9 Causes of Burnout (With Helpful Ways To Manage It)

Updated February 3, 2023

A person looks at a computer monitor while resting their chin in their hand.

Burnout is the result of physical, emotional and mental work-related stress that's excessive and prolonged. This feeling can lead to professional dissatisfaction and affect other areas of life, such as your overall contentment and health. Understanding and recognizing the symptoms and causes of burnout can provide a defense against its impact and an opportunity to reevaluate your priorities and values.

In this article, we discuss job burnout, list nine causes of burnout, show what it looks like and offer some tips you can incorporate into your workflow to help you reduce and overcome burnout symptoms.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of dissatisfaction that triggers physical, mental and emotional responses. High blood pressure and decreased immunity are biological responses to burnout, while negative behaviors like disordered eating and sleeping too much are their emotional effects. Mental responses can include procrastination and forgetfulness. Additionally, burnout can leave you feeling defeated or alone in your situation. This affects physical, psychological and emotional health and impairs cognitive function, which reduces your ability to focus or find motivation.

Symptoms that accompany burnout include:

  • Low energy or fatigue

  • Frequent Illness

  • Headaches

  • Change in sleep patterns

  • Disengagement

  • Detachment

  • Frustration

  • Helplessness

  • Hopelessness

  • Loss of motivation

Related: Burnout: What It Is and How To Cope

9 major causes of burnout

There are various causes of burnout, including:

1. Experiencing challenging workloads

In cases of burnout, a challenging workload can disrupt the work-life balance. Monotonous work can also lead to burnout. Ideally, the amount of work you do matches your capacity to do it, but chronic overload disrupts balance, while monotony depletes motivation. To manage workload-related burnout, set priorities before you begin your day. Plan your work schedule and set limits to take regular breaks. Delegate assignments when you can and ask for support from coworkers or managers.

2. Having a lack of control

Professionals can feel a lack of control if they lack access to resources or find it challenging to contribute to work-related decisions. They may also notice a lack of recognition for their efforts or feel that managers may not trust their abilities. Lack of control may appear if job priorities frequently shift, preventing them from working on desired projects or limiting promotion opportunities.

To overcome this, create a detailed list to identify the areas where you lack control, then figure out how to approach each item. Evaluate whether you effectively communicate your needs, then discuss issues you can control, such as work hours, breaks and projects, with your supervisor to come to an agreement or establish boundaries.

3. Earning scarce rewards

Job rewards are perks of working, but if rewards are rare or non-existent, feeling appreciated may become challenging and lead to burnout. Maybe the rewards don't match your time and effort, and the payoff from your investment isn't inspiring you to do more. First, establish what the idea of a reward is to you. Perhaps it's a raise or positive feedback from management or coworkers. Next, ask for it. Speak to your manager about a raise, ask for constructive criticism from a colleague or establish your own reward system.

Related: Employee Reward vs. Recognition: What's the Difference?

4. Having a lack of community

Rewarding relationships at work is necessary, and a lack of support can lead to burnout. Ideally, jobs have supportive and trusting relationships that nurture and support your career goals. If you feel your job relationships aren't what you expect them to be, consider extending efforts on your part. Send a congratulatory email to a coworker on landing an account or ask the individual in the next office how their weekend went. Shift morale yourself by encouraging a supportive and engaged community.

Related: How To Build Community at Work (And Why It's Important)

5. Experiencing unfair treatment

When there's a perception of unfair treatment, it reflects in job performance and motivation and often leads to burnout. Perhaps one coworker gets the credit for a team effort, or your manager always approves another coworker for deadline extensions. This is an opportunity to speak up to ask for an acknowledgment. Address unfair treatment quickly and in a non-judgmental way.

Related: What Is Favoritism in the Workplace? Definition and Examples

6. Having values that don't align

Burnout occurs when a company's values don't match your own and may result when there's a change in management or ownership. When you value something highly but your company doesn't, you might compromise your motivation to help fulfill the company's mission. In such a situation, consider how important those values are and whether you can compromise them.

Related: How To Find a Job That Aligns With Your Ethical Values

7. Experiencing a toxic environment

Whether it's unclear job expectations, micromanagement or negative attitudes, potentially toxic environments can lead t

o burnout. Companies that employ negative tactics create toxic environments that deplete job enthusiasm and promote stress. Take some time to analyze your work relationships to determine your reactions to individuals, then set limits around those individuals. Try transitioning negative conversations to something else or excuse yourself from a situation. Add positive influences and mentors to help guide you through challenging situations.

Related: 5 Signs You're in a Toxic Work Environment and How To Handle It

8. Working with unfair expectations

Unfair job expectations may result from pressure to succeed in your role or constant worry about job performance. It's important to identify where the expectation comes from, whether you or your employer. If the expectations are yours, reevaluate your priorities and assess your goals so they're manageable and reachable. If the expectation comes from the job, determine how to approach jobs more efficiently, like separating tasks into smaller steps or asking for support.

Related: How To Negotiate at Every Stage of Your Career

9. Working with challenging leadership

You may find yourself feeling burnout because of poor leadership at work. This can look like taking on last-minute projects with an impending deadline or failing to complete a task because of poor communication between you and your manager. To help fix this, consider speaking with your manager about how you're feeling and how you might like to improve communication. Discuss the benefits of enhancing communication between each other, such as increased confidence in completing your work and improved productivity.

Stress Burnout
Beginning stages of burnout Caused by prolonged and excessive stress
Characterized by loss of energy Characterized by loss of motivation
Accompanied by a sense of urgency Accompanied by feelings of hopelessness
Overengaging in work or tasks Disengaging from work or tasks
More physical symptoms Physical and emotional symptoms
Overreacting emotionally Reacting without or with less emotion

What does burnout look like?

Burnout differs from daily job stresses that usually occur because of too many tasks or choices. Typically, patterns emerge that can alert you to impending burnout. For example, you may notice a change in your energy levels or outlook on life. These elements can vary in life, but if you notice it happening for several days consistently, you might be experiencing burnout.

Patterns that indicate burnout can include:

  • You have more bad days than good

  • You feel exhausted constantly

  • You no longer feel excited or challenged by your work

  • You don't feel like it's worth it

  • Your emotions feel blunted

  • You lack motivation for your goals

  • You feel unrecognized and undervalued for your contributions at work

Related: Q&A: Why Is Communication Important?

Tips for managing and overcoming burnout

Here is a list of ways you can deal with burnout before it becomes bigger:

  • Learn to say no. Set clear boundaries and recognize your limitations to avoid overextending yourself. Learning to say no to one thing allows you to say yes to something you want to do.

  • Start a gratitude list. Shift your focus to what is positive in your work life, a practice that can lower stress and improve health. Each day, list two or three things you are grateful for.

  • Seek external support. Find support from colleagues, mentors or family members to find solutions to job challenges or to voice your concerns. A supportive network can help you work through challenges and overcome hurdles to find job satisfaction and personal fulfillment.

  • Compartmentalize your spaces. Practice putting everything in its place so work doesn't follow you home and vice versa. Decide what's most important by setting clear personal and professional goals, then create a plan to achieve them.

  • Practice self-care. Practicing self-care can help you pursue your own interests and look after your health. Eat well, get plenty of sleep and exercise, and indulge in favorite pastimes or hobbies regularly.

  • Be the example. Set the office example by elevating your engagement with key individuals, avoiding negative influences, asking for what you need and accepting your limitations.

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