There’s the usual stress that comes along with meeting yet another aggressive deadline or dealing with your most difficult client — and then there are signs of burning out.

With all due respect to the typical workplace headaches, actual burnout is serious, defined as a state of mental or physical collapse and exhaustion brought on by chronic overwork and stress. The health problems of burned-out employees are so pervasive in the American workforce that they’re costing an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending.

Those stats indicate it’s likely that you’re going to have a brush with burnout at some point in your career. And the effects (and causes) aren’t just professional: Factor in the demands of family and finances, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Here’s how to identify if you’re on the brink of burnout, and what to do about it before you find yourself in the deep end.


The research surrounding burnout goes back several decades to the work of Christina Maslach, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, who is considered the first expert in the field. It was her study that identified three major signs of workplace burnout.

  1. Emotional Exhaustion

    When you are emotionally exhausted you feel it not only psychologically, but also physically and cognitively. Nausea might become the norm, you might find yourself constantly battling sickness and you might have trouble sleeping.

  2. Depersonalization

    Depersonalization happens when you start to feel alienated from your coworkers or cynical about your job. It results in a feeling of detachment toward the work you do and the people you work with.

  3. Reduced Personal Accomplishment

    Feeling like you’re not personally achieving your best, or regularly “phoning it in,” is one of the worst aspects about burnout because it looks like you’re just a low performer, when you’re actually in crisis.

“The consequences of burnout have a very real impact on your well-being: Think digestive problems, strains on your relationships, hypertension and depression.”


Burnout isn’t bestowed upon you via some evil office fairy dust. Instead, it happens when on-the-job demands outstrip a worker’s resources for meeting them. In other words: None of this is in your head.

Everything from an incredible workload to expectations that aren’t always clear to highly competitive work environments can provide a perfect breeding ground for burnout. So, if you think you’re on the brink, don’t ignore the feeling because it won’t go away on its own. Plus, the consequences of burnout have a very real impact on your well-being: Think digestive problems, strains on your relationships, hypertension and depression, to name a few.

The first step? Prioritize yourself. Make consistent sleep a non-negotiable, evaluate whether your dietary choices are healthy, and carve out time for exercise and doing the things you actually like.

Once you’ve replenished some of your well-being, take an objective look at your work life. What changes are in your control? Is it time to be more disciplined about when you leave, or how connected you remain when you’re away from the office? Let your manager know when you’re feeling burned out, and brainstorm with colleagues how everyone can improve their work-life balance. Odds are, you’re not the only one feeling the pressure.

Finally, reassess your situation. Are your managers listening when you say you’re overwhelmed? Do the busy periods ebb and flow, or is there constant stress? Do you have the resources you need to get your job done properly? If the answers to these questions are no, then it may be time to leave. No job is worth your mental and physical health — and it’s up to you to be your own best advocate.

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