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How to Recognize Burnout and What To Do About It

May is mental health awareness month, so it seems like a perfect time to talk about job burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. If we look at the past few years that we have endured, working during a pandemic, learning to work remotely, and then for some of us returning to the office, and all of the changes we have had to make along the way to simply do our work. It is no wonder some of us are experiencing burnout.

According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout isn't a medical diagnosis, but it can affect your physical and mental health. Consider how to know if you've got job burnout and what you can do about it. Here are a few job burnout symptoms:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?

  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?

  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients?

  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?

  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?

  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?

  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?

  • Are you using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better or simply not feel?

  • Have your sleep habits changed?

Job burnout is not a new phenomenon – personally, in my 30-plus-year career, I have experienced it a few times. To be honest, I am experiencing it now—the last few years, I have been so focused on launching a campaign during a pandemic and making certain my teams and employees are ok that I forgot to check in with myself. And now my bucket is really empty, and I am burnt out. I love my job, organization, and leadership and have faith in my team members and what we do every day - but I am tired. Is anyone out there feeling the same way? I am sure I am not alone. In fact, I am guessing that this state of burnout is part of the reason for the great resignation.

I am not ready to throw in the towel on my position, and I also do not want to jump to another job because how I feel will not magically go away by moving to a new organization. Instead, I am going to make some time to get myself back to my happy place. I have done lots of research through the years and tried many tactics – some have worked, and some have not. Here's a list of ways I deal with burnout:

  1. Open Communication – I shared that I'm burnt out with my boss. I do not expect him to fix it, but he needs to know where I am right now. We had a great conversation, and he said he will support me in what I need to be happy. I think just saying it out loud was what I needed to do to start regaining my joy.

  2. Daily Gratitude – For me, expressing what I am grateful for daily and many times of day gets me to stay focused on the positives in my life and work. All day long, I stop and say thank you. Sometimes it is a private moment, and other times, it's thanking a colleague, donor, or people I meet throughout my day.

  3. Time Out – I need to put myself in a time out. I cannot tell you the last time I went out to lunch with a colleague or friend. I just sit at my desk and keep working. And as for vacations – well, that has been difficult to do during a pandemic, so my PTO just piled up. So, I am taking breaks – actually scheduling them throughout the day, so I stop for just a few minutes and walk outside. I have planned my first vacation in over two years and cannot wait to go to Europe with some great friends. I will be out of the country and can really unplug from the office. I try to schedule mental health days and take an afternoon or even a full day off.

  4. Remembering my "why" – I took this job and built this career to make a difference. I want my epitaph to read, "she made the world a little better place." I feel honored to do the work that I do, and the fact that I get to work with people who have that same mindset every day is amazing. I just need to re-immerse myself in the people we are serving every day - the students, the patients, the patrons, the animals, the research – and remember why I do what I do.

  5. Talk to like-minded people – I am blessed with great friends and colleagues all over the country, and I need to reach out and talk with them about how I am feeling. I want to hear what they are doing and how they are doing. I also need time with my donors and volunteers – the love they have for this organization is inspiring, and their generosity and commitment reminds me why I love the career I have built.

  6. Have some fun – I have been so focused on the work and the people, and this campaign that I forgot what we do is actually fun. I know how much I love a positive and fun work environment. I want people to laugh more – heck, I feel like a day without laughter is a day wasted. Where is the laughter? Our work is important, but we cannot get so bogged down in it that we forget how much meaning and impact our work has on others. So, I need to regain my joy and bring that in to share with others.

Burnout is real, and I know I am not alone in how I feel. These past few years have been brutal, and we just kept going. We did it, but it was a lot, and many of us are tired. So, let's acknowledge that and give ourselves the grace and time we need to refill our buckets. Use some of my tactics, phone a friend, talk with your boss, and seek professional help. Find your job again, friends – life is too short. Hang in there!


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