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Bad Week or Burnout? How to Prevent, Detect and Manage Burnout at Work

Updated: Jun 23

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 the 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.

In the 1970's the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger used the term burnout to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions. Nowadays it is recognised that burnout does not just exist in helping professions and can also exist in a personal environment.

Freudenberger defined 5 stages of burnout.

  1. Honeymoon Phase - Comes with energy and optimism.

  2. The Onset of Stress Phrase - Energy depletes, unsustainable and begins to experience stress

  3. Chronic Stress Phrase - Stress becomes more persistent, and can impact both personal and professional lives

  4. Burnout Phase - Unable to function as you normally would. Can feel all-consuming.

  5. Habitual Burnout Phase - Becomes the 'norm' and part of everyday life. Can experience chronic fatigue, low mood and increased anxiety.

The World Health Organisation now defines burnout as an increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of energy depletion and negativism.

Dr. Christina Maslach in her book, The Truth About Burnout, defines six major job/employee mismatches which can lead to burnout.

  1. Work Overload

  2. Lack of Control

  3. Insufficient Reward

  4. Breakdown of Community

  5. Absence of Fairness

  6. Conflicting Values

In order to alleviate job burnout, job/provider mismatches must be addressed head-on so that the root cause can be eliminated.

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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 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 for 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 at work?

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

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

  6. Do you wake up 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 at work?

  9. Do you lack a 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, or head?

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

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

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

There are a number of mental, physical and emotional signs of burnout. This will look different for different people.

It is important to look for a change from what is 'normal' for that individual.

What changes are you observing, in either yourself or others?


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

Looking after yourself at 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.

Check for signs of stress, in particular, chronic stress and overwhelm. Take action at this point. Focus on getting to the root cause of the problem. Make small steps of change to address the issue.

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

If you can identify the root cause or mismatch, this may help you to identify potential solutions that you can take to your line manager.

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 manage the situation and prevent 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 will not 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 yourself?

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

One of the key elements to preventing burnout is to create, communicate and set your boundaries.

What are your boundaries?

A boundary is an invisible barrier between you and others. It creates a line of respect where your values and needs are communicated with the intention of keeping them protected, respected and preserved.

To whom do you need to communicate your boundaries?

Are you noticing burnout in someone else?

How do you approach this conversation?

If you have concerns for someone else then it is important to have a conversation with them sooner rather than later.

Where possible, keep it informal and part of regular 1:1 check-ins.

You may want to openly state your intention. Share with them that you are concerned and that you are there to support them in whichever way is needed.

Leave them with information that they can take away and look into in their own time and when they are ready.

Document the conversation so that you have an audit trail and speak with your HR department for advice and support.

Make wellbeing part of everyday conversations. Make it part of the culture so that people feel it is ok to say when they are not ok and to ask for help, support and guidance.

Leaders have a strong influence on this, so make sure you are walking the talk!

  • Share your observations

  • Listen to understand

  • Ask, ask and ask again

  • Don't be afraid of the silence

  • Know where you can signpost

  • Let go of the need to fix

  • Let go of the need to know the solution

  • Ask them what support they might need

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, or it may need a lot 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.

Ensure that you have long-term and sustainable changes in place to prevent burnout from reoccurring.

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

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