The 3 Factors That Make People Burn Out the Fastest

The 3 Factors That Make People Burn Out the Fastest

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Lisa Lewis Miller528
Author, podcaster, coach @ GetCareerClarity.com

Do you feel fried every day when you come home from work? 

You’re not alone. Feeling exhaustion and burnout in our jobs is so pervasive that the World Health Organization (WHO) officially defined burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” and global health issue.

We as women will often write off feelings of burnout as “having a tough day” or “being low energy.” However, WHO officially defines burnout as “…chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” with three specific dimensions:

  1. “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion,

  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and,

  3. Reduced professional efficacy.”

Think you might be at risk of burnout? 

Overwork is often time to burnout, but there are layers of nuance to it. We can overwork for short periods, but with adequate coping mechanisms and time for recovery, we can bounce back completely. Burnout happens when you have long periods of intense work where you don’t feel replenished afterward. 

Three factors drive most cases of work burnout. 

1. You’re dealing with a temporary surge.

You’re at risk for burnout when you have to deal with a big surge of effort or time at work. For example, you may be working on a big event, have an end-of-year goal to meet or have just landed a big new business contract that you’re not yet staffed to deliver. 

If you don’t feel adequately resourced or equipped to manage the influx of stress and responsibilities, a temporary work overload can have long-term mental health consequences. In the short term, you might find yourself obsessively thinking about work.

The good thing about this risk factor for burnout is that there’s an end in sight. To address it, loop in your supervisor to let them know what’s going on. Submit a request to take vacation or a few comp days for rest and rejuvenation immediately after the project surge is over.

If planning a vacation feels impossible because there really isn’t an “end” for the work insight, you’re not actually dealing with a temporary surge. You’re at risk of burnout due to the second common cause.  

2. Your boss or work situation is too demanding. 

A big factor for burnout is working in an environment where the demands are more than anybody could possibly handle. These are kinds of environments where even if you were Superwoman, you still couldn’t get it all done. 

This could be an environment that’s faster-paced than feels good for you, has too demanding deadlines or turnaround times, or where there are too many emotionally taxing conversations. You’d be at risk for this kind of burnout if you’re consistently working more than 40 hours a week, including nights, early mornings or weekends. You could be at risk if there have been layoffs or your office has been affected by The Great Resignation, where many of your former coworkers left their roles and left you stuck doing two (or more) people’s jobs. If anybody has used the phrase “going above and beyond” to describe what you’re doing (or what they’re asking you to do,) you’re probably in a too-demanding environment to ever be able to truly thrive. 

The wear-and-tear of trying to meet unreasonable expectations day in and day out is severe. Often, you know things feel unsustainable but are so afraid that you’ll be fired for having boundaries that you decide to put your head down and soldier on. Coping mechanisms to head off or minimize this kind of burnout include hiring more team members, asking for help with your work, delegating projects to people who have more capacity for them, or asking for deadline extensions. You’ll need to communicate to your boss that the pace of the work isn’t possible for you, and, to do your highest quality work, you need to make some shifts. This kind of conversation is vulnerable, but your mental and physical health is worth it. 

3. You have difficulty managing day-to-day workplace stress.

If you feel like your job isn’t that demanding, but you’re having a difficult time managing the stress or overwhelm at work, you may be at risk of burnout if you don’t have the skill set to (healthily) cope with work stresses right now. 

Here’s how you’ll know if this is a risk factor for you: you say “yes” when asked to help with a new project, even though you don’t want to. When people ask you what you do for fun, you don’t have an answer. You start your day by immediately diving into emails and already feel overwhelmed with the number of messages to respond to by 10 a.m. You check your email on the weekends, not because you need to respond urgently but because you find it hard to disconnect. You’ve stopped doing things to take care of yourself outside of work like getting good sleep, eating nutritious food and cultivating hobbies.

If your boss’ expectations aren’t the issue and the projects aren’t anything out of control right now, your mental boundaries and coping skills may be the culprit. 

Learning habits to help you deal with feelings of overwhelm can help you head off burnout. Try things like taking 15 minutes in the morning, email-free, to organize your work plan for the day, or taking a five-minute meditation or stretch break every other hour. Pick out a new hobby to try out to fill in your time during the night so you don’t accidentally hop back on email. Learn how to say “no” or “let me think about it” before saying “yes” to any new work projects.  

No matter which of these burnout risk factors might apply to you, there are small, practical steps you can take to either head them off or minimize their impact on your health and well-being. The most important thing to know is that your happiness at work is worth fighting for, and addressing the root causes of burnout is always a good idea. 

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This article was written by an FGB Contributor.

Lisa Lewis Miller is an internationally recognized career change coach, author, and founder of Career Clarity. Her new book, Career Clarity, talks about the four core drivers of fulfillment and satisfaction in your work, no matter what you do right now (or want to do next).