Burnout & Employment: Woman sitting in front of a laptop with her eyes closed and her head in her hand looking stressed

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about burnout in the workplace. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, The Mayo Clinic describes it as “a special type of work-related stress—a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

While we all experience stress in the workplace, burnout is at a different level. If you’re unsure if you’re dealing with routine stress or burnout, here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Is my work stress affecting my home life? 
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate? 
  • Do you feel exhausted regardless of how much sleep you get?
  • Do you find yourself being constantly critical or short with those around you?
  • When you think about going to work, do you get an overwhelming feeling of dread?

It’s a feeling that many people know too well, and it’s something that has reaching effects across the workplace. 

Some people are taking time off work to address their burnout or being more intentional about how they’re showing up for work. These breaks from work do show some measurable improvements. 

Mental Health Stigma

Despite the fact that we’ve certainly made strides in recent years when it comes to talking openly about mental health challenges, burnout is still associated with some negativity in the workplace. 

A recent study found that those who admit to workplace burnout even have a 34% less chance of getting promoted. Philippe Sterkens, a doctoral candidate at Ghent who led the study, said that “Even after successful recovery, such as returning to work, the lingering label jeopardizes career opportunities. The stigma accompanying burnout—despite growing public awareness—is not to be neglected.”

As a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities find employment, we’re quite concerned about how mental health challenges are being viewed as a barrier in the workplace. 

We want employees to acknowledge when they’re on the way to burnout and to take steps to keep their mental health in check. However, when burnout does happen, we also want there to be a path to recovery that doesn’t continually penalize people for their mental health. 

How to Handle Burnout

Messages from leaders

It’s important that leaders encourage people to take more time off and find a work/life balance that helps avoid burnout. This needs to go beyond just saying it, though. Leaders should do it themselves as well. After all, they’re not immune from burnout either. It’s a chance to lead by example.  

Prioritize mental health

Mental health should be a priority for all employees. Whether that’s through regular therapy, exercise, meditation, journaling, or more, there are plenty of ways to prioritize your mental health. Apps like Calm, Audible, and Kindle can also help you find more relaxation when needed. 

Identify your signs

We all deal with stress differently. It’s important that you take some time to reflect on how stress manifests for you. That way, you can notice the signs and make some adjustments before things get out of control. Perhaps you notice that you have stopped spending time on your hobbies or started ordering delivery more frequently. You can even ask the people around you to help identify when you’re short with them or if they feel you are more distant. Sometimes the people we love will see the signs before we will, so enlist their help.

Find your source of stress relief

While you can do a lot of things to help prevent burnout, you may also need to manage the active stress that comes into your life. You can do this in many ways, but a few we have seen work for our clients: taking time in nature, exercising, spending time with friends and family, going to therapy, meditating, or engaging in a hobby you love. 

The important thing is to find what fills you up most. You don’t need to do what everyone else does; you just need to focus on what relieves stress for you. Just ensure you’re not turning to drugs or alcohol to numb the stress. This will only make it worse in the long run. 

Promotions & Mental Health

Given the recent study about the correlation between burnout and promotions, it can also be helpful to acknowledge ways that you might be stigmatizing health in your promotional practices. 

Try to have clear promotion paths for everyone and an understanding of what you’re looking for in certain positions. That can help keep you from basing promotions on “feelings,” which can often contain unacknowledged biases.