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How to Cure Your Work Burnout



If you’re tired, stressed, and unproductive at work, it’s probably not your boss’s fault.

As many as 95 percent of hiring managers say employee workplace burnout is completely damaging companies, causing high turnover rates and workplace retention issues, according to new research from human resources software company Kronos.[1]

“Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions,” says Charlie DeWitt, VP of business development at Kronos. “While many organizations take steps to manage employee fatigue, there are far fewer efforts to proactively manage burnout.”

So why don’t we just take a vacation? Because we can’t even stop working when we’re away from the office. Here’s how to spot workplace burnout, and how to cure it.

What is work burnout?

Work burnout can be feeling exhausted and unhappy at work, but it can also have other, much worse symptoms.

According to Mayo Clinic, you’re more likely to experience burnout if you have trouble separating work and personal life, if you’re a yes person, and if you do the same thing every day.[2] Work burnout can not only hurt your productivity at work, it can also harm your mental health.

It’s important to catch yourself before you get burnt out — Mayo Clinic says you could start to spiral. Here’s what can happen if you get work burnout:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness, anger or irritability
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Vulnerability to illnesses

What causes work burnout?

Work burnout is very real, and there are a number of reasons why it could happen. A couple…

  • When you’re away from work, you’re still thinking about all of your responsibilities.
  • It’s in your workplace culture.

It’s work’s fault

It turns out we’re working so much but don’t feel like we’re being properly compensated for it. Kronos says 41 percent of HR leaders believe unfair compensation is the leading cause of burnout. Huge workloads and a ton of overtime (32 percent each) are also major factors.

“Not only can employee burnout sap productivity and fuel absenteeism, but it will undermine engagement and cause an organization’s top performers to leave the business altogether,” DeWitt says.

Some employees admit that workplaces are behind on the times when it comes to technology at the office. More than 27 percent of employees at large businesses believe “insufficient technology” is a major barrier for them to do their jobs effectively. When it comes to HR managers, nearly one-in-five say a lack of automation makes many administrative tasks redundant; and take longer than necessary to complete because they’re “too manual.” This holds them back from major problems that need fixing.

It’s your fault

If you’re getting paid enough for your workload and your employer’s tech is up to par, you might want to take some time to self-reflect. When you’re on a break, are you actually taking a break?

Of the Americans who actually are taking advantage of their paid time off, only two-thirds of them are really taking time off, according to a Glassdoor survey.[3]

While on vacation, 29 percent of workers report they were contacted by a coworker about a work-related matter, and a quarter said their boss contacted them.

Most Americans earn paid vacation time that they would rather not use according to a Bankrate survey.[4] In fact, most Americans would rather skip vacations altogether and simply get paid a little bit more.

This isn’t anything new. Americans notoriously avoid taking vacation days, whether it’s because planning a vacation is stressful or the idea of leaving work is. Not that you should hate your job so much you want to leave, but managers know the value of vacation and encourage employees to take them. It helps recharge, rejuvenate, and destress from your day-to-day workload.

But coming back to a mountain of to-do’s when you get back can be daunting, and that might deter us from vacations altogether. And not really vacationing isn’t the only problem we create for ourselves — people are taking their workweek into the weekend.

A 40-hour work week no longer exists — at least not in America.

That’s what a survey from Enterprise Rent-a-Car is telling us — nearly 7 out of 10 Americans say they put in nine hours of work over the weekend every month.[5]

Most people say they still think about work outside the office, and read and answer their work-related emails over the weekend. Technology — especially smartphones — has made it easier for people to stay constantly connected, which has complicated where we draw the line between our work and social life, according to a Tech Talk survey.[6]

Today, 25 percent of Americans admit to checking their work email at least once per day during their personal time. Even worse, a little over 40 percent say they check their email before work, after work, over the weekends, and on their days off.

How can you stop work burnout?

Work burnout isn’t inevitable — that’s if you can actually bring yourself to stop working for a couple of days.

