In the 1970s, the term “burnout” was coined to describe the feeling of exhaustion and emotional depletion that aid and service workers often experienced. Today, the word is used more broadly to refer to any employee who feels chronically stressed and experiences symptoms like tiredness, cynicism, and professional inadequacy.
Burnout is a serious problem that affects workers all over the world. It can lead to a decline in job performance, health issues, and even addiction. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to burnout, there are a number of things that workers can do to help themselves, such as:
- Setting boundaries between work and personal life
- Taking regular breaks
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating healthy foods
- Exercising regularly
- Talking to a therapist or counselor
If you are feeling burned out, it is important to reach out for help. You don’t have to go through this alone. There are people who can help you get back on track.
Jessica Rector, a mental health and burnout keynote speaker, emphasizes the importance of collaboration between employees and employers in fighting against burnout. According to her, reducing burnout requires both individuals taking responsibility and employers actively participating in the process. If the employer does not shoulder the responsibility, burnout will continue to persist.
The rector had a first-hand experience of burnout when she worked for a leading company in the late 1990s. She was a high-achieving sales agent who won all the awards but felt entirely exhausted. Unfortunately, when she requested assistance, her company didn’t have any measures in place to help her tackle the issue. As a result, she had no choice but to quit from there. Within two years, she found another job that provided more flexibility.
The rector believes that burnout cannot be ignored and will not simply disappear on its own. He emphasizes that employers need to take a more proactive approach. In line with this, a report from Monster.com reveals that 95% of workers have considered quitting their jobs in 2021 due to burnout being the primary reason. Sally Clarke, an author, speaker, and burnout coach, supports the rector’s viewpoint. She firmly asserts that insufficient measures are being taken to prevent burnout. Clarke, who is also a co-director at Human Leaders, a company dedicated to helping businesses foster healthy work environments, emphasizes the need for action in addressing burnout.
Clarke, like the rector, also experienced burnout. She was originally from Australia and worked as a finance lawyer in an esteemed Amsterdam-based firm, committing as much as 80 hours per week. She eventually flew to Nantes, France, to visit family after three years of working hard and collapsed on the airport floor. It was then she realized that she had been denying her burnout. She felt ashamed and saw it as a personal failure in the same way many people do. She now knows that it is not so. According to Clarke, burnout must not be perceived as a failure on one’s part; it is not a personal failure.
Burnout doesn’t mean an employee isn’t working hard or smart enough, which is why employers need to play a role in reviving their burned-out employees. Clarke gives the analogy of fish in a toxic lake: If we were in charge of the lake, we wouldn’t want to remove the fish from their natural habitat. Instead, we’d clean the lake to create a safe place where the fish could thrive. Workers shouldn’t have to quit their jobs — employers need to quash toxic workplaces, so employees can flourish in healthy ones. “Nine times out of ten, the onus is placed on individuals to empower and heal themselves from burnout,” Clarke says, “but on a structural level, leaders need to have a [good] work culture they’re creating.”
In the study titled “Workplace Burnout 2023”, conducted by the non-profit think tank called Infinite Potential, more than 2000 workers from 40 different countries were surveyed. It was found that 38% of the participants reported feeling burned out. Additionally, those who worked from home for 80% or more of their time experienced the highest levels of burnout. Clarke, who conducted this research, commented on the impact of remote work, stating that it completely changed the boundaries of our work environments. To address this significant shift in our work culture, it is crucial for company leaders to take the initiative and implement strategies to prevent burnout. Clarke emphasized the importance of courageous leaders who can design workflows that prioritize the well-being of employees, as this is crucial in preventing and eliminating burnout.
It is crucial to have an open conversation in the workplace. According to Rector, employers ought to establish a secure environment where employees can communicate their emotions. Otherwise, burnout will continue to persist. She advises that although leaving the workplace may not always be the solution, workers who feel unsatisfied should assert themselves and look for employers who share their values. Rector also emphasizes that merely changing jobs will not necessarily cure burnout, since the conditions that cause burnout might follow unless one possesses the appropriate tools and abilities to move forward.
Melissa Ferriter, a registered art therapist for special needs students, didn’t let burnout lead to her quitting her job. After 17 years in the role, plus an exhausting period of taking care of the mental health demands of her students during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ferriter desperately needed a reset. She was feeling “stagnant and burnt out,” she admitted. She wanted to be inspired, replenished, and scratch her itch to travel, so she left Chicago to spend a week at Artful Retreats in Greece. Artful Retreats are mental wellness retreats guided by artmaking.
