Man sitting at his desk looking stressed about his work

Signs of Workplace Burnout (And What Doctors Say You Can Do About It)

November 12, 2019
Man sitting at his desk looking stressed about his work

Signs of Workplace Burnout (And What Doctors Say You Can Do About It)

Burnout is the very real feeling of the metaphorical candle burning at both ends. A recent survey revealed one in four Canadians has stress, with more than half of this group attributing stress to work. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of workplace burnout is “a feeling of intense fatigue, loss of control, and an inability to produce concrete results at work.” 

Workplace burnout is a global problem — the WHO recently defined it as an “occupational phenomenon” in the International Classification of Diseases. Burnout is a syndrome rather than a disease or illness. Yet this “epidemic” is responsible for 95 percent of HR leaders saying it sabotages workplace production

It can sometimes be difficult to discern signs of workplace burnout. If you do feel the following symptoms, there are resources to help you treat and prevent burnout in your own life and improve your mental health. 

How to tell if you’re burned out 

Most people stress about their job from time to time. But when this stress becomes chronic, and your work attitude becomes apathetic, it might be considered burnout. 

The mayo clinic offers a list of questions to ask yourself if you believe you are experiencing burnout. Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started? Are you irritable or impatient with coworkers, customers, or clients? Do you find it hard to concentrate? Do you feel disillusioned about your job? 

If you are still uncertain, it’s essential to consider where workplace burnout begins. Often, it’s from difficulty balancing work-life responsibilities, a lack of social support, unclear job expectations, or lack of control in your position. 

Let’s say you’ve been at your company for ten years. When you first started, the job was exciting, and you were motivated every day. As you worked your way up in the company, your life simultaneously became more complicated. You had kids, your spouse lost his or her job, and you haven’t taken time off in years. Now, you have to force yourself to work in the morning, and you find yourself distracted and disinterested during meetings. It’s only one example, but it helps to showcase workplace burnout. 

Recognizing symptoms of burnout

Verywell Mind published a piece regarding burnout symptoms. If you have felt drained, lethargic, or have experienced headaches or stomach aches, these can be symptoms. Your reduced performance may not only be at the office. Workplace burnout can spill over into your social life, making it so you “feel negative about tasks,” at home and work. 

A 2018 Gallup Poll found that 23 percent of employees felt workplace burnout very often or always. Forty-four percent felt workplace burnout sometimes. With those huge statistics, it’s no wonder the WHO called it an epidemic. The same poll also found five risk factors associated with burnout: 

Unfair treatment at work

If there is bias, favoritism, or bullying of any kind, this can lead to resentment and distrust. 

Unmanageable workload

When employees have too much on their plate, they can “quickly shift from optimistic to hopeless.”  

Lack of role clarity

If you don’t know what’s expected of you, how can you perform properly? 

Lack of communication and support from your manager

The “psychological buffer” managers supply acts as an employee’s support. When this is gone, employees can feel alone and uninformed. 

Unreasonable time pressure

Unrealistic deadlines can lead to always feeling buried in work.  

Another thing to consider is if you are experiencing workplace burnout or depression. The two can share similar symptoms––feeling physically and emotionally drained, irritable, misunderstood, and underappreciated––but many ignore when burnout turns into depression. By not seeking the proper help, problems at work, and beyond, remain. Although depression can be a much more severe disorder, the “extreme end of burnout can be linked to physical and mental disorders” and requires treatment as such. 

How to respond to burn out 

So you’ve figured out that you’re experiencing burnout. Now what? You may think a simple fix would be to take a vacation and forget about your problems. However, this can often leave you more stressed out when you return than before. The two biggest reasons being that you often have more work when you return and you haven’t resolved the root of the problem. 

Instead, FastCompany offers four options: be selfish, meditate, purge toxins, and write about it. Let’s break those down. 

Being selfish 

It may sound harsh, but has positive consequences. The article cites Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how each of us is attempting to achieve our potential. Some practical advice here is if “you work in an office, focus on your most important projects in the morning before the interruptions of the day.” 

