How to Recover if You're Burned Out at Your Job

Robin Madell

Burnout is a chronic problem in corporate America. The condition -- which results in feelings of exhaustion, avoidance and futility about work, according to a new report from office culture consulting company O.C. Tanner -- has become so pervasive that, as of 2019, it is now recognized as an official syndrome by the World Health Organization.

The O.C. Tanner report highlights that nearly 80% of employees experience burnout on some level, ranging from mild to severe. What's more, burnout is bad for your health and can even kill you; researchers have connected burnout with as many as 120,000 deaths every year.

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If you are frequently losing focus, feel pessimistic or feel tired and irritable at work, burnout may be to blame. The holidays can be a particularly common time for burnout to strike, since you may find yourself juggling more than your usual responsibilities while trying to hit end-of-year targets for your company -- not to mention attempting to squeeze in last-minute holiday errands, attend the company holiday party and manage extra personal stress this time of year.

Below are some strategies to help you get back on track in the new year or any time that you hit your limit and feel burned out:

Temporarily unplug from key stressors. Burnout is a red flag that you are trying to manage more than what you can effectively do. The first step when you are feeling burned out is to take a step back from your hectic pace so that you can get back to center and think more clearly about how to handle your current commitments. While you can't just walk away from your job duties, you can pause them temporarily to help give you time to sort things out and come up with solutions.

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To do this in a way that's respectful to your team members and won't alarm your boss, let colleagues know that you're taking an hour or so (or even a half day or full day, if needed) to re-prioritize your workload. If possible, do this in a place that's away from your desk where the stressors of email and calls can't continue to come in, like a conference room. If you have meetings on your calendar and you're not able to focus on them due to your feelings of burnout, request to miss one if it's not essential to your work that day. Use the time to identify what projects or commitments are causing you the most stress and angst. Write these points down, as you'll need them for the next step below.

Discuss options for delegation or work reallocation. Now that you have a list of problematic projects that you compiled in the step above, schedule time to discuss the situation with your supervisor or team members who may be able to help. You may need to "manage up" with your boss to help change expectations or identify alternate solutions for getting these tasks done in a timely manner. Prioritization of projects is essential during this process, as is goal-setting, to identify what really must happen immediately and what isn't as urgent. If you're talking to co-workers about your workload, see if teammates can step in to relieve you of some of your assigned tasks.

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Carve out time for self-care. Once you've made headway in delegation, you still may be feeling the effects of burnout, particularly if you've been shouldering too much for an extended time period. To help get yourself back to center physically and mentally, consider setting aside some time that's just for you and your own self-care. According to the Mayo Clinic, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and practicing relaxing and restorative activities such as yoga, tai chi and mindfulness meditation can help manage symptoms of burnout.

Don't suffer in silence. Burnout on the job isn't likely a problem you can solve by yourself, since you'll need the support of your boss, colleagues and potentially your human resources department to lighten your load. Let these collaborators know what you're feeling and that you need help to meet the mutual goals of your department and company. Friends and loved ones outside of work can serve as a supportive sounding board as well if you're going through burnout. Some companies also offer employee assistance programs as part of their benefits package, which may provide specific resources to help you manage burnout. The first step in getting help is communication.