Signs of burnout – How to spot it and what to do about it.

Signs of burnout – how to spot it and what to do about it.

burnout at workplace
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Burnout is very common in a workplace. I have experienced it myself and it’s not fun. You feel physically and emotionally depleted, empty and possibly even depressed. Your productivity has dropped and you lack motivation. Not a great place to be.  

Burnout doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone no matter what position they hold.

But it does not happen overnight. The trick is to catch the symptoms early and act before it develops into a full-blown burnout.

World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised burnout as an occupational phenomenon caused by ongoing and unmanaged stress in the workplace in 2019.

Burnout at workplace is more common than you think. The Global Burnout Study from 2022 has found that employee burnout has increased by 5% in the last year. A whopping 40% of 3000 people surveyed in 30 countries have stated that burnout was the reason why they have left their job in 2021.

However not everyone recognises that they may be experiencing burnout. We often brush the symptoms aside and just get on with it and in the mean time we get sicker and sicker. Your body is designed to handle a great deal, and bounce back from adversity but there is only so much it can take before it starts to falter – or worse.

Stress is a presence in everybody’s life and – I’m not going to lie – nearly impossible to escape. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to take it lying down. You have options.”

If you ignore the symptoms for long enough you will put yourself at risk of developing:

  • Chronic stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Depression, anxiety, anger, irritability
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Decreased immunity
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain around the middle
Beat the burnout


Research has shown that burnout can manifest itself in three distinctive ways:

  1. Overload Burnout – This is the most common type of burnout and the one that most people think of when they imagine burnout. It affects high achievers, people highly dedicated to their job who continue to work at an unsustainable pace to a point of physical and mental exhaustion.

  2. Under-challenged burnout – It may be surprising to learn but burnout can be a result of doing too little. If you feel bored, and not challenged by your job eventually you may lose motivation and feel frustrated because you feel undervalued and like there is no room for growth.

  3. Neglect burnout – it can result from feeling neglected at the work place. You may feel like you have been left to your own devices without clear direction or guidance. You feel overwhelmed by the challenges and helpless. With time you may struggle to keep up with the demands, become passive and just stop trying.

How do you know that you are experiencing burnout?

Below is a handy graphic illustrating 12 stages of burnout and how each stage manifests itself.

(Source @thepresentpsychologist)

12 stages of burnout
Winona State University further simplifies burnout into five stages:

  1. Honeymoon stage – it usually occurs when you start a new job, new position or you are working on a new project. You are excited, committed, you feel creative and full of energy. You have your lunch in front of your computer and you don’t mind working late. During this stage you start to develop patterns, habits that might be difficult to escape later. How long you stay in this stage will be dictated by how positive and healthy these habits are.

  2. Balancing Act – Now that the Honeymoon period is over you have some better and some not so good days. You can feel the stress. Fatigue is starting to set in, and you may start losing focus and be less productive. Your mind starts to get “busy” at night making it difficult to sleep.

  3. Chronic symptoms – The symptoms from stage 2 become more intense affecting your daily life. You feel stressed most of the time and you start to feel empty inside and loose interest. You may start experiencing anger, resignation and start feeling depressed. You spend your weekends worrying and stressed about the work week to come.

  4. Crisis – Now you really start to feel mental and emotional symptoms of burnout and you can no longer function as you normally would. Physical symptoms may intensify to the point where you start getting chronic headaches, stomach and digestive issues. You may start to withdraw. Pessimism and self-doubt dominate. You start to obsess about the work frustrations and you start thinking about quitting your job.

  5. Enmeshment – the symptoms of burnout become so severe that they may be labeled as a physical or mental condition rather than recognised as burnout.

The early indicators of burnout can be subtle and can be easily dismissed. Each person will also experience the symptoms differently. It is crucial to catch the symptoms early and begin treating them right away.

If you’re wondering if you are experiencing burnout just ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have your sleep habits changed (you sleep too much or struggle to sleep at all)?
  • Do you experience stomach or digestive problems?
  • Are you plagued by headaches?
  • Have you become irritable and impatient?
  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Are you having more bad days then good days at work?
  • Do you think about quitting your job more often than not?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol as a ‘lift me up’?
  • Do you struggle to focus and concentrate for longer periods of time?
  • Do you feel constantly exhausted?
  • Do you dread Mondays?

If you answered yes to most of those questions you are very likely experiencing burnout. 

burnout at workplace

What can cause job burnout?

Feeling out of control. If you have no say over decisions that affect your work, like your schedule, assignments, workload, deadlines, you can feel disempowered and helpless which can lead to burnout. Lack of resources you need to do the job can also be a contributing factor.

