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How to Recover from Burnout: The Ultimate Guide
It’s no secret the demands of today’s workplace are crippling. Unmanaged stress and unattainable expectations are creating an increasingly prevalent problem in the workplace today: Burnout. Nearly 84% of millennials say they have experienced burnout at their current job. What’s more, many businesses might not be doing enough to help. Nearly 70% of professionals feel their employers are not doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout within their organization. And 21% of respondents say their company does not offer any programs or initiatives to prevent or alleviate burnout.
Conveniently, the age of overachieving work culture has coincided with the age of meme culture, leaving us with a hefty supply of painfully hilarious and relatable workplace burnout memes to get us through each day. But while circulating memes––on threads with supervisors removed––may offer a brief moment of comedic relief, there are better ways to treat burnout.
Because the good news is, burnout can be managed—and even prevented—when businesses put the right measures in place. In this guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at what burnout is and why it occurs. We’ll also reveal how leaders can help their teams recover from burnout—and maybe even avoid it in the first place!
In simple terms, burnout is essentially chronic workplace stress. But this isn’t just any kind of stress. Burnout is the kind of prolonged exhaustion that takes a major toll on productivity, job satisfaction, workplace morale, and more. Its symptoms manifest themselves in many aspects of your mental, physical, and psychological well-being. That’s right, burnout isn’t just something you experience in your head. The American Psychological Association found an impressive 44% of people experiencing physical fatigue as a symptom of burnout.
A Deloitte workplace burnout survey found a whopping 91% of respondents said having an unmanageable amount of stress or frustration negatively impacts the quality of their work. This can lead to a myriad of problems later down the road. Understanding how to spot common signs of burnout is a great way to identify if you have burnout. These signs include:
- Being overly cynical or critical at work
- Trouble getting to work or getting started at work
- Irritability or impatience with co-workers, customers, or clients
- Lack of job satisfaction or fulfillment
- Feelings of disillusionment about work
- Always feeling tired after work
Do any of these symptoms describe the way you’re feeling right now? The good news is you’re not alone in experiencing these feelings. Join thousands of other high-achieving individuals who have identified signs of burnout in their lives in order to get ahead of the problem and prevent burnout from happening again in the future.
Burnout doesn’t happen overnight, but its symptoms can often settle into our daily routines before we even realize burnout causes them. Learning how to recognize environments that breed burnout is a great first step on the road to burnout recovery.
Everyone has bad days at work: a meeting ran late, you couldn’t meet a deadline, your boss unfairly blamed you for a problem. It’s common to experience the Sunday scaries and count down the days until Friday. But those with severe burnout experience a pattern of constant dissatisfaction in both their work and personal lives, feel emotionally and physically drained, and often view their work with cynicism and dissatisfaction. True burnout comes from a variety of stressors over prolonged periods of time, not just from a single bad day or week.
Here are some of the major reasons burnout occurs:
Many burned-out individuals become so due to the fact that they tend to set high-achieving standards for themselves over the course of their entire lives. Perfectionism, difficulty saying no, and an inability to delegate tasks are all ingredients for a perfect storm of workload imbalance, restlessness, and severe stress.
If your job responsibilities are unclear, you’ll feel increasingly more stressed at work. Let’s say you recently got a promotion, but your new degree of authority is unclear. Or maybe you’ve taken on additional responsibilities but no one has communicated what those specific duties entail. Continuous ambiguity at work creates an environment where individuals feel they aren’t receiving the support or recognition they deserve.
Many people who experience burnout also experience a lack of control or autonomy in their work lives. Not having control over schedules, assignments, or access to resources can lead to feeling under accomplished and underappreciated. It’s certainly hard to feel satisfied or fulfilled at work when you feel out of control.
There may be specific relationships at work that are causing you prolonged stress. Toxic work environments exist, and when you’re trapped in one, it’s hard to envision an end to the bickering, gossiping, and negativity that overshadows your day-to-day work life. With this sort of energy in the office, it can certainly be difficult to be patient with your coworkers and feel appreciated for the work you do.
Humans are not designed to work around the clock. We need community, hobbies, and indulgence to make life worth living. When our work lives bleed into the time spent with friends, family, or even just the time we need to ourselves, the feelings of burnout only intensify.
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve grown accustomed to discussing the last few years’ effects on increasing feelings of burnout. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that our world is not a controlled environment, meaning unexpected events may shift our priority away from work. Changes in family life may take priority over work at certain times, and changes in employment may shift work loads onto different team members. But when we start to feel isolated in our work and personal lives, the quality of our work suffers.
Scientists have been studying for decades the optimum balance between arousal (stress and motivation) and performance. A psychological model known as the Yerkes-Dodson law proposes there is a peak level of performance at an intermediate level of stress. Any more or less stress impairs performance. In other words, at some point, we reach our breaking point of optimum performance and fall down the slippery slope to burnout.
Like we mentioned earlier, burnout doesn’t happen all at once. Sometimes we don’t notice its effects until months or even years down the road. Here are five recognized stages in which burnout occurs.
Like the name implies, the honeymoon phase represents the start of a new job or new initiative. The feelings here are optimistic, enthusiastic, and committed to productivity. It’s natural to feel some stress here as anticipation for a new project builds. But be careful here; being full of energy in this stage may cause you to take on more work than you can handle later on.
As you move into the second stage of burnout, stress will start making itself more apparent. You’ll start taking on more responsibility, letting work become your number one priority above your personal life and enjoyment. Physical symptoms of stress like muscle tiredness, fatigue, and headaches may set in.