It starts happening when you don’t prioritize your personal life over your work life. If you’ve been working when you aren’t on the clock, make an effort to disconnect from work when you can.

Don’t work on the weekends

Americans think working more makes you more successful. That means working on the weekend is a small sacrifice for success, right? Well, if you want to stay motivated and productive at work, you may want to take that time off.

Weekends should be spent unwinding from the past week and preparing for the next. Your work week shouldn’t carry into Saturday unless you’re scheduled for a weekend shift.

Taking even a couple of days to yourself, without thinking about your responsibilities at work, can improve your work ethic.

Take vacations and PTO

When workers are encouraged to take time off, they’re more likely to benefit from vacation time, according to a study from the American Psychological Association. [9] And the benefits last longer than where vacation isn’t part of company culture.7

Here’s how workers from that type of company say they feel when they return from vacation…

  • Have more motivation: 71 percent
  • Feel more productive: 73 percent
  • Their quality of work is better: 70 percent
  • They feel valued by their boss: 80 percent
  • Satisfied with their job: 88 percent

Where vacation isn’t part of company culture…

  • Have more motivation: 45 percent
  • Feel more productive: 47 percent
  • Their quality of work is better: 46 percent
  • They feel valued by their boss: 37 percent
  • Satisfied with their job: 50 percent

Workers don’t really get to unplug and fully unwind at companies where vacation isn’t encouraged. One in five says they feel tense or stressed out while on vacation. Twenty-eight percent say they end up working on vacation, and 42 percent dread returning to work.

In companies where time off is encouraged, 64 percent of workers say their boss provides sufficient resources to help them manage stress. Only 18 percent of workers say the same in workplaces where vacation is part of company culture.

Other tips to stay productive at work

Here are some other ways to make your workday more productive and stay away from burnout.

1. Meditate on meetings

If your meetings seem like an unnecessary time-suck, it’s time to analyze them. Do they always run longer than scheduled? Are they redundant? If they’re routine, have they outlived their purpose?

Make sure everyone is bringing the information needed for a productive discussion. Actually, back up. Make sure everyone know the point of the meeting in advance so they can bring that information.

Some other questions to ask: Is there too much socializing and banter? Too much attention on smartphones? Are there people that really don’t need to be there?

2. Empty your email

If your inbox is an ever-growing to-do list, simplify it. Messages are reminders and things you don’t get to end up buried and forgotten. Besides creating a creeping sense of guilt, it becomes a nightmare to dig through.

Take what you need out of an email to make a note for yourself, and then immediately delete or archive it. Having an uncluttered inbox — even if you don’t make it to the promised land of Inbox Zero — feels good.

It’s never too late to fix. You can declare email bankruptcy — delete all messages older than a certain date — to give yourself a manageable load. Anybody who needs a response will email you again, although you could also send a message to people you care about and let them know the situation so they don’t feel ignored.

3. Simplify your schedule

Whatever you use to set up tasks, make sure to move your long-term goals to a separate place. Items that sit on a short-term list for days or weeks can be discouraging.

If it’s convenient, try setting up your schedule to handle similar tasks — phone calls or paperwork, for instance — in one batch. If it all requires the same frame of mind, maybe you can knock it out quicker without switching gears.

On the other hand, any time you get stuck and can’t focus on something might be a good time to switch things up. Instead of beating your head against the wall, switch to a lighter task to clear your mind while you keep getting stuff done. This isn’t multitasking — it’s still one job at a time, alternating when it makes sense.

4. Topple tough to-do lists

There are tons of programs and apps designed to get you organized, but don’t get bogged down in productivity solutions. That would be ironic, and also bad.

Find what works for you and use it. Maybe you like sticky notes, a notepad, a certain text editor, an outliner like Fargo, [8] or a productivity suite like Evernote. But the point is to save time, not waste it — you shouldn’t have to become a power user of some new software to get things done.

There are some advantages to going at least minimally digital, though. Your notes become searchable, you can move things around without rewriting them, you can set up automatic reminders, and you’ve got a cleaner record of what you’ve accomplished.


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