Job burnout is a special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work. If you think you might be experiencing job burnout, take a closer look at the phenomenon. What you learn may help you face the problem and take action before job burnout affects your health.
Could you be experiencing job burnout?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing job burnout. Be sure to consult your doctor or a mental health provider, however. Some of these symptoms can also indicate certain health conditions, such as a thyroid disorder or depression.
What causes job burnout?
Job burnout can result from various factors, including:
- Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of necessary resources to do your work.
- Unclear job expectations. If you're unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you're not likely to feel comfortable at work.
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Perhaps you work with an office bully, you feel undermined by colleagues or your boss micromanages your work. These and related situations can contribute to job stress.
- Mismatch in values. If your values differ from the way your employer does business or handles grievances, the mismatch may eventually take a toll.
- Poor job fit. If your job doesn't fit your interests and skills, it may become increasingly stressful over time.
- Extremes of activity. When a job is always monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.
Who's at risk of job burnout?
You may be more likely to experience job burnout if:
- You identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between your work life and your personal life
- You try to be everything to everyone
- You work in a helping profession, such as health care, counseling or teaching
- You feel you have little or no control over your work
- Your job is monotonous
What are the consequences of job burnout?
Ignored or unaddressed job burnout can have significant consequences, including:
- Excessive stress
- A negative spillover into personal relationships or home life
- Alcohol or substance abuse
Remember, if you think you may be experiencing job burnout, don't ignore your symptoms. Consult your doctor or a mental health provider to identify or rule out any underlying health conditions.
What's the best way to handle job burnout?
If you're concerned about job burnout, take action. To get started:
- Manage the stressors that contribute to job burnout. Once you've identified what's fueling your feelings of job burnout, you can make a plan to address the issues.
- Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor. Perhaps you can work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions. Is job sharing an option? What about telecommuting or flexing your time? Would it help to establish a mentoring relationship? What are the options for continuing education or professional development?
- Adjust your attitude. If you've become cynical at work, consider ways to improve your outlook. Rediscover enjoyable aspects of your work. Recognize co-workers for valuable contributions or a job well done. Take short breaks throughout the day. Spend time away from work doing things you enjoy.
- Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends, loved ones or others, support and collaboration may help you cope with job stress and feelings of burnout. If you have access to an employee assistance program (EAP), take advantage of the available services.
- Assess your interests, skills and passions. An honest assessment can help you decide if you should consider an alternative job, such as one that's less demanding or one that better matches your interests or core values.
The bottom line? Keep an open mind as you consider the options. Don't let a demanding or unrewarding job undermine your health.
Last Updated: 2010-10-02