It’s important here to start practicing stress mitigation techniques, like mindfulness exercises, daily check-ins with yourself and your team, and task management to prevent work overload. Practicing open communication about expectations and roadblocks will also help ease some of the early symptoms of stress.
Your job performance and problem-solving skills will continue to devolve faster as you move into a state of chronic stress, eventually reaching a tipping point. Here, the typical symptoms of burnout will begin manifesting; symptoms like feeling a lack of control or a sense of incompetence or failure.
In a state of chronic stress, individuals and companies often must seek external help to alleviate the symptoms of chronic stress before they devolve into full-blown burnout. Providing risk and safety training on the impact of stress, as well as comprehensive counseling resources can help swing the pendulum away from full-blown burnout.
If stage 3 represents a tipping point, this next stage of full-blown burnout represents the place just beyond the tipping point. Unaddressed issues that revealed themselves in previous stages are now multiplied to the point where escape does not seem likely. Despair, cynicism, and indifference towards work all make coping with the challenging demands of work feel impossible.
At this stage, it’s time to take a good long look at your path and reevaluate if this path is right for you. At some point, you’ll realize you can’t keep working in overdrive, and you’ll have to shift to reverse to go back and make some changes, otherwise the pattern of burnout will just keep repeating itself.
Chronic burnout is the most severe stage of burnout. Here, the harmful physical, mental, and psychological symptoms of burnout will have permeated every aspect of your life. Not only does chronic burnout impact your career, but it impacts your overall quality of life as well. This can lead to feelings of depression, mental and physical exhaustion, and at its most extreme, suicidal ideations.
It is often in this last stage that people seek recovery from severe burnout. Understanding how to take preventative measures along each stage of burnout will not only make your burnout recovery process easier to manage, but it can prevent you from getting sucked into this process again in the future.
Burnout treatment is not as daunting when individuals are equipped with insight into how to recognize, prevent, and treat burnout. In the following section, we’ll discuss ways individuals and business leaders can work hand-in-hand to combat burnout.
Now that we’ve established what burnout is, why it occurs, and ways to recognize its different stages, let’s discuss some tactical steps leaders and individuals can take to banish burnout. Because burnout is caused by poorly managed workplace stress, there are several ways leaders can create better work environments for helping team members recover from burnout.
For some people, fully recovering from burnout can take anywhere from three to five years. At a point of true burnout, the body’s chemical composition has been altered, meaning individuals must take an active approach to alleviating its symptoms just as you would any other disease.
Depending on what burnout stage you find yourself in when you seek recovery, individuals should follow these 3 necessary burnout recovery stages: reorganizing your goal hierarchy, reframing your approach, and rebalancing your goals.
Workshops like 39 Life Hacks to Combat Burnout are a great place to start actively combating the effects of burnout. Learn how to incorporate stress-reducing rituals and boundaries into your daily routine, figure out ways to manage technology so it doesn’t control you, and learn how to decrease that “always-on” pressure. Plus, learn tips for improving your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits as well.
Burnout recovery is not just reactionary—individuals and leaders can take proactive steps to avoiding burnout in the future.
The first way you can avoid burnout is by restructuring your thinking and working smarter to manage your energy, not your time. We have only a finite amount of time in our days, but energy can be continuously recharged with the right rituals and behaviors. Simple lifestyle changes like exercising, taking work-free lunch breaks, or going on walks throughout the day to reset your mind can all work together to replenish your energy and make you more productive throughout the day.
Continuously protecting our mental and cognitive wellbeing will help create an environment for easily combatting the effects of burnout. For more information on improving mental and cognitive health, check out these 8 strategies for improving your mental clarity and 10 steps to reduce anxiety.
Lastly, improved management is one of the best ways to build a solid defense against burnout. Both top-down leadership and self leadership strategies can help individuals and organizations create better work environments. Improving self-management skills like self-regulation, time management, organization, and stress management are all ways to improve your workplace performance and increase feelings of purpose and accomplishment. Likewise, having empathetic and charismatic leaders who understand the needs and limits of their employees can make a drastic difference in the job performance and wellbeing of their employees.
Equipped with tactics for treating and avoiding burnout at a company-wide level, company leaders can not just improve workplace performance, but create happier employees as well. Even if workplace-wide initiatives are not possible for some employees, you can still find many ways to restructure your goals to mitigate the effects of burnout.
- How long does burnout take to recover?
Burnout is an accumulation of chronic stress and exhaustion. While the time needed for recovery varies from person to person, it can take the average person anywhere from three to five years to recover from burnout.
- Can you fully recover from burnout?
While burnout treatment takes time and effort, full recovery from burnout is possible by taking active and proactive steps to mitigate stress and restructure your goals and priorities.
- How do you recover physically from burnout?
Our physical, mental, and psychological health are all closely interlinked. When recovering from burnout, taking better care of our physical well-being by exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet will help improve the other symptoms of burnout as well.
- What are the 5 stages of burnout?
The five stages of burnout are 1. The honeymoon phase 2. Appearance of stress 3. Chronic stress 4. Full-blown burnout and 5. Chronic burnout.
Burnout might be pervasive—but it doesn’t have to be permanent. With the right processes, resources, and tools in place, company leaders can help their teams recover from and avoid burnout now and well into the future.
Joychiever can help you accomplish exactly that. Our courses are designed to provide the ultimate roadmap for improved retention, productivity, and profitability. With workshop topics like Banish Burnout: Leadership Best Practices to Bolster Engagement and Retention and 39 Life Hacks to Combat Burnout, Joychiever offers no shortage of ways to help your team (and your organization) succeed. Ready to get started? Contact us today!