Avoiding Burnout at work

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

What is the difference between a bad week and burnout?

How do you know when you have reached full burnout and more importantly how can you prevent it from happening?


Burnout at work is the result of ongoing work-related stress. Living under stress is not sustainable and if action is not taken to reduce or remove the cause then burnout is highly likely.

Burnout is reached following a sustained period of physical, emotional and/or mental exhaustion and is often combined with doubts about competence and value of your work.

Once recognised, steps can be taken to help manage the situation, however, if It is not managed effectively then it can have a significant impact on both mental and physical health.


Recognising burnout can be difficult. It may be that others around you recognise it before you do. This can be a challenging conversation and one that often people avoid as they don’t want to upset the individual concerned.

Monitoring our own behaviour can help us become more conscious of any changes in our behaviours as well as the observations of those we work and spend time with.

Keep a record of the following, be conscious, be honest.

  1. Have you lost enthusiasm about your work?

  2. Has the feeling of being busy been replaced with overwhelm?

  3. Have you noticed a physical feeling of anxiety or nervousness when in work?

  4. Have you become cynical about your employer and critical about your colleagues?

  5. Have you noticed that your negativity is impacting your colleagues are creating isolation?

  6. Do you wake in the morning and dread the thought of going to work?

  7. Do you have trouble motivating yourself to complete work-related tasks?

  8. Have you noticed that you are more irritable or less patient in work?

  9. Do you lack the sense of achievement when you do achieve success?

  10. Do you feel fatigued and lack the energy to complete tasks?

  11. Have you lost passion for your work and feel disillusioned about the future?

  12. Are you ‘self-medicating’ or distracting yourself with food, drugs or alcohol?

  13. Are you noticing tension in your neck, back, head?

  14. Have you noticed a change in appetite, sleep?

  15. Have you noticed an increase of emotional reactions in the workplace?

You may find my blog a useful short read to remind yourself "You are not broken"


Ideally, prevention of burnout is the aim. Look for the signs and take action at the earliest stage.

Looking after yourself in work is just as important as our self-care at home. The amount of time people spend at work is significant and so managing our wellbeing in a work environment is incredibly important.

It is vital to take responsibility for your wellbeing but your employer has a duty of care so have that conversation to tell them how you would like them to support you.

Asking for help can be difficult. For many employees, there is a fear of reprisal or being treated differently. Concerns that the organisation may put a capability procedure in place or the stigma that is attached to those who have mental health issues.

If you can identify the cause this may help you to identify potential solutions that you can take to your line manager. Consider underload of work, overload is an obvious cause but underload can often have the same impact.

How assertive is your behaviour when you have these conversations? Are you managing the difficult conversations with your line manager or colleagues or are you holding on to the thoughts or feelings you are experiencing in a more passive way? Communicating what you think, feel and want to happen can help you to manage the situation and prevent the feelings of frustration.

If overwhelm of workload is part of the issue then consider whether or not saying ‘no’ is an option, or even ‘not now’. Manage the expectations of the people who have allocated work to you. Assess your ability to manage your time. Are you managing your time in the most effective way? Are you working hard or working smart?

Set priorities for the day, time box periods of time to complete certain actions or pieces of work and reduce or remove all distractions while you do this. Simple yet effective solutions that can increase productivity and reduce overwhelm.

Take regular short breaks, walk away from your desk, reset and go back for the next task.

Legally, you may be entitled to breaks, make sure you take them! Working through a lunch break and eating at the desk is not going to make you more effective or productive.


If you are in a state of burnout then start taking small steps to make improvements.

  • · Take some time out, a couple of days, rest and reset

  • · What is your internal conversation? What are you telling yourself?

  • · Where is your focus? Focus on the positives and solutions.

  • · Are you eating well to fuel your body and give yourself the energy it needs?

  • · Are you drinking enough water to keep yourself hydrated?

  • · Are you getting enough sleep? What is your wind-down routine?

  • · Are you taking time out for you?

  • · What are you doing to help empty the stress bucket each day?

Manage and Prevent are very similar. Once the burnout has been reached you will, however, need to take some time out to rest, recover and reset. This may only need a couple of days, it may need longer, only you can tell, however, it cannot be rushed so do not rush back into work until you are happy that you are ready, and where possible, return on a recuperative work plan agreed by both you and the employer.

If you would like to talk about dealing with a situation like this or any other book a clarity call to find out how Phoenix Coaching can support you.

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