How to Recognize Job Burnout

What Is Job Burnout?

Job burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to exhaustion, detachment and a decline in work performance. Left unchecked, burnout can severely deteriorate your health, relationships and overall happiness.

Causes and Risk Factors

Job burnout can result from various factors. Christina Maslach, Professor Emerita of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, identified six key domains that link to burnout. Burnout can occur when there is a disconnect between the organization and an individual in some or all of these areas.

1. Workload: An employee has an unmanageable amount of work, overtime is excessive and there is little opportunity to rest.

2. Control: An employee doesn’t have the capacity to influence decisions that affect her job or gain access to necessary resources to perform work effectively. Job expectations may be unclear or the employee may not see a connection between her role and organizational strategy.

3. Reward: An employee receives insufficient recognition and rewards. These can be financial, institutional or social.

4. Community: The company culture is dysfunctional, there is workplace conflict or there is lack of support between co-workers.

5. Fairness: An employee doesn’t feel respected or feels unfairly treated. Examples of workplace unfairness include favoritism and gender pay gaps.

6. Values: There is a disconnect between the motivations of the company and the individual. An employee makes a trade-off between work that has to be done and work that she wants to do.

In addition to the above conditions, certain individuals are more at risk for burnout than others:

• Those who identify so strongly with their careers that work-life balance suffers

• Those who try to please everyone and have trouble setting boundaries

• Those who perform monotonous tasks, such as assembly line work

• Those who work in helping professions, including counseling, health care, emergency services and law enforcement

Organizations with the following characteristics create a high-risk environment for employees to burn out:

• Toxic workplace culture

• Unclear corporate direction

• Dysfunctional leadership

• Sharp changes to management or organizational structure

• Layoffs or hiring freezes




Workplace burnout often develops slowly and may not be recognized until it has become severe. Common signs to watch out for include:

• Decline in work performance

• Impaired concentration and focus

• Lack of motivation or thoughts of quitting

• Not caring about your job

• Detachment and isolation from others

• Increased frustration, anger, irritability or cynicism

• Anxiety

• Physical, mental or emotional exhaustion

• Sleep disturbance

• Physical pains or a spike in illnesses

• Not taking care of your health



Ways to Handle Burnout

If you notice that you’re experiencing burnout, address the condition sooner rather than later. If left alone, burnout can lead to other serious health issues, including substance abuse, coronary heart disease and mental health problems. Here are steps you can take to help manage burnout:

• Evaluate what’s causing the burnout. What are the stressors and who is causing them–you or the organization?

• Take control of what you can and begin reducing the stressors. For example, if you have an unreasonable workload, you can talk to your manager about hiring additional help.

• Practice stress management

• Make adjustments to your perceptions and attitude

• Adopt healthy sleeping, eating and exercise habits

• Find a supportive social network

• Develop a better work-life balance

• Take time off from work to recover

• If the organization is a big factor in creating the burnout and the individual changes you make don’t relieve enough stress, then a new job may be a remedy.

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