6 Causes Of Burnout To Avoid At Work

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stressed-out woman looking at phone

Did the year 2020 cause you a lot of burnout?

Let’s face it — tossing the 2020 calendar into the trash to mingle with the rancid, inedible turkey parts from Christmas dinner was cathartic and fitting.

Last year was like a horror movie where a stranger answered an ad to share your apartment for a year.

On New Year’s Day 2020, they seemed friendly and compatible, but by mid-March, you realized you might be living with a serial killer. By summer, it felt like you were the victim of a hostage-taking!

Thankfully, the horror movie ended, but movie producers are always dreaming up the next one.

Since there are no guarantees that 2021 won’t be "2020 Part Deux" — or worse — there are steps you can take to keep stress at bay and protect yourself from burnout, even though it’s always caused by outside forces.

RELATED: What Is Burnout & The Symptoms That Are Your Body's Cry For Help

Burnout can be serious — so take it seriously.

I’ve been there. Just before Christmas 2017, I experienced job-related burnout. I believed taking time for extra rest would return me to normal, but I soon learned burnout is much more serious than I’d thought.

Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and detachment, as well as feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes burnout as an "occupational phenomenon" resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

According to Maslach and Leiter’s The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Burnout And What To Do About It, there are six causes of burnout.

At work, you’re part of the system. The system supports the system but is less adept when tending to the needs of the individuals therein.

Here are the 6 causes of burnout at work and what you can do to avoid it.

1. Work overload.

It’s more than job cuts with similar expectations of productivity. More intense work demands more time and is more complex, which creates the exhaustion of overload, undermining effectiveness, health, and well-being.

Learn how to say "no" politely. Have a conversation with your boss expressing your concern that quality will falter if the quantity increases.

Your boss may also be overworked and unaware that they sent too much your way.

2. Lack of control.

This is another way work contributes to burnout. Employees need some measure of autonomy in their jobs, and micromanagement is not the solution.

As Maslach and Leiter state, staff members interpret micromanagement as a lack of trust, depriving them of the chance to use their professional judgment.

Find a low-risk project at work and own it. Your goal is to build trust with your boss, allowing for a window of less micromanagement from them.

If taking control of a project at work is not possible, find a place where you can lead in other areas of your life. Maybe you can teach one of your children’s sports teams or teach a class in one of your areas of passion and expertise.

3. Insufficient reward.

This includes both extrinsic — money, prestige, and security — and intrinsic — doing work you enjoy with respected colleagues and building expertise — rewards.

The combined loss of both contributes to disengagement.

If your job lacks fulfillment, you might find both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards in activities outside of work. Many would-be entrepreneurs are sparked to start something when they lack engagement at their work.

Not only could this new activity bring a sense of reward and extra income if things work out well, but you could also eventually replace it with your current job.

RELATED: Why Do We Get Burned Out & How Should We Deal With It

4. Breakdown of the community.

At some point in your working life, you've experienced that Sunday afternoon dread that comes with the realization the weekend is almost over and it’s soon back to the grind.

When the company profit supersedes the people aspect, the community is undermined. The sense of belonging dissipates, and it becomes a matter of individual survival.

One of the biggest contributors to that sense of anxiety is tension among co-workers, especially the boss.

Your best bet is to do your work and avoid being caught up in any of the negative drama.

If your company has a robust human resources department, ask if they could bring someone in to get to the root of the problem by interviewing individuals and then working as a team to discover a better way to work together.

5. Absence of fairness.

When trust, openness, and respect are present in the workplace, staff members perceive it to be a fair environment.

In this situation, the organization acts fairly and values every individual. These components are needed to maintain an employee's engagement at work. Their absence contributes directly to burnout.

Refuse to give energy to what feels like an unfair workplace. Strive to be honest, respectful, and trustworthy in all your interactions at work.

By sticking with it, you may start a movement to turn things around.

6. Conflicting values.

Values are conflicted for employees when the prevailing organizational culture sends the message that they don't need to do business according to the pious-sounding values framed on the wall.

Do an honest-to-goodness inventory of your company's actual values versus your own. Are you finding that you compromise one or more of your values to continue receiving a paycheck?

That's not tenable in the long run. Unless the company changes the way it operates, you will need to look elsewhere to avoid finding yourself on the road to burnout.

You can protect yourself from burnout.

All the causes of burnout are a result of the work culture.

Add to that the stresses of suddenly being forced to work from home and everything that came with the horrible script that played out in 2020 — you could understandably feel quite helpless.

Even if 2021 turns out to be the sequel to last year, take steps to protect your well-being, and avoid the specter of burnout that lurks in every unhealthy workplace.

RELATED: 6 Ways To Let Go Of Stress When You Feel Burned Out In Life

Brent Roy is a life and leadership coach helping exhausted professionals reclaim their balance, so their family life and careers bring equal amounts of joy most of the time. If you’d like help to prevent or recover from burnout, book a free discovery coaching session with Brent.