burnout, According to Psychologists (and Signs You’re Headed For Trouble) HERE>>