Karl’s co-workers have noticed that he hasn’t been himself lately. Once collaborative, energetic, and deadline-driven, Karl now snaps at people in meetings, is lethargic, and requires multiple reminders to submit his reports. He always seems to be watching the clock, yet constantly complains about feeling like he doesn’t have enough time in the day to get everything done.
Karl is exhibiting classic signs of burnout. Coined in the 1970s by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, there is no single, widely accepted definition of burnout1. However, it’s become a fairly widespread modern malady, due in part to our always-on culture.
Like five-and-dimes and soda shops, the 40-hour workweek seems to be a thing of the past. Working nights and weekends — and even on vacation — has become the norm. Thanks to laptops, smartphones, and smartwatches, it can be borderline impossible to simply shut work off. What’s more, many employees don’t make time for lunch during their workday, instead eating at their desks with work on their computer screens.
According to David Ballard, PsyD of the American Psychological Association, job burnout is “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance”2.
According to research from the Association for Psychological Science, there are three subtypes of burnout.
The results indicated that overload burnout — the frenetic employee who works toward success until exhaustion — is most closely related to emotional venting. These individuals might try to cope with their stress by complaining about the organizational hierarchy at work, feeling as though it imposes limits on their goals and ambitions. That coping strategy, unsurprisingly, seems to lead to a stress overload and a tendency to throw in the towel.
Burnout that stems from boredom and lack of personal development, on the other hand, is most closely associated with an avoidance coping strategy. These under-challenged workers tend to manage stress by distancing themselves from work, a strategy that leads to depersonalization and cynicism — a harbinger for burning out and packing up shop.
The final type of burnout — the worn-out subtype — seems to stem from a coping strategy based on giving up in the face of stress. Even though these individuals want to achieve a certain goal, they lack the motivation to plow through barriers to get to it.3
Certainly not the ideal employee scenario! So, what can workers do to combat the dreaded burnout? Two words: reduce stress.
You likely already know our oft-touted motto, “Put the ‘time’ back in ‘lunchtime’”, but it’s also a good idea to make general downtime part of one’s daily ritual. Encourage employees to block a ten or fifteen minute break every afternoon.
Between 2 and 3 p.m. is the most commonly reported timeframe for the dreaded “afternoon slump”, so that’s a perfect period for a mental break. During that time, employees should engage in a short stress reduction meditation or exercise, such as one from our Reduce Stress & Anxiety section.
One of our personal favorites is 5-Minute Meditations: Ease Your Anxiety and Stress. Five minutes to help reduce your stress and anxiety, allowing you to power through the rest of the day? It’s a total win-win. All of these videos will help workers clear the mind, refocus energy, and recenter intentions.
Other easy ways to decompress include taking a brisk walk outside or simply changing the location you’re working in. A simple change of scenery — say, from cubicle to open soft-seating — can do wonders for the weary mind and service the stressed-out soul.
Last, but certainly not least, some restorative yoga in the afternoon is also an excellent way to calm the mind and energize the body. Whether it’s simple stretching, or a full-on flow, a li’l yoga is always a good idea.
Encourage your organization to adopt these stress-reduction tactics, and say buh-bye to burnout, and hello to happier, more productive employees.