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How to Approach Burnout

What it is, what it looks like, and the many places it comes from.

As a Career Coach, I see burnout as one of the most prevalent issues facing people at work today.

Burnout is very real, and it's more than just not 'loving' your job.

I see it in my clients, who come to me tearful and exhausted.

I see it in society. According to the Global Talent Trends report by Mercer, 8 out of 10 employees are at risk of burnout in 2024. That's a staggering number.

But what is burnout? How do you know if you're experiencing it? This is important, because it's not, as many people believe, just from working 'too hard for too long'. So let's get into it.

An woman experiencing burnout holds a picture of a smile in front of her face

What does Burnout look like?

The WHO (World Health Organisation) defines burnout as:

A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and

  • reduced professional efficacy.”

Whilst this is explicitly a definition about workplace stress, I think it would be naive not to acknowledge that there will be many factors contributing to the likelihood of burnout, such as being a primary care-giver, financial worries, and relationship or health problems.

There are other symptoms of burnout worth calling out. Burnout can lead to:

  • irritability

  • feeling alone

  • low motivation

  • procrastination

  • sleep disturbance

  • increased alcohol use

  • difficulty concentrating

  • a sense of helplessness

  • feeling full of self-doubt

  • not seeming like yourself

  • lack of care, feeling numb

As you can see, these aren’t small, harmless side effects.

Where does Burnout come from?

I believe there are many causes of burnout, and it's not just from working too hard for too long (although yes, that is one major way it can show up).

Burnout can actually come from a variety of other experiences too.

If you are severely ISOLATED, this can lead to feelings of loneliness, self-doubt and eventual burnout. This is sometimes called 'neglect burnout'.

If you are extremely BORED and stagnated at work, with no growth or development, you can quickly burn out. This is sometimes called 'boreout'.

And if you are MISALIGNED in your work - meaning, it doesn't fit who you are, it doesn't sit well with your values or motivators, and it just doesn't align to who you are and what you thrive in. It drains you. This can cause burnout. This is 'misalignment burnout', a term coined by Psychologist Mark Travers.

What should I do if I have Burnout?

It's important to seek help when you're experiencing burnout. It can have serious mental health and even physical repercussions, so if you're feeling unable to cope, speak to a therapist and your doctor.

If you are addressing your burnout from work directly, there will be a number of steps you can take, depending on where the burnout has come from.

This might be:

  • Speaking to your manager about getting greater support

  • Reflecting on your patterns of behaviour and your mindset - often things like people-pleasing tendencies will contribute to your experience of burnout

  • Setting aside dedicated time to rest meaningfully (not doom-scrolling on the sofa)

  • Working with a career coach to reflect on your values, drivers, what gives you energy and your day to day non-negotiables, and considering a change

  • Treating yourself with compassion. You haven't done anything wrong by experiencing burnout. It's extremely common, and you haven't failed in any way, I promise.

What is NOT helpful when experiencing Burnout?

This is not about a quick fix. Taking a vacation when you're burntout can feel nice, but is like putting a plaster on a deep wound. It won't help you heal. It will just delay dealing with the issue.

Turning a blind eye and just persevering, is also unwise. This can get you into deeper burnout, and lead to prolonged, worsening symptoms. I know it's tempting to fall into avoidance, when you're the one who has it all together and you feel like you have to 'keep the show on the road', but you aren't helping anyone by doing this.

Thinking that burnout is just common to one type of job, one type of industry, is also a mistake. Burnout can happen anywhere, because although it's partly about the conditions of your work it's also largely about YOU. About how you think, how you react to stress, and how well you know what you really want.

Take burnout seriously, and get the help you need to truly heal and recover.

Getting further support

If you think you might be experiencing burnout and want to explore this further, grab my new Career Burnout Survival Handbook. This will go into all the ways burnout can show up and steps you can take to craft a healthier future. If you're really concerned about your own wellbeing or that of a loved one, please speak to your doctor as soon as you can.

Always on your side,

CEO and Founder, Clarity Coaching with Louise


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