Uncertainty of what is expected of you. Being unclear about your role, responsibilities and deadlines can lead to lowered productivity and feeling of uncertainty

Toxic work environment perhaps you feel mistreated or undermined by your colleagues, unappreciated or bullied, or your boss micromanages your job.

If your job is monotonous, or you are working very long hours, you need constant energy to keep you focused which can lead to physical and mental exhaustion

Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and/or in your personal life you might feel more stressed and discouraged

Work-life imbalance. Many of us are expected to work longer hours than ever before and answer our phones or emails outside of working hours. If your work takes over your life and you have no time or energy to spend time with your family and friends you might burn out quickly

You work in a helping profession, such as health care which is emotionally draining

Your recharge plan

You are already feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Doing anything about it may seem like just another task on your to-do list that is already as long as your arm. The trick is to not do everything at once. Take it one day at a time, chipping away at the things that are stressing you out. But it is important to do something about it. It is not worth risking your health for your job. At the end of the day, no-one at their death bed ever said “I wish I spent more time at work”.

Start with evaluating your options – Can you afford to leave your job? Is that a real possibility? Maybe you can talk to your supervisor and work something out together?

If this is not the case right now there are habits you can build or other steps you can take to recover from burnout:

  1. Learn to mange your time. The feeling of overwhelm and conflicting responsibilities add to your stress. Prioritising and scheduling are great tools to help you feel more in control.
  • Make a to-do list listing priority and time sensitive tasks first. Delegate to others if you can.
  • Create time slots for unexpected emergencies – this will help you avoid extra stress and workload
  • Set your work around your energy levels. If you find that you focus in the morning than use this time for creative work or any task that require high energy levels.

2. Learn to say ‘no’. Too busy workload can be a result of saying ‘yes’ to everything.

3. Schedule regular breaks. Set your alarm to go off very 90 min. And move away from your desk, stretch your legs for 5 minutes. Taking regular breaks from stressful tasks can help you refocus and increase productivity.

4. Avoid nicotine, alcohol and refined sugar products. These are all stimulants. A glass of wine at the end of the day might be something you look forward to each night but it actually is a depressant and it may disrupt your sleep.

5. Avoid caffeine, and refined sugar products. Sure, that chocolate bar or a cup of coffee (or two) might make you feel great for like five minutes, but after that quick high wears off, you’ll crash and burn and feel even more drained.

6. Don’t skimp on sleep. Sleep is essential for the body to function effectively. If you are stressed or going through burnout the chances are that your sleep is disrupted. Introducing a night-time routine can help you get better sleep.

  • Always go to bed and wake up at the same time
  • Make time to relax before going to bed: have a relaxing bath, meditation, breathing exercise, read a few pages of a book
  • Avoid anything stimulating, such as watching TV in bed, playing games, scrolling through social mediaTreat your bedroom as a cave: dark
  • and quiet
  • Plan for the day ahead – make your to-do list for next day. Write down anything that might be occupying your mind or worrying you. This will clear your mind and prepare you for the night’s sleep

7. Listen to music:

  • Classical music is great when you need to concentrate or just relax
  • Listen to your favourite music when working out, driving or doing other chores. This will help brighten your mood and
  • Soothing music with monotonous repetition, such as sounds of nature, can help you relax before sleep

8. Move. Experiencing stress pumps your body with stress hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. Exercising can help reduce the stress hormones and release “feel good” hormones in the brain. But don’t overdo it. If you don’t have much time or you lack energy just going for a brisk walk will do the job.

9. Breathe. There are many breathing techniques that don’t take longer than 5 minutes. Some of the great breathing exercises are box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing technique.

10. Find a hobby. Do yourself a favour and find something that you really enjoy doing. Your body and your sanity will thank you.

11. Ask for help. If you are going through a difficult time don’t bottle it inside. Speak to someone you trust, whether it’s a friend or a family member. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your burdens with someone who knows you, find a reliable coach or therapist


Bottom Line: Don’t ignore the symptoms and push through burnout

Best prevention tool is to educate yourself and your co-workers on the specifics of job burnout, how to spot it and overcome it. Choose to make wellness and self-care a priority and don’t be ashamed to ask for help if you need it.



  1. Mayo Clinic (2021), “Job burnout: How to spot it and take action”
  2. Stress Management Society. “Resources”
  3. Winona State University. “Stages of burnout”
  4. Integris Health (2021) “What are the 5 stages of burnout’
  5. Wilding (2022),”3 Types of Burnout, and how to overcome them” Harvard Business Review,
  6. Cooks-Campbell (2021), “Signs of burnout at work – and what to do about it”, Better Up.
  7. Western Governors University (2019), “Workplace burnout: causes, effects, and solutions.”
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