Occupational burnout: spotting and treating it

By Katarina Matiasovska on 04-12-2017
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Life’s not all work and no play. If you're inclined to think otherwise, you are likely to be placing yourself in jeopardy of burnout.

Burnout is more serious than stress, which is so omnipresent in our daily lives. (To be precise, stress refers to a feeling of pressure due to challenges and constraints around you; something millennials can greatly empathise with.)

Needless to say, stress is a relatively mild burden we all have to carry and usually isn't a cause for special concern. But how does one work oneself to actual burnout and, more importantly, where’s the threshold?

A one-way ticket to burnout could range anywhere from working 50+ hours to not having been on a vacation for 8 years to suffering a poor job fit, where your job duties are severely misaligned with your skills and interests (yes, you can bore yourself to burnout).


We should also factor in personality traits such overexcitability: people with very low levels of excitability can just roll with the punches and no amount of psychological burden ever seems to wear them down. The guys on the other side of the spectrum need to brace themselves with extra care for exceptionally stressful times.

So, have you ever been burn out?

How to spot it

According to Dr. Todd Dewett from LinkedIn Learning, there are several red flags to watch out for: burnout is characterised by feeling debilitated, detached, utterly unmotivated and unable to continue caring and coping.

One day you just find yourself emotionally washed out and exhausted and, worst of all, you didn't see it coming. Yes, there’s a very thin line between positive workaholism and having been sapped of your last ounce of enthusiasm.

Like a hamster in its spinning wheel, you've clearly spun the situation out of control and now, quite paradoxically, every single day feels hopelessly unproductive due to your newly acquired inability to focus and concentrate or overly narrow or myopic view of issues (hello impaired cognitive functioning!)

By now even your boss must have noticed your serious disengagement and substantial drops in productivity, punctuated by your cynical and resentful “new you”.

In short, burning out is far from being fun.

How to treat it

One would think that the best way to treat burnout is to just leave everything behind, burn bridges and check out of the rat race. Much to our detriment, that is likely impossible for the majority of us, however, even if we can’t stop working entirely, we can still press the pause button.

So, if you happen to find yourself in this unenviable situation of a burnout, attempt to take two to three days off, even if it’s just a three-day weekend.


During this short span of time try to concentrate on two things. First, reflect back on all the previous decisions and circumstances that have led you to the brink of self-destruction. What went wrong? How come you’re not happy at work anymore? This could also be called a time of “critical self-reappraisal”.

The obvious next step would be to be very specific about what you wish to change and how to change it.

Now, for the purpose of achieving durable recovery, it’s recommended to be planning in terms of concrete and identifiable small steps, not giant leaps into the unknown.

Your best bet is to start embracing small changes at first in order to achieve small wins, which get the ball rolling and help you build momentum.

What’s great about taking a small simple step is that you can do it right away or tomorrow and get that feeling of satisfaction immediately.

Next, it’s highly recommended that you talk to someone and confide your plans in them. Why would this be a good idea? Dr. Todd Dewett thinks that allowing someone else to know what you're focused on can feel like a new obligation or a type of contract. You don't want to disappoint them, you feel pressured to make progress.

When you’re back at work after your short-term reset, you will want to make those pauses a part of your daily work routine. As little as two to three 10-minute breaks of doing anything but work can make a difference; reading your favourite blogs, taking a walk, reconnecting with a human being of your choice…

It is exactly these frequent mental escapes that can keep the burnout monster at bay and increase your productivity.

Whether your boss likes it or not, not working about 10% of the time will help you perform at your peak during the 90% of your workday that you're actually working. Isn't it great to hear that working less can make you work better?

Katarina Matiasovska writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and graduate jobs

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