The 7 biggest reasons for burnout—and what to do about them

In most workplaces, feelings of ambivalence, stress, and overextension are the norm of everyday professional life, writes Kenneth Rosen for the New York Times.

According to the General Social Survey of 2016, 50% of respondents experience consistent exhaustion due to work, versus just 18% two decades ago.

Although occupational burnout happens to many of us (even Melinda Gates), stressed-out employees often choose to stay quiet out of fear of being "labeled as a wimp," says Christina Maslach, professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

While a vacation seems like the obvious solution, many experts argue that long-term burnout is actually a major health concern that won't be resolved by a weekend retreat, notes Rosen.

Rosen shares seven stressful situations that may increase your risk for burnout, three indicators you're already burned out, and eight ways you can lead a less stressful life.

Seven stressful work situations

If you're experiencing any of the following, you're at risk for burnout, Maslach writes:

  • Challenges associated with different processes or changing environments;
  • Unrealistic deadlines;
  • Frequent scheduling conflicts;
  • Unpredictable schedules;
  • Strenuous physical demands;
  • Unmanageable workload not reflected in compensation; and
  • Interpersonal demands like interactions with customers.

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Three indicators of burnout

According to Maslach, major indicators of workplace burnout include:

  • Feeling nauseous, lack of sleep, or emotionally drained;
  • Feeling constantly underappreciated or ostracized by colleagues and bosses; and
  • Feeling you are constantly underperforming.

These feelings often result in absenteeism, turnover, and errors, says Maslach. Stress can also manifest in outbursts toward loved ones or a loss of appetite, writes Rosen.

Eight ways to alleviate stress

If any of the above situations or symptoms mirror your work life, here are a few things you can do to alleviate burnout:

  • Practice focused breathing;
  • Take five-minute breaks every 20 minutes spent on a task;
  • Make your workspace more inviting with a small plant or a sit-stand arrangement;
  • Find a mentor to discuss work-related stress;
  • Invest in a hobby outside of work to decompress;
  • Find time to work remotely; and
  • Seek out a supportive social network.

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Jason Lang, team leader of the Center of Disease Control's Workplace Health Program, offers one final recommendation.

In addition to a good diet, exercise, and sleep, he says laughter is one surefire way to beat the stress (Rosen, New York Times, 9/6).


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