Job burnout: How to spot it and take action

Feeling burned out at work? Find out what you can do when your job affects your health.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Job burnout is a type of stress linked to work. It includes being worn out physically or emotionally. Job burnout also may involve feeling useless, powerless and empty.

Burnout isn't a medical diagnosis. Some experts think that other conditions, such as depression, are behind burnout. Burnout can raise the risk of depression. But depression and burnout are different, and they need different treatments.

Certain personality traits may affect the risk of burnout. Other factors, such as past work experiences, also can affect burnout risk. That helps explain why if two people are dealing with the same job issues, one might have job burnout while the other does not.

Whatever the cause, job burnout can affect your physical and mental health. Here are some tips on how to know if you have job burnout and what you can do about it.

Job burnout symptoms

To find out if you might have job burnout, answer these questions:

  • Do you question the value of your work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  • Do you feel removed from your work and the people you work with?
  • Have you lost patience with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to do your job well?
  • Is it hard to focus on your job?
  • Do you feel little satisfaction from what you get done?
  • Do you feel let down by your job?
  • Do you doubt your skills and abilities?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to numb how you feel?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Do you have headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints with no known cause?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might have job burnout. Think about talking to a health care professional or a mental health professional. These symptoms also can be linked to health conditions, such as depression.

Possible causes of job burnout

There are different causes of job burnout. They include:

  • Lack of control. Not having a say in how you do your job, such as your schedule, assignments or workload, can lead to job burnout. Not having what you need to do your work also can add to burnout.
  • Lack of clarity about what's expected of you. If you're not sure what your boss or others want from you, you're not likely to feel like you're doing a good job.
  • Conflicts with others. Maybe you work with an office bully. Or you feel that co-workers are against you. Or your boss is too involved with your work. These conflicts can add to job stress.
  • Too much or too little to do. Maybe your job is boring. Or it's so busy you can't keep up with the demands. In these situations, you need a lot of energy to stay focused. This can lead to fatigue and job burnout.
  • Lack of support. If you feel alone at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.
  • Problems with work-life balance. Problems with work-life balance. Maybe your work takes up so much of your time and energy that you have nothing left for family and friends. This lack of balance can lead to job burnout.

Job burnout risk factors

The following factors can add to job burnout:

  • Having a heavy workload and working long hours.
  • Struggling with work-life balance.
  • Working in a helping profession, such as health care, that involves a lot of giving to others.
  • Feeling of having little or no control over work.

Costs of job burnout

Doing nothing about job burnout can make the problems worse. As a result, you might:

  • Feel drained.
  • Not feel able to cope.
  • Not be able to sleep.
  • Be sad, angry, irritable or not care.
  • Use more alcohol or other substances.
  • Get heart disease, high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.
  • Be more likely to get sick.

Handling job burnout

Burnout often involves things in the workplace that you can't control. But there are ways to control how you cope with the stress. To get started:

  • Look at your options. Talk to your boss about your concerns. Maybe you can work together to make changes or solve problems. Set realistic goals for what must get done. Find out what can wait. If things at work are not likely to change, you might look for a job that would be a better fit for you.
  • Seek support.. Ask co-workers, friends or loved ones for support. Talking to others might help you cope. Feeling like you belong protects against burnout. If your job offers an employee assistance program, look at the services offered.
  • Try a relaxing activity. Look for activities that can help with stress. Examples are yoga, meditation or tai chi. Something as simple as taking some deep breaths a few times a day can help relieve tension.
  • Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help you cope with stress. It also can take your mind off work.
  • Get some sleep. Sleep restores well-being and helps protect your health.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is being aware of what's going on inside you and around you without judging or reacting. This practice can help you deal with what's happening on the job.

Keep an open mind as you think about the options. Ask for help. There are ways to overcome burnout and protect your health.

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Nov. 30, 2023 See more In-depth