Say no sometimes 

If you find yourself being a “Yes” person and this is leading to burnout, re-evaluate. As an employee, it’s not your responsibility to do everyone else’s job nor pick up everyone’s slack. Being helpful and efficient is one thing, but if you find yourself saying yes too much, pause before trying out, no thanks. 


Not everyone subscribes to meditation, but it can make a huge difference in reversing workplace burnout. For the science behind it, a “2009 study from Denmark concluded long term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem.” Even if you dedicate ten minutes a day to the practice, it can help you focus, de-stress, and re-evaluate your priorities. 

Purge toxins through activity 

A study from the University of Southern Mississippi showed that regular exercise reduces anxiety. Exercise also increases your heart rate and clears toxins from your system. Integrating a daily walk or workout can reduce symptoms of burnout.  

Journal your thoughts 

Lastly, journaling about your experiences can help with “long-term improvements in mood and health.” The article suggests keeping a professional journal where you can write about your achievements, projects, vent about issues, and write down questions you hope to answer. 

How to prevent burnout

Treating a problem is great, but preventing it is better. Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of burnout can help you take steps to prevent it from happening. Nip it in the bud. 

Suggestions for prevention are similar to treatment. For prevention, though, it’s all about timing. If you know that you have a high-stress job or are coming to a busy season, give yourself time, and address burnout triggers before they develop. 

Some of our favorite recommendations include prioritizing your work, finding inspiration, setting healthy boundaries, seeking out support, and finding time for activity. You can easily integrate most of these tips into your life. 

Make lists

Sometimes, making a list can be a refreshing way to recharge your batteries. If you are feeling buried by your workload, make a quick checklist of action items. Add some items to your list that you can quickly check off.

Be inspired

Finding inspiration means something different to every person. Do you love to draw? Paint? Write? Do you enjoy watching a specific show with your spouse or making cookies with your kids? Go back to basics and do “something that engages your heart and mind.” 

Set boundaries

As we mentioned, time pressure can be a huge factor in workplace burnout. When you set clear boundaries, you set yourself up for success at work and at home. At work, these boundaries can be within projects, between coworkers, and even making sure you take lunch to reset every day. 

Find support

Everyone needs a support system. Ideally, you have a coworker or manager who you can rely on at work, but it is also important to seek personal support. This support can come in the form of a family member, friend, or licensed mental health professional. At Lumeca, our mental health professionals are available at the touch of a button. 

Do something active

Finally, physical activity is a great way to clear your mind and your plate. Whether you walk your dog in the morning, take a yoga class during lunch, or a spin class after work, making time to exercise is essential. A recent study revealed the “increase in job burnout and depression was strongest among employees who did not engage in physical activity and weakest to the point of nonsignificance among those engaging in high physical activity.” 

At this point, Canada does not federally mandate stress leave. However, it’s worth checking your employer’s policy as “what employees are entitled to by way of leave will vary across workplaces.”

Self-care and mental health 

It’s worth expanding on the benefits of self-care and managing mental health. These are two aspects that are deeply important to both treatment and prevention of workplace burnout––and a host of other issues. 

Self-care may be a buzzword, but it’s an important concept that is gaining traction. The different types––emotional, mental, physical, social, spiritual––have countless practical applications. Many of which help directly with managing your mental health. 

Some self-care options to try out include: 

  • Play with your pet
  • Read a good book
  • Take a break from social media 
  • Write down things you are grateful for
  • Get enough sleep 
  • Eat a healthy diet  
  • Cuddle with your significant other 
  • Speak to someone about your life 

The lists go on and on. The idea here is to take time for yourself so that you can be the best employee, partner, parent, and person you can be. 

Be kind to yourself

Workplace burnout may be an ‘occupational phenomenon,’ but it is both reversible and preventable. While you may be burning the candle at both ends, remember that you can take back control. By noticing the signs and symptoms of burnout, you can be better prepared to prevent and treat it when and if it happens to you. Using resources like Lumeca and engaging in self-care, you can successfully manage your mental health and avoid the burn.