4 Signs You're Burned Out to the Point of Needing to Quit, According to Harvard

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June 12, 2024 at 9:26PM UTC
There's often a seasonality to stress. Perhaps things at work have picked up around a specific project you're working on, or you're struggling to juggle family responsibilities during back-to-school time. Whatever the specific reason, there are periods of heightened pressure that come and go, ultimately allowing you to return to your equilibrium. But what happens when that equilibrium starts to feel inaccessible — or maybe it hasn't felt attainable for a long time?

When life's demands go beyond the threshold of what one can reasonably handle, and that transgression is sustained, burnout is often around the corner. According to Harvard Business Review writer Monique Valcour, burnout has three common components: exhaustion  or loss of energy, cynicism or loss of enthusiasm, and inefficacy or loss of self-confidence and the capacity to perform. Although personal life matters can contribute to burnout, research has shown that one of the most significant drivers of burnout is people's jobs. Considering that the American Institute of Stress shows that Americans today work harder and for longer hours on average than previous generations did, and that as many as 40% of workers describe their jobs as “very or extremely” stressful, this is hardly surprising.
Sometimes, you can be brought back from the verge of burnout by a particularly restorative vacation or, even better, by a conversation with your boss about setting more realistic expectations. Other times, however, the situation may be more dire. Here are the four situations in which the burnout you're facing is severe enough to quit your job over, according to Harvard. 

1. Your employer doesn't enable you to be the best version of yourself.

This is the case whenever, as Valcour writes, an overwhelming workload, conflicting objectives unclear expectations, inadequate resources, or a lack of managerial support is at play.
"When you’re burned out, you provide less value than you would working in conditions that are more conducive to your performance and engagement," she wrote. "As my burnout progressed, my motivation plummeted and I had less to offer my employer. Not only was the organization hurting me, I was hurting the organization. Burnout is like a relationship that’s gone bad: When the employment relationship is no longer beneficial to either party, and the prospects for reviving it are dim, it may be time to call it quits."

2. Your job or employer doesn't align with your values and interests.

Feeling that your personal values are reflected and supported by your employer is essential to achieving true job fulfillment, something Valcour was missing from her career. 
"My employer’s values as revealed by managerial behavior and decision-making practices clashed with my core commitments to authenticity, autonomy, making a positive difference, and facilitating thriving at work," she wrote.

3. You can't envision a positive future at the organization.

For Valcour, she realized the that the prospect of continuing to rise within her company filled her with dread. She says the fact there were "senior colleagues who were clearly diminished by their employment, frequently sick, and consistently negative" set off alarm bells, adding: "I knew that I didn’t want to end up like that."

4. There's a clear personal cost to the stress you're experiencing.

Be it the toll it takes on your health, career, mental and emotional well-being, or relationships, burnout doesn't come without its price. 
"In my case, the negative emotions I brought home hurt my marriage and family relationships as well as my peace of mind," Valcour recalled. "Sitting in the office of a relationship counselor and hearing my always supportive husband say, 'I have no more empathy left for you,' clarified the costs of burnout on me and my family. 
If you’re unsure about the impact that burnout might be having on you, Valcour advises asking your partner, family members, and close friends for their perspective. And remember: you're not stuck in this situation.

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