It Takes Courage to Acknowledge Your Burnout

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Burnout can jeopardize your physical and mental well-being, even increasing the risk of turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drug or alcohol abuse.

Of the many changes to the working world brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation, one of the most noteworthy is the increased attention given to burnout. Burnout is surprisingly widespread—research from Deloitte found that 77 percent of workers in the U.S. report having experienced burnout at their current job at least once.

Perhaps even more troubling, 70 percent of those surveyed said that their employers weren’t doing enough to prevent or reduce burnout. Failure to acknowledge your own burnout can lead to a host of negative consequences. Even though you may feel uncomfortable doing so, you must acknowledge your own burnout—with yourself, and to your boss.

What Happens When Burnout Goes Unchecked?

The Deloitte study found that burnout can have wide-ranging consequences: 91 percent said burnout hurt the quality of their work. Not surprisingly, 42 percent said that burnout at a job caused them to leave that position (and these numbers were higher among millennials).

However, burnout doesn’t just affect your job performance. Eighty-three percent of those surveyed also reported that burnout harmed their personal relationships. These are trends that have been seen firsthand by Simina Gentry, founder of Zevix, a job site that helps job-seekers look for specific workplace attributes like flexible hours or remote work. 

“For many people, leaving a job that is causing burnout ultimately becomes the only viable option,” she says. “Whether it’s stress over job insecurity, increased responsibility due to other coworkers leaving or struggling with the expectation to be ‘always on,’ these things can quickly wear away your motivation and enthusiasm. Work takes up such a big chunk of our lives. It shouldn’t become a source of anxiety, or something that you dread. If you don’t do anything about it, things are only going to get worse.”

Acknowledging the Issue

Indeed, health experts have determined that burnout can jeopardize your physical and mental well-being, even increasing the risk of turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drug or alcohol abuse. The first step is to acknowledge the issue and recognize how it is affecting your life. For many, this can be hard. We feel as though we are admitting a weakness, or as though we’ll be judged unfairly for “not being able to keep up.” Our pride can overshadow what is rational to do. It takes courage and humility to face into experiences of burnout. But one way to better understand your burnout is to focus on the specifics of what you’re experiencing. 

Are you overwhelmed by the number of projects you’ve been assigned? Is the pressure to be “always on” interfering with your family life? Do you feel exhausted or cynical about work, when you haven’t in the past? Digging deep to understand what you’re going through will help prepare you to talk to your boss, and to adopt self-care habits that can improve your well-being.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Monique Valcour recommends, “Prioritizing good sleep habits, nutrition, exercise, social connection, and practices that promote equanimity and well-being, like meditating, journaling, and enjoying nature. If you’re having troubling squeezing such activities into your packed schedule, give yourself a week to assess exactly how you’re spending your time.”

Explaining to Your Boss

While practicing self-care and trying to reduce exposure to stressors can help alleviate symptoms of burnout, they likely aren’t going to solve the problem on their own. Many aspects of your job are beyond your direct control because they are assigned to you by your boss. And this means having an open conversation about the issues that are causing you to feel burnt out.

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In my own experience, I’ve found that good leaders will respect employees who acknowledge their own limitations. They may have even recognized that something is wrong. Being specific about the problems you’re experiencing due to changes at work can help put things in the proper perspective.

You can also help this conversation go more positively by taking responsibility and acknowledging how burnout may be affecting your performance. The goal of this conversation should be an appeal for help so you can collaborate on a solution that will effectively address the issue. Don’t enter this conversation when emotions are high, as this could come across as complaining or accusatory.

“Before and after you talk to your boss, you should take some time for self-reflection,” Gentry says. “Burnout can distort your perspective. Take some time to consider whether the burnout is a result of temporary circumstances, or something that indicates you need to change jobs. Sometimes, even a boss who is willing to work with you isn’t going to be enough to change an intrinsic sense of burnout associated with a job. Acknowledging burnout needs to deliver lasting results for your overall well-being, and sometimes a new job may be what is needed.”

A Healthier Approach to Burnout

It’s normal to go through periods where work becomes more stressful than normal. But without healthy boundaries at work, burnout can become a consistent problem that grinds away your enthusiasm for your job and even negatively affects your life outside of work.

For your own physical and mental well-being, you must acknowledge your burnout, as well as strive to identify why you’re feeling the way you do. Self-care is a good start, but it isn’t enough. 

You must discuss these issues with your others (peers, your boss, friends, life partners) to find workable long-term solutions—and if those aren’t possible, yes, switch to a new job. By taking steps to address your burnout, you can ensure that you’ll be happier and healthier in and out of work.

Ron Carucci is an Advisory Board member of Ethical Systems as well as cofounder and managing partner at Navalent. He is the bestselling author of eight books, and his work has been featured in Fortune, CEO Magazine, Harvard Business Review, BusinessInsider, MSNBC, BusinessWeek, and Smart Business.

Reprinted with permission from Forbes.