Melissa was thrilled when an online search led her to Penelope Orfanoudaki, a certified art therapist and founder of Artful Retreats. In the summer of 2022, Ferriter spent six days at a retreat in Crete, where she participated in group meditation, yoga, shared meals, and artmaking. She found that being unplugged was “truly a gift,” and believes that this retreat is for anyone experiencing burnout, regardless of whether they are an artist or not.
After her time away, Melissa returned to work feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. She felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders, and she was more patient and open emotionally. She also had a renewed sense of creativity, which she hadn’t felt in years. Melissa credits the retreat with helping her to achieve this, and she is grateful that she was able to make it happen without the help of her employer.
Even though her employer did not offer any support, the art therapist took the initiative to reduce her burnout. She requested a grant to attend an Artful Retreat, but her request was denied. However, the therapist was determined to take care of herself, so she saved up her money and attended the retreat anyway.
The therapist believes that it is essential for employees to take care of their own burnout, even if their employer does not offer support. She is grateful for the opportunity to attend the retreat, and she plans to continue seeking out opportunities to reduce her burnout, regardless of her employer’s stance.
Ferriter refused to let burnout win, even though her employer did not offer much support. She hoped that her supervising team would see the value in the retreat she attended, but the burden of addressing her burnout still fell on her shoulders.
Melissa knew that she needed to take matters into her own hands, so she continued to seek out opportunities like the retreat, with or without the encouragement of her employer.
Clarke, on the other hand, needed a complete career change. Her employer did nothing to prevent the chronic stress that led to her burnout, and even after the company doctor confirmed her diagnosis, they only offered her a coach and one day off per week for 12 weeks. This was not enough to help Clarke heal, so she decided to leave. She would have stayed if her employer had made changes to reduce stress levels, but they did not. It took Clarke 18 months to transition from a finance lawyer to a yoga teacher and business owner, and about two years to heal and evolve from burnout. Now, she is fulfilled, healthy, and loves what she does.
If you’re feeling burned out, don’t despair. There are steps you can take to recover, even if your employer isn’t helping.
According to Sandrine Isoard Gautheur, associate professor of sports science at Grenoble Alpes University in France, “Burnout is a complicated problem and should be treated by a combination of interventions.” While there’s no magic bullet, moving your body is a good place to start.
Gautheur’s research confirms this. In a study published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-being, she and her team found that physical activity, such as walking and team sports, was associated with lower levels of burnout and higher levels of well-being.
“Detaching yourself from work and relaxing on the weekends are also proven to reduce burnout,” says Clément Ginoux, assistant professor and sports psychology researcher at Grenoble Alpes University, who co-authored the study with Gautheur. So if you’re feeling burned out, get moving, take some time for yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can heal and reclaim your life.
Ginoux gives an example of how to detach from work and relax. Imagine a healthcare worker who talks to clients day in and day out, dealing with angry complaints. On the weekend, this worker goes hiking in the mountains, taking in the fresh scents of flowers and enjoying the stunning nature around them. This simple act of being outdoors allows the employee to stop thinking about their job and replenish their emotional resources. They can then return to the office happier and less stressed on Monday morning.
“The effects of practicing non-work related activities on the weekend will spill over into the workweek,” Ginoux explains. In other words, taking some time for yourself to relax and recharge can help you be more productive and less stressed at work.
Burnout is a complex issue that requires a combination of individual and organizational solutions. Individuals need to take care of themselves by practicing self-care, such as getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating healthy. Employers also have a responsibility to support their employees by providing resources and opportunities to reduce burnout.
Good companies provide solutions to burnout, such as offering burnout training, assigning coaches to employees, hosting creative events at work, or hiring yoga instructors. Bad companies exploit their workers, and those employees will not be able to fully recover from burnout.
Individuals need to take care of themselves, but they should not have to do it alone. Employers need to do their part to create a workplace that is supportive and healthy.
The workforce is sick and needs healing. Employees around the world are not operating at their full capacity, mentally, emotionally, cognitively, and physically. They need to be informed about burnout: what it is, what causes it, and how it affects them.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to burnout recovery. Employees need to find what works best for them. Employers can help by providing information and resources, and by creating a supportive work environment.