Workplace Burnout: Why It Happens, and How to Reignite the Flame

October 1, 2019

“Do you hate your job?” your significant other asks over dinner. “No,” you reply with a sigh. “It’s not that. I’m just constantly working overtime and stressed to the max.”

Burnout can leave professionals, like in this scenario, considering a career change simply so they can feel passionate about their work again. It’s also a health issue. The World Health Organization now acknowledges burnout as a genuine occupational phenomenon. Symptoms include feeling tired and lacking energy, adverse or cynical workplace thoughts, and reduced productivity.

In addition to a health issue, burnout, unfortunately, is very common: 91% Ninety-one percent of U.S. workers in a survey from Accountemps, a Robert Half company, said they are burned out to some degree.

Astute managers can sometimes spot employee burnout — by paying attention to attitudes and looking for telltale signs including incomplete work, lower quality of work, lost morale, decreased productivity and missed deadlines — before employees realize it for themselves. In the Accountemps research, 96% of senior managers reported their teams are experiencing some degree of burnout.

Managing burnout in the office

But what can workers do about it? Here are three ways to avoid burnout at work.

1. Protect your time. Make daily to-do lists and stay organized. Only attend meetings that are absolutely necessary and, if they tend to drag on, work with your manager to create an agenda, appoint a timekeeper and minimize small talk.  

Focus on one assignment at a time, scheduling start and stop times if necessary. Don’t refresh your email every 10 minutes if you can help it. Instead, schedule a designated time to read and respond to pressing inbox matters. Turn off notifications. Silence your phone when on deadline. And avoid the time-suck of social media (at least during working hours).

2. Take a break. Stand up. Stretch. Walk around the office or outside for a few minutes. Don’t skip lunch and avoid eating at your desk. Sometimes, just five minutes of fresh air or a change of scenery is all it takes to feel refreshed.

3. Speak up. Sometimes, all the time-management tweaks in the world won’t help project overload. If you find yourself never caught up, always apologizing about missed deadlines or taking your stress home, talk to your manager.

It’s OK to ask for help. Often, employers don’t realize the level of constant pressing deadlines and project overload facing their employees until burnout has hit and it’s too late. Managers have the ability to help you prioritize or reassign work, including by bringing in temporary staff, to better equalize everyone’s plates. Take advantage of all the ways your manager — and your team — can lighten your load.

Managing burnout after hours

Sometimes the best way to combat stress is not in the office, but outside of it. Here are four ways to keep burnout from affecting all the areas of your life:

1. Exercise. Endorphins can do wonders for your mood. Sign up for a yoga class, or try walking or running before or after work. Need to get your heart pumping? Try kickboxing, cycling or other cardio-centric classes. Find what works for you and stick with it. Your body — and brain — will thank you.

2. Be social. When struggling with a difficult manager or coworker, the last thing you might want to do is hang out with fellow humans. But instead of making a date with your couch and binge watching your favorite show, consider, planning an actual date with your significant other. Have coffee with a longtime friend. Go to the happy hour you always decline.

Talking with people outside the office, or even better, people who have no connection to your workplace, or lending your ear to someone else, can help create distance from your workplace problems and, perhaps, provide insight and new ways of solving them.

3. Take up a hobby. Don’t make your work your life. Have something you look forward to every time you leave for the day. Join a book club, plant a garden, play golf, try a painting class, buy a new video game, teach yourself how to knit or crochet, join a softball league, volunteer, or experiment with cooking. Busy your hands and your mind so that you don’t spend your off hours stressing over upcoming deadlines or rehashing everything your coworker said and how you wish you had responded differently.

4. Take time off. Use your vacation days. Your employer would much rather have a passionate employee, refreshed and recharged, versus one who never leaves work and, as a result, is so burned out they’re indifferent.

This time away will be better for your personal health, too. Workplace burnout can lead to headaches, muscle aches, insomnia, and feelings of mental and physical exhaustion. Taking time off, whether it’s on that trip you’ve always dreamed of or a staycation, gives you time longer than a weekend to really disconnect.

And do disconnect. Set up your out-of-office reply and, if possible, don’t take work calls.

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. For career and management advice, follow our blog at

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