In our culture, work is often glorified. Being busy is the norm, we tend to see workplace stress as a necessary part of life. With this attitude, it’s hard to see when stress shifts from a normal experience into a dangerous one: burnout.
Burnout is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, negativity or cynicism about one’s job, or depleted productivity at work. Here are some common causes of workplace burnout.
What Causes Burnout?
1. Managing overly heavy workloads
One of the most common causes of burnout is that you simply have too much work on your plate. A 2017 study conducted by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace found that about 32% of employee burnout was related to unreasonable workload. Another 32% was due to too much overtime or after-work hours.
Taking on an ambitious workload may seem productive at first, especially when you’re dealing with tight deadlines. However, when it starts to affect your wellbeing, it’s time to reevaluate.
Consider taking a step back to assess your to-do lists and how much time you’ve dedicated to each task. How many hours do you need to realistically complete all of your tasks? If the answer is unrealistic, speak up! Clear communication is necessary to prevent burnout.
2. Lacking control
A study by World Psychiatry found that there is a link between lack of control and burnout.
For many, control looks like the capacity to influence workplace decisions, or the ability to access necessary job-related resources. Employees with more perceived control are, unsurprisingly, more likely to be engaged in their work.
It is deflating to work in a place where we don’t have control over our tasks or feel like we’re unable to make changes that align with our values. If this is the case, we may need to communicate our needs to supervisors. Additionally, we can pro-actively seek out areas of work in which we can have an influence.
3. Working in a toxic environment
Unclear job expectations and dysfunctional work dynamics contribute to a toxic work environment. Do your supervisors or colleagues tend to be abrasive? Do they not seem to appreciate your work? Does your workplace display a lack of empathy?
Working in a place where we don’t feel cared for or respected can quickly lead to burnout. Sometimes, there are steps you can take to improve unhealthy dynamics so that you can survive and thrive in your current role. These include communicating issues with supervisors and co-workers, finding self-identity in areas outside of work, taking breaks, and knowing when to set boundaries or even leave a toxic environment. A healthy work environment is absolutely worth pursuing.
4. Feeling held to an overly high standard
Being held to a high standard can be a double-edged sword. It gives us the opportunity to push ourselves, but can also push us towards unrealistic goals.
When the pressure to achieve is overwhelming or our standards are unrealistic, we are much more likely to experience burnout. Constantly worrying about making mistakes or letting others down may negatively impact physical and mental health.
Consider the standard you are striving towards now. Is it manageable? If not, is this standard self-imposed, or are colleagues setting the bar for you? How can you make expectations more realistic? For example, would it help to break tasks down into smaller steps, plan for later deadlines, or get support from others?
5. Looking at the glass half-empty
We all have unique ways of viewing the world. In one study, 1,056 participants were given various, ambiguous scenarios to imagine. For example, anticipating seeing an old friend for the first time in years and thinking about how they might have changed. Participants were then asked to contemplate and rate each scenario’s pleasantness. The study found that individuals who display a more negative outlook also tend to display higher levels of burnout.
Your mindset matters. If you’re finding it particularly difficult to stay positive or shift your attitude, maybe it’s time to seek support from a loved one or a therapist.
6. Lacking a well-rounded self-care routine
No matter what your work environment is like, it’s normal to experience stress. Self-care is an important way to protect yourself from burnout.
Do you have activities that you regularly enjoy outside of work? Do you make time for friends who make you feel good? How well do you take care of your physical health by eating nutritiously and moving your body? Getting in touch with your needs and making time for the things you value outside of your job allows you to strike a balance between work and the rest of your life.
Additionally, try to build self-care into your daily, weekly, and monthly routines. Diversify what this looks like, incorporating ideas that speak to your physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational goals.
Have you experienced any of these burnout signs? How did you manage them? We’d love to hear from you!
Erin Ross, MS, OTR/L is an occupational therapist and contributing writer in Washington, DC. She believes in data-driven practice, clear and concise communication, and diligent inclusion of the Oxford comma.