If you were paying attention last year, you’ve heard all about the Great Resignation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans quit their jobs by the millions in 2021, becoming fed up with low wages and the rising cost of living. They were frustrated, burnt out and ready to let the world know. Many took to social media to share their experiences, posting photos and videos telling their bosses to “shove it.” You couldn’t scroll through TikTok, Twitter or Reddit without finding someone celebrating their newfound freedom.
But what’s behind this new trend? Crappy hours and low pay are certainly a big part of the equation, but there are other factors causing people to quit in droves. Studies show that workers’ mental health declined significantly in 2021, coupled with high rates of burnout, mental exhaustion and stress. If you’re feeling drained by your job and dread going to work in the morning, here’s what you can do to reignite your professional passion and start the new year feeling reinvigorated, driven and inspired.
What is Burnout?
Job burnout is a type of work-related stress that results in mental or physical exhaustion. When you’re feeling burnt out, it’s harder to focus on your job and function as you normally would. You don’t take as much pride in your accomplishments and have trouble staying motivated, lowering your overall productivity and performance. You might also begin to question your career choice and lose your sense of purpose.
Burnout is a serious problem for employers, but it often stems from issues in the workplace that go unaddressed. Some common causes of burnout include:
- Unclear job roles or expectations
- Stressful working environment
- Unreasonable deadlines
- Low pay and benefits
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of communication and support from managers
- Low employee autonomy
- No work-life balance
It makes sense that when employees are overworked, underpaid, and offered little support, they’ll become stressed out and frazzled. Since COVID-19 gave us the opportunity to rethink our priorities and long-term goals, many have decided that trading in their mental health for a paycheck wasn’t worth it. Quitting became the number one prescription for burnout in 2021.
Most of the issues surrounding burnout are nothing new. Historically, employers have always had leverage over workers, using it to get as much out of them for as little as possible. That means they could get away with offering no benefits, no flexibility and no pay increases. But in the last few years, the tables have turned, with the labor market giving job seekers the upper hand. For the first time in decades, workers felt empowered to improve their situation and do what’s best for them, which includes looking after their mental wellness.
The Great Resignation, burnout and mental illness are all closely related. Workers experienced a decline in mental health throughout 2021, reporting higher rates of stress, depression and anxiety. Yet despite growing efforts by employers to address the mental health needs of their staff, it produced few meaningful results. Studies show that mental illness makes it harder to cope with work-related pressures and further increases the risk of burnout, so it should come as no surprise that so many workers have called it quits.
The pandemic has also contributed to burnout, especially among health care professionals, essential employees and others who are on the frontlines. Already strained by long hours and chaotic environments, many workers are feeling exhausted by the politicization of mask-wearing, vaccines and other COVID-19 preventive measures. According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Work and Well-being Survey, 71% of respondents reported work-related stress in the last month, with negative impacts that included a lack of interest or motivation, low energy and decreased productivity.
How to Spot Burnout
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Burnout has become increasingly common, and most of us are still trying to figure out how to deal with it. But by learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout, you can begin making changes at home or in the office that benefit your mental wellness and build your resilience to stress. Some things to look out for include:
- Feeling withdrawn, tired or exhausted at work
- Dreading going into the office
- No motivation to get things done
- Self-doubt and a sense of failure
- Growing cynicism with your job
- Decreased satisfaction or sense of accomplishment
- Procrastination or inability to focus
- Withdrawing from work-related responsibilities
- Loss of productivity
- Taking your frustration out on co-workers
- Using drugs or alcohol to cope
Burnout is becoming a larger crisis for both individuals and employers, but you can take action to rediscover your professional passion and improve your work environment. Doing so will safeguard your mental health and keep you moving forward in your career. If you ignore the signs of burnout and try to push through without making any changes, you’ll only cause more damage in your personal and professional life. In the long run, taking the opportunity to act and address these issues is better for you and your employer.
What Can I Do?
Burnout is a common problem, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for fixing it. Everyone reaches this point for different reasons, whether it’s due to an unreasonable workload, a lack of support, or no control over your professional life. That being said, you can start doing a few things now to try to improve your situation and mindset.
- Take some ‘you’ time. Don’t hoard your vacation or sick days. If you need a break or just a mental health day, take it. Use that time to refocus on yourself and figure out what you want from your career.
- Set clear work-life boundaries. Working too many hours or staying late at the office contributes to burnout. Set clear boundaries, so you have more time to do the things you enjoy. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ if you can’t take on any more.
- Ask for support. If you’re feeling burnt out, chances are your co-workers are, too. Reaching out to them can help you cope. Your friends and family are also a great resource in times of need.
- Practice good self-care. Feeling tired, hungry or upset can exacerbate feelings of burnout, anxiety or depression. A healthy mindset starts with good sleep, a healthy diet and regular exercise. Make self-care a priority in your life.
- Be an advocate for yourself. Burnout is bad for your bosses, too. It leads to absenteeism and low productivity, so it’s in their best interest to minimize the effects. If you feel comfortable doing so, advocate for positive changes that will improve your situation, such as more flexible hours, mental health resources or better benefits.
It’s also important to pace yourself and unplug when you’re at home. Answering calls or emails at all hours of the night is not sustainable. We all need time to recharge, otherwise we can’t keep working and functioning to the best of our ability. This can be hard for dedicated professionals, but remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Taking burnout seriously and actively working to prevent it can help ensure a long, healthy career that doesn’t jeopardize your mental wellness, no matter what field you’re in.
Our professional lives can be incredibly fulfilling, but sometimes they can leave us feeling overwhelmed, stressed and frayed. This has become more common in recent years, with added pressures bombarding us from every direction. Addressing burnout should be a priority for both workers and employers to ensure that individuals don’t exhaust their mental or emotional resources. Choice House in Boulder, Colorado, supports professionals who are struggling with substance abuse, burnout, and other issues that impact their mental health. We provide high-quality treatment programs in the Rocky Mountains that can help you get things back on track. To learn more about our recovery solutions, call us today at 303-578-4975.