What is burnout?

Most everyone has felt burnout at some point in their work life. You may know when you feel it. Maybe you’re feeling constantly overwhelmed, way too busy, unmotivated and unproductive — all at the same time. Burnout syndrome has been around for years, first described in the 1970s.1 But only recently has workplace burnout become widely discussed as a very real (and problematic) phenomenon. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is a result of ongoing workplace stress that’s not successfully managed. The 3 characteristics of work burnout are:2

  • Mental exhaustion or lack of energy
  • Increased mental distance or negativity about one’s job
  • Decreased workplace productivity

What causes burnout?

There are lots of factors that might contribute to occupational burnout. For example, high-stress jobs and jobs that make it difficult to balance work and personal life may be more likely to cause burnout. That said, it can happen to anyone in any profession. And it can happen quickly or over time. A handful of workplace scenarios can slowly add up to cause full-blown burnout — too many deadlines, team conflict, lack of support — you name it. Each person has different triggers for burnout, including:3

  • Not being able to control your work schedule, workload or resources
  • Feeling uncertain about your role and responsibilities at work
  • A lack of empowerment or self-autonomy in your role
  • Making a constant effort to stay focused during repetitive or disorderly activities
  • A lack of work-life balance if your time and energy is dedicated to your job and there is not enough time to spend with your friends and family

What are the signs and symptoms of burnout?

It’s important to keep in mind that burnout isn’t a medical condition, but rather a state of physical or emotional exhaustion. That said, the effects of burnout can carry over into other parts of life outside working hours. Signs of burnout show up differently for everyone. There’s a handful of common consequences. If it’s not properly addressed, you might start experiencing:3

How can I handle burnout?

For many of us, our jobs are an important part of our lives — but it's important that we're careful that our work life doesn't pose a risk to our overall health. While it’s often easier said than done, it’s crucial to combat job burnout as soon as it's recognized and before its effects get in the way of your life, health and happiness. Here are some tips that may help you handle burnout:3

  • Ask for help. Talk with your manager to pinpoint what’s causing your burnout. Is it something that can be fixed through training, staffing, schedule changes or another solution? Be clear on what you need to be healthy at work and succeed in your role.
  • Get support: Talk to family, friends and co-workers. If your company has an employee assistance program, reach out to get personalized support.
  • Manage burnout through lifestyle habits. Make sure you’re exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, eating healthy and staying connected socially.
  • Boost your mood. A simple, routine mindfulness check can help you keep a positive mindset when you have workplace stressors. Try slow, controlled breathing exercises or guided meditation.

Living in a state of constant stress and exhaustion is unsustainable. And it can have negative long-term effects on your overall well-being. Directly addressing burnout may help resolve the symptoms and improve your overall well-being.

Who can I talk to about burnout?

If you're concerned that you may have burnout or concerned about its effects, consider talking with a health care professional. Your primary care provider (PCP) or a mental health specialist can help. They’ll be able to offer a more personalized approach and find possible mental health resources to help address your specific burnout factors and symptoms.

Mental health support and resources available by phone or online

If you need help right away — for yourself or a loved one — call 911 or use the emergency numbers below.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-8255 | 1-800-799-4889 (TTY)

If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, get emergency help right away. Contact the lifeline for 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources for you or loved ones. You can also find 24/7 support through an online chat called Lifeline Chat.

The Crisis Text Line — Text “Home” to 741741

The Crisis Text Line is a free resource available 24/7 to help you connect with a crisis counselor.

Substance Use Helpline1-855-780-5955

If you feel that you or a loved one are experiencing signs of addiction, call the confidential helpline to get support, guidance on treatment options, help finding a network provider and answers to your questions.

National Domestic Violence Hotline1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Get help with crisis intervention, information and referrals to local services for victims of domestic violence and those calling on their behalf.