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8 Ways to Combat Workplace Burnout

A woman sitting in front of a laptop with her hands on her temples in an open office.

You probably know the feeling, even if you haven’t identified it yet. The constant stress of workplace demands build up over time, until, suddenly, you find yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally drained. What you’re experiencing is called burnout.

But here’s the good news: there are effective ways to fight it.

Whether you’ve already reached the burnout stage or can feel it fast approaching, a few smart tactics can help you turn things around and start feeling good at work again. Of course, some jobs are more conducive to burnout than others.

If you experience burnout often, it might be worthwhile to consider switching jobs, or even industries. Until then, though, use these tactics to get the job done without sacrificing your health and well-being.

How to Identify Burnout

First, you can’t combat burnout if you don’t know what it looks or feels like. It’s helpful to get in touch with your feelings about work, so you can recognize the signs of burnout when it’s approaching.

These signs are different for everyone. For some, burnout might manifest as excessive fatigue, while for others it can show up as insomnia. You might find yourself becoming more irritable at work, or more withdrawn at home.

There are also times when work might be challenging, exhausting, or frustrating, but not to the point of burnout. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as having the following 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;
  • Reduced professional efficacy.”

If you’re only experiencing one or two of the above, you’re not experiencing true burnout, although you might be getting close to it. When all three show up at once, however, you’ve reached the burnout stage.

Try to keep a close eye on how you feel at and about work. If you notice when things start to take a downturn, you can stave off burnout before it really starts. You can also take the Psychology Today Burnout Test—it’s not an exact predictor, but it can give you a better idea of where you’re at right now.

Now, let’s take a look at some ways you can prevent yourself from reaching burnout or pull yourself out of it if you do reach that point.

Schedule a Vacation

When you realize you’re nearing burnout, it’s rarely practical to take a vacation right then. Recovering from (and preventing) burnout is a long-term process. However, taking a significant break from work during that process can help.

If it’s possible, book a vacation in the coming weeks or months. Try to make it a longer period of time, like a week or two, rather than just a couple of days. The less you’re in contact with work during your vacation, the better, so consider booking it during a slow period or after you’ve wrapped up some big projects.

Low on funds? A staycation where you just enjoy your own home and city free from work can have the same benefits.

Although, you might not be able to take it right away, when the time comes, your time off will help you shake off burnout for good.

Consider Medical Leave

Certain workers are allowed to take off up to 12 unpaid weeks of work under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These laws ensure that people can take time off for serious medical issues, childbirth, or similar reasons, without losing their jobs.

If you’re covered by FMLA, you might want to visit a medical professional and get written documentation of the effects of burnout you’re facing. This allows you to take a significant amount of time off without risking your job.

Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone, since not all employees are covered by FMLA, and not everyone can afford to take unpaid time off. If it’s a possibility for you, though, taking a longer leave from work can free you from burnout faster.

Prioritize Your Workload

A prolonged, heavy workload will push you toward burnout, especially if not all the required tasks are meaningful to you. When you start feeling burned out, take a good look at your typical workload and try to prioritize. For example, are there projects you can delegate or cut out altogether?

You might need to meet with your boss or coworkers to make changes to your workload. However, if you have a compelling case as to why some tasks are unnecessary or would be better delegated to others, you stand a good chance of reducing your workload to the things that really matter.

Invest in Your Physical Health

Burnout takes a serious toll on you mentally, but also physically. To fight it off, make extra investments in your physical well-being, so these effects don’t worsen. Even if you can’t make changes to your workload or schedule, making some changes at home can help.

For example, if you eat lots of unhealthy takeout meals, hit the grocery store or order some healthier delivery meals to balance out your diet. Catch up on sleep, even if that means canceling a few plans. And try to work a little more exercise into your days if you’ve been sedentary—you can find lots of short, simple workout ideas on YouTube you can do at home.

Set Up Work-Home Boundaries

A woman in bed looking at her phone.
Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

Not having a good work-life balance leads to burnout much faster. If you find that your work regularly follows you home, it might be time to set up some boundaries.

For example, you might need to set a certain hour each evening after which you’ll no longer check work emails or take work calls. Or, consider taking any after-hours work to a coffee shop or coworking space so you have an incentive to finish it all before you go home.

Once you’re home, put all your focus into relaxing and recharging before the next workday. Don’t pick up any work tasks until you’re on the clock again. Even if you’re a freelance or remote worker, make sure you schedule enough free time each week so you can recharge.

Connect with Your Support System

Everyone needs a good support network in order to thrive. And a support system that understands your workplace responsibilities can be especially helpful when you’re dealing with burnout.

If you have friends at work, or friends who work in the same industry, schedule some time with them during which you can talk about the burnout-related challenges you’re facing. They’ll understand better than most what you’re going through. They might even be able to share their own tactics for reversing burnout.

Make Future Plans

To get out of burnout and ensure it won’t happen again, you need to make future plans. This can help you get back in touch with your inspiration and focus, which can relieve burnout faster.

What those future plans look like will depend on you and your unique workplace situation. For example, you might need to schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss taking on different responsibilities that feel more meaningful and manageable to you.

You might need to look for a different job in a less-demanding workplace, or in a company culture that suits you better. This might even be the right time to switch to freelancing, go back to school, relocate, or make another significant life change.

Of course, you shouldn’t dive headfirst into a complete life overhaul just because you’re burned out. However, it can be a good time to reevaluate your life, how work fits into it, and to make carefully considered changes accordingly.

Two-thirds of full-time workers report experiencing burnout. If it happens to you, though, you can be proactive in dealing with it. These tips give you some tools to stop workplace burnout in its tracks.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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