Job Burnout: The Causes, Symptoms, and Ways to Prevent It

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You will experience job burnout at some point in your career—everybody does. It doesn't matter how much you have loved your job up to this point. There will come a time when several factors converge, and will you feel like you can't stand doing it for another day.

What Is Job Burnout?

So what exactly is job burnout? Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines it as "exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation."

This feeling could be the result of job stress, which may be rooted in overwork, fear of getting laid off, or conflict with your boss or coworkers. Frustration with work may also cause burnout. You may be frustrated because of a lack of recognition from your boss. Perhaps you aren't getting the promotions you feel you deserve or aren't receiving the proper compensation.

Being in the wrong career or job can cause both stress and frustration. If you no longer like going to work every day, first figure out whether you need a new job or a career change. Many people find themselves doing the wrong type of work, while others are doing it in the wrong place. Neither is good and can cause job burnout.

Stress and Frustration Aren't the Only Causes

While job stress and frustration are common causes of burnout, they aren't the only ones. It may hit you even if everything seems perfectly fine–you get along well with your boss, coworkers, and clients. You feel like your employer appreciates your efforts and you aren't afraid of losing your job. You love what you are doing and where you are doing it.

Then suddenly one day there's a little knot in your stomach when you think about going to work. The next day that knot grows. Maybe your creativity is gone along with your motivation to do your job. You can't put your finger on what has gone wrong. Yesterday you loved working, but today you hate it. What could have caused this?

Perhaps you are choosing to work more because you actually love your job and have trouble separating from it (are you a workaholic?) If you are forsaking vacations, full weekends off, or even a relaxing evening at home occasionally to spend more time on the job, you may be doing yourself a lot of harm. No one should work all the time. There's an old saying that goes "On his or her deathbed, no one ever said, 'I wish I had spent more time in the office'."


Besides not feeling like going to work or being unmotivated to do your job, there are other symptoms of burnout. They include fatigue; irritability; bouts of crying; anxiety attacks; loss of appetite or overeating; teeth grinding; increased drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; insomnia; nightmares; forgetfulness; low productivity; and an inability to concentrate.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), if allowed to progress, burnout may result in depression, anxiety, and physical problems. Eventually, it can cause physical and mental illnesses, which include suicide, stroke, or heart attack.

Before burnout gets to the point of causing a severe mental or and physical health crisis, it will affect how you do your job. You may call out sick or come to work late frequently. When you are at work, you may find yourself doing the bare minimum; in other words, "mailing it in." The cost of burnout is high, to both workers and employers. It is wise to find a way to keep it from progressing.

How to Save Yourself

The earlier you recognize you are experiencing job burnout, the easier it will be to resolve it. The most obvious cure is to quit your job. While that may seem like a luxury to someone in the early stages of burnout, it could be a necessity to someone whose health is already being affected. If you're in the early stages, there are several things to do, but before you can come up with a solution, it is essential to know the exact cause.

It is easier to fix burnout that is not caused by stress or frustration, but instead, the result of choosing to work too hard and too many hours. This situation, in fact, sometimes fixes itself. You work too hard and then start burning out, so you take a step back. If that doesn't happen automatically, take steps to make sure it does. Force yourself to leave your job on time at least a few days a week and don't take any work home with you. Start slowly if you have to. Leave work on time one day a week and then increase it to two days. Make sure you spend the night relaxing—rent a movie or read a good book.

It's a whole different matter when stress or frustration is making you feel burned out. It's not as easy to do something about an outside force such as a bad boss or impending layoffs. If you work for someone who is just not a nice person, it's not within your power to change that. However, you may consider sitting down with him or her to discuss how you can forge a more productive working relationship.

Last, but not least, if you find that your career isn't right for you, it may be time to make a change. Don't enter into a new career without careful planning or you'll wind up right back where you started. Take the time to do a complete self-assessment to help you find out what careers might be a good fit. Then investigate each one until you're reasonably sure you will make the best choice. Preparing to enter a new field can take some time. It may be best to stay at your current job while you begin the career planning process. Being aware of your options and the knowledge that you are moving toward them may help resolve your job burnout temporarily.