A study published last year by FlexJobs and Mental Health America discovered that 75% of American workers feel job burnout. Of that group, 40% cited COVID-19 as a major factor. The struggle is real.
In the midst of all of this, it’s easy to feel hopeless. Even here, almost halfway through 2021, there’s still a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty leads to stress, and stress only increases the rate at which people burn out. Will this ever end?
It’s hard to predict what the future has in store, but thankfully we can offer some tips for dealing with job burnout in 2021.
Recognize the symptoms of burnout.
The Wall Street Journal recently put out an article on workplace burnout, and one of its most salient points is that burnout tends to have three major symptoms: exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficiency.
Exhaustion is obviously a feeling of tiredness, but it’s not always physical. Mental exhaustion is a real thing too.
Cynicism is often the manifestation of hopelessness. If you’re feeling hopeless and overwhelmed, your viewpoint is going to slant toward cynicism.
Inefficiency just means you’re not as productive as you used to be.
If you’re suffering from all three of these symptoms at once, you’re almost certainly experiencing workplace burnout. And the first step in dealing with it is recognizing it.
Talk about your feelings.
This is such a simple thing, yet it’s too often seen as a last resort. When people feel like they aren’t allowed to talk about how they’re feeling, it only amplifies everything that’s going wrong inside their head.
Groups of coworkers need to be able to sit down and have chats about how they’re feeling about the stress of the job. If you’re overworked and exhausted, it’s very likely that your coworkers are too. If you talk about this with someone who’s experiencing the same thing, it can serve as a release valve for that mounting pressure.
But more importantly, this can be a gateway into a broader conversation about how to better manage this stress. If everyone on your team is being overworked and you’re able to approach leadership as a unified group, you have a much higher chance of forcing change than if you were in the fight alone.
In fact, this is one big reason why happy hour can be a really productive activity. Unfortunately, the frequency of such events has been vastly reduced by COVID. Even so, there are plenty of opportunities to get together with coworkers and talk about the things that stress you out in a positive and productive manner. If that’s not a regular part of your work week, you need to make it one.
Acknowledge that burnout is a real problem, and everyone is feeling it.
We’re going to piggyback on our last point and talk about how important it is to acknowledge what’s happening. Talking about it with your coworkers is one step in that process, but it really comes down to your willingness to identify this as a problem.
Workplace burnout is absolutely a problem, and it’s one that the entire working world is trying to figure out how to deal with. The blame does not rest upon your shoulders.
We’ll say that again: The blame does not rest upon your shoulders.
It’s not your fault that you’re feeling burned out. Because of the pandemic, most working people have been doing more work in a shorter amount of time than they were doing before the pandemic started. This inevitably leads to the entire workforce feeling burned out all at once. It’s not your fault.
It’s way too easy to start feeling guilty. You might be tempted to think you’re failing because you’re not able to keep up with the pace of the COVID-era workplace. But you’re not failing; you’re coping with an intense, worldwide trauma. If you made it this far, you’re a survivor, not a quitter.
It’s important to keep your perspective. Everything feels difficult because everything is difficult, not because you’re not strong enough.
Know your limits and stand your ground.
One critical factor in burnout is a feeling of powerlessness combined with the pressure to keep pushing forward when you know you can’t. This creates a mental tug-of-war between feelings of exhaustion and inadequacy. The exhaustion comes in when you’ve done absolutely everything you can and you’re worn out, and the inadequacy comes into play when you still feel like you should be doing more. This is a vicious cycle, and it’s a hard one to break.
The key to escaping this mental prison is to examine your workload and to know your limits. Those limits don’t have to be “everything you can possibly do in a day” either. Your limit should be what you can do in a day while maintaining a positive work/life balance. If you can figure out what that looks like, you should be able to come up with a reasonable set of expectations.
Inevitably, something or someone is going to attempt to push you outside of those limits. When this happens, you need to stand your ground. This is easier said than done, but anyone who wants to maintain a healthy work/life balance in strenuous times must be willing to take a stand, even when it feels scary to do so.
Take a break.
This isn’t going to be an option for everyone, and we get that. However, it’s something you need to seriously consider. In fact, this might be an opportunity to stand your ground, like we were talking about in the previous point.
If you can move some money around and reschedule some of your responsibilities, it’s probably time for a good, long vacation. We’re talking two weeks or more so you can ensure you have time to both destress and relax. Too often, vacations end right at the point when you’ve finally destressed, meaning you never really get to relax and enjoy it. This allows you to leave your burnout behind for a few days, then pick it right back up when you step back into the office or fire up your laptop.
When you feel exhausted, this is your body and your mind telling you that it’s time to take a break. Pay attention, because they know what they’re talking about.
Look for a new job.
If you’re experiencing tremendous burnout, it might actually be time to look for a new job. If you’ve been with one company or organization for an extended period of time, you might be surprised by how freeing it is to simply look at your alternatives. Even if you don’t end up submitting an application, the act of exploring your options is a healthy one that can help you change your outlook.
If you do start submitting your resume, it’s quite possible you’ll end up in a much, much better place than where you are now. Change is good, and human beings tend to be bad at recognizing that. It’s hard to leave the familiar, even when the familiar is uncomfortable. But oh, how freeing it can be when you finally take that first step!
Work burnout is a serious problem in 2021. Unless we address it head-on, it’s only going to keep getting worse. Don’t let that happen. Don’t let your workplace destroy your life or your family. Don’t let the mounting stress of the COVID-era workplace crush your spirit.
We know this is a difficult time period for everyone, and we just want to let you know that you’re not alone in this. We’re all feeling this. Together.