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What Is Workplace Burnout?

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A dark-haired women sits in front of an open laptop with her face in her hands.

There comes a time in most of our lives where we have the worst type of “ah-ha!” moment at work – the moment where we realize and acknowledge that we are miserable in our position (don’t worry, you are not alone). 

In this moment, we’re overwhelmed by feelings of negativity, of hopelessness. We feel the tension so deeply that looking at our emails can feel like a monumental task. There are plenty of reasons why this feeling might have come to you, but the culprit usually comes down to one single idea:

Burnout. Workplace burnout, emotional burnout, job burnout, it’s all the same.

So now that we’ve identified the problem, we have to explore it. Getting to know the ins and outs of this awful feeling can help us conquer it in the long run. 

As far as definitions go, “burnout” is a type of stress that compounds over time, leaving you so physically and emotionally drained that it’s affecting your day-to-day life, especially at work. Burnout makes us feel like our accomplishments are meaningless and that our work serves no purpose, leaving us completely unmotivated to get anything done. 

The idea that stress can affect our lives beyond what’s in front of us (meaning our mental and physical health) is relatively new. The whole world is trying to figure out how to establish and maintain professional lives that aren’t overwhelmed by it. That’s why the work behind mitigating burnout can feel so intimidating: we’re all trying to figure this out together. 

Burnout can wreak havoc on you (“I”), your team (“we”), and the systems (“it”) that make up your workplace, so it’s imperative that you begin the journey to overcoming workplace burnout as soon as you recognize it.

What Causes Burnout?

Workplace burnout can come from a few different sources. 

One of those sources that we all need to keep an eye out for is mental health. Depression is a driver of some cases of workplace burnout, so when you start to recognize these feelings, it’s imperative that you sit down with yourself and really consider the situation you’re in as well as the emotions that are popping up. If those feelings weigh insurmountably heavily on your shoulders, it may be time to seek help from a medical professional. 

Once you’ve ruled out mental health as the culprit, workplace burnout can come from two other places: you or your environment. 

It’s important to ask yourself a few questions to determine what’s causing your burnout. If you’re working in a way that doesn’t serve you or honor the boundaries you need to set for yourself, it’s possible that the burnout was caused by the way you approach your work. This is very common in high-achieving leaders. If this is the case, you have an amazing opportunity to redefine how you work so that it is conducive to your spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being. 

There is also a good chance that your burnout isn’t an “I” issue but a “we” and “it” issue. 

“We” is all about your team. Are you and other leaders in your space asking your team to work beyond their abilities? Are leaders willing to work with others? To trust them? 

When the “we” is affected by workplace burnout, negative attitudes settle into “it,” meaning the systems that make up a company. Asking team members to work after-hours when it isn’t appropriate, maintaining unrealistic workloads, and a lack of communication, for example, all set a precedent for creating systemic workplace burnout. 

How Can We Fix Workplace Burnout? 

The key to finding a solution to workplace burnout is digging deep into all of the pieces that make up your workplace through the lenses of “I,” “we,” and “it.” Recognizing that there is a problem at all is a huge step.

If you’re in a leadership position and you recognize signs of burnout in your workplace, it’s incredible that you’ve made your way to this article. I have worked with countless teams to improve workplace culture with burnout in mind and have the resources to take you, your team, and the systems of your workplace to healthy, purposeful, and whole futures you never considered before. 

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