What is burnout at work?

Burnout is the overwhelming feeling of emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion in the workplace that feels as though it cannot be ameliorated. It can represent itself as feeling detached from the job, a sense of ineffectiveness, or lack of accomplishment.

It can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships. It can also happen to people who typically enjoy their jobs.

Three dimensions of the burnout experience have been identified: –

1) The exhaustion dimension was also described as wearing out, loss of energy, depletion, debilitation, and fatigue. 

2) The cynicism dimension was originally called depersonalization (given the nature of human services occupations), but was also described as negative or inappropriate attitudes towards clients, irritability, loss of idealism, and withdrawal. 

3) The inefficacy dimension was originally called reduced personal accomplishment and was also described as reduced productivity or capability, low morale, and an inability to cope.

It can manifest as the following: –

Chronic fatigue


Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and focus

Increased illness

Loss of appetite



What can cause burnout?

Burnout can be brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy that are characteristic of burnout most often occur when a person is not in control of how a job is carried out, at work or at home, or is asked to complete tasks that conflict with their sense of self.

It can exist in many forms for example increased workload, change of work environment, work relationships, staff exodus, dissatisfaction, ideas and mindset becoming stale.

Money is often not the major determining factor of job satisfaction. Employers have found that it is important to recognize how dissatisfaction begins and learn how to prevent it. Much professional job dissatisfaction originates from a need for a continuous diet of new and exciting professional experiences.

One is less likely to feel burnt out if you are aware of what keeps you challenged and happy, even before you consider an anticipated job move. 

The knowledge economy has radically transformed what it means to be an “ideal worker.” The pressure to be the best, work the most hours, and be compared to those who have less ideal boundaries. 

Workers who feel ‘on call’ all the time are at a higher risk of burnout.

What can be done to prevent or treat burnout?

The Challenge/Mastery Shuttle

Generally, time on the job is spent in two areas, requiring a fine balance between the excitement of something new and the use of skills that have been mastered. For most people, however, a mixture of the two appears best.

Too much emphasis on mastery of a particular skill can lead to a sudden and quite unexpected feeling of job dissatisfaction stemming from boredom.

Too many daily challenges – leading to the panic zone – can be one of the key reasons behind employee resignations.

Finding a balance between tasks that one is a master of and those that challenge you can be a potential key to preventing burnout. One can often feel powerless to change their situation.

Working from home has caused some people to end up working longer hours and having more blurred boundaries between work and nonwork activities. This can lead to overworking unconsciously as once a person decides to answer emails at the weekend or in the evenings it may unintentionally become the norm. Useful ways to negate the negative effects of boundary blurring include the following:-

Maintain physical and social boundaries

One can create a distinct transition between work and non-work activities by decreasing the blurred lines. For example, before starting the workday it might be wise to take a walk to simulate the commute to work that once separated the two areas. 

If it is possible, create a distinct workspace that becomes the only space where work is allowed. Using a smartphone on the couch to check emails and respond to messages will blur these lines considerably. It takes willpower and self-discipline to achieve these kinds of boundaries especially when you have access to work applications at all times of the day/week/month.

Maintain temporal boundaries as much as possible

This is a less tangible but incredibly important way to define working boundaries. It is critical for personal wellbeing. If there is a preferred time frame to respond to emails, let the other people in the workplace be aware of these boundaries. They can then acknowledge and understand that you might be slower to respond at certain times, then it is important stick to it. This will decrease response expectations.

Focus on your most important work – OKRs?

Working all the time, even on the most important tasks, isn’t the answer.  According to some estimates, the average UK office worker is only productive on average two hours 23 minutes every day, and these hours should be free of interruptions or multitasking.

Employees will need the flexibility to experiment with how to make their circumstances work for them.

For some people creating a deep sense of community and connection could be a great antidote to burnout. The feeling of belonging to a community can assist in this. The leaders of such communities have a responsibility to brew this dynamic in the culture.

How can coaching help ease the feeling of burnout?

To counter burnout, having a sense of purpose, having an impact on others, or feeling as if one is making the world a better place are all valuable. Often, meaningfulness can counteract the negative aspects of a job. Coaching offers meaningful moments and meaningful conversations that could potentially provide the sense of purpose a coachee needs.

Lots of research suggests that drawing distinct lines between our professional and personal lives is crucial.

We can guide others to follow steps to ease the feeling of burnout: –

1. Acknowledge that you are burnt out

2. Have a conversation with your boss.

3. Allow yourself to take a break, whether it’s a vacation or during the workday.

4. Delve into work that makes you love your job again

5. Understand your limits – Think about your boundaries.

6. Don’t be afraid to say no – Set boundaries.

7. Organize your desk and create a pleasing workspace.

9. Don’t work during nonwork times – Keep to your boundaries

It’s important to assess how people’s perceptions of when they work and how that might affect their intrinsic motivation?

  • People increasingly work during non-standard work time (i.e., weekends; holidays).
  • Working during non-standard (vs. standard) work time harms intrinsic motivation.
  • This is driven by upward counterfactual thoughts about how time could have been better spent.

Decreasing the amount of time in the thought process that your time could be better spent doing other tasks restores intrinsic motivation. When we think less about the better stuff we could be doing in non-standard work time it can help employees and students maintain intrinsic motivation for their professional and academic pursuits. This increases productive work time, which increases job satisfaction, which improves morale which can help ease the symptoms of burnout.

Clarify goals by allowing the coachee time to think about their motivations, they’re why. Let them break down their motives so they can get to the bottom of what’s important at the moment.

Expressing gratitude can offer a moment of reflection that can help lead coachees out of a stressful situation. This could allow the cycle of prolonged stress to be broken, allowing the coachee to track away from feeling burnt out.

The best antidote to burnout, particularly when it’s driven by cynicism and inefficacy, is seeking out rich interpersonal interactions and continual personal and professional development.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Laura Captain
    April 27, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    Very nice article Jen, enjoyed reading it.

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