Major signs and causes of burnout and how to manage it

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Burnout can cause emotional, physical and mental challenges. It leads to personal discontent and low self-esteem, which can negatively influence other areas of life, such as work relationships, productivity and general health. To manage burnout and achieve your health and career goals, it's important to identify its causes and symptoms. In this article, we explain what burnout is, the major causes of burnout in the workplace, the signs of burnout and how to manage it.

What is burnout?

Burnout is an excessive or long-term work-related stress that results in physical, emotional and mental fatigue or exhaustion. Low immunity, mental exhaustion, decreased motivation, high blood pressure, negative attitudes and low performance are all common symptoms of burnout. Certain factors can contribute to or trigger burnout, such as lack of sufficient social support, heavy workload, poor self-care and feeling overwhelmed with tasks. It's essential to deal with burnout immediately to prevent serious medical conditions from developing.

Read more: How to avoid burnout in the workplace (with definition)

How to manage the causes of burnout

Below are some tips that can help you manage the causes of burnout:

1. Organise and classify tasks

Good organisation can prevent work from becoming overwhelming. You can classify tasks according to priorities and set a clear structure for executing them. When organising your tasks, arrange them from the most urgent down to those that can wait. Delegate tasks that are less taxing to other team members and avoid carrying over certain workloads. Differentiate your personal goals from professional or work-related goals.

2. Be the example you want to see

Try to set a positive example by creating a healthy work environment. Avoid negative influences, conversations or unhealthy competition within your workplace. Instead, engage in transformative conversations, accept your weaknesses and work positively towards your career goals.

Related: How to deal with manager burnout (and how to prevent it)

3. Introduce a gratitude list

Burnout can often happen when you constantly have negative thoughts. To avoid this, try to shift your focus from negative to positive things. You can do this by listing two to three things that you're grateful for each day. Doing this can help you remember what you enjoy about your work and prevent you from burning out.

4. Practise self-care

Learn to take breaks, either weekly or monthly. Spending quality time on things you're interested in can help to keep you motivated and energised at work. You can engage in activities such as exercise, sleep, healthy eating, going to the spa, visiting the cinema, meditation, yoga and other activities. Doing so can help take your mind off work and prevent burnout.

Read more: How to make time for self-care while working from home

5. Set clear boundaries

Setting clear boundaries means it's okay to sometimes say no. Re-examine the scope of your role and identify those decisions or activities that lead to excessive work. Then, come up with strategies or tactics to help you resolve these issues and discuss them with your manager. This can help to promote your personal growth and wellbeing.

6. Seek support

A supportive community can help you find job satisfaction, create a healthy work environment and overcome burnout. You can seek support from families, friends, colleagues or mentors. This is important, as voicing your concerns or complaints to the right audience can help you find solutions to work challenges.

Signs of burnout

Below are some symptoms of burnout:

  • regular illness

  • constant headaches

  • low immunity and high blood pressure

  • changes in your sleep patterns or sleep disorder

  • disengagement or detachment from work-related activities

  • constant low energy or fatigue

  • lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness, depression and frustration

  • gastrointestinal problems

  • inability to maintain cognitive functions or lack of concentration

Related: Work-life imbalance: what it means and its effect

Causes of burnout in the workplace

Below are some factors that lead to burnout in the workplace:

Unrealistic expectations

Unrealistic or unclear job expectations can originate from yourself or your employer, causing burnout. This can also result in pressure to meet unreasonable expectations or deadlines and constant worry over job performance. To prevent this, it's essential that you evaluate your priorities, list your tasks and break these down into smaller units to make them more achievable. This can help you reach specific goals and clarify any unclear expectations. Learning how to ask for support when tasks become overwhelming is also important.

Related: How to manage feeling overwhelmed at work (with steps)

Different values

Burnout can happen when a company's values differ from those of an employee. When there's a change in ownership or management a company's values may change to differ from those of its employees. If this happens, it's vital to consider your own ideals and whether you can adjust or compromise them to fit your company's new culture. Otherwise, you can decide to move on to other job opportunities that better complement your values.

Lack of control

Having little control over certain work-related issues or decisions can cause burnout. Sometimes this could result from limited access to adequate resources or a lack of trust in recognising employees' expertise or skills. At other times, you can experience a lack of control when job priorities are constantly shifting. This can lead to issues such as working late nights to meet project deadlines or always being on call from your employer to work on specific projects. All these scenarios can cause mental exhaustion.

If you feel little or no control over certain work-related decisions, you can begin by identifying those areas and developing a strategic and reasonable approach for each. Discuss these approaches with your employer or manager so you can set boundaries or agree on a more workable routine.

Related: How to deal with burnout at work (definition and causes)

Insufficient reward for work efforts

Rewards are great incentives for long-term success in any organisation. Over time, if rewards from a job are non-existent or don't match the amount of effort and time an employee puts in, this can lead to burnout. For instance, where an employer fails to promote an employee but constantly gives them high-level tasks to complete, this may eventually lead them to feel under-appreciated and overwhelmed.

To avoid this, think about the type of reward that you'd value. This could be a gift, a positive acknowledgement or a raise. Then you can speak to your employer about your desired reward or the need for a raise or promotion. Likewise, you can ask your colleagues or employer for constructive feedback.

Related: Coping with burnout from work (with symptoms and causes)

Toxic work environment

Negative attitudes, complex organisational structures, unclear expectations and undue pressure from employers are traits of an unhealthy work environment. This can negatively affect employees' performance or productivity and can also lead to unhealthy competition. If you're experiencing this, take some time off to assess your work relationship and its demands. This way, you can identify areas that lead to burnout and decide whether you can overcome these.

You can choose to avoid negative conversations, unhealthy competition or systems that promote negativity. You can also cultivate habits that promote a healthy work environment. Consider finding a coach or mentor who can help you manage a toxic work environment while still focusing on your values and keeping your standards in check.

Related: How to enjoy work and be happier with your employment

Lack of community

Every employee needs a community of supportive, trusted and loyal contacts to help them fulfil their career goals and objectives. You can develop burnout when there's a lack of trusted support or rewarding relationships around you. If the relationship between you and your colleagues isn't healthy, you can take steps to build a better community.

Rather than waiting for the community to change, you can display certain behaviours that inspire a healthy, engaging and supportive community. Take the time to compliment your colleagues and sincerely ask about their well-being and how their weekend went. You could also send a message to a colleague to congratulate them on a well-deserved effort, promotion or opportunity.

Related: Signs of a toxic work environment (plus tips on how to deal)

Unmanageable workload

It's important that your workload corresponds with your capacity as heavy workloads are a major cause of burnout. How you complete the task or the personal targets you set for yourself can further affect this. To reduce the likelihood of burnout, make a list of tasks to complete each day, set time limits and take breaks at regular intervals. You can go a step further by delegating tasks to team members or seeking help from colleagues. Doing this can help you create a healthy work routine while still remaining enthusiastic about executing tasks.

Related: What to do when you're thinking 'I don't want to work'

Unfair treatment

A work environment where employees are treated unfairly can prevent growth and lead to burnout. For instance, discrediting the efforts of others by complimenting a particular employee instead of a whole team can eventually lead to burnout. An excellent way to deal with unfair treatment like this is to speak up formally or informally, depending on the organisational structure. You can consider applying a polite and non-biased approach, clearly stating the reason for your complaint and suggesting a more helpful way to acknowledge an individual or team's efforts.

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