5 Signs You’re Headed For Occupational Burnout (And How To Fix It)

5 min read

Have you got occupational burnout? Take this test

We all know what it’s like to feel stressed at work. Tight deadlines, mounting workloads and shrinking staffing budgets mean that for most of us stress is a reality we need to manage. But what happens when you can’t remember the last time you didn’t feel stressed? And when does stress become burnout?

Meaning of occupational burnout

BusinessDictionary.com defines occupational burnout as;

a feeling of physical and emotional exhaustion, due to stress from working with people under difficult or demanding conditions.

So we’re not just talking here about stress due to a peak work period, major presentation or critical meeting with a client – although it’s important to practise self-care to get through these times –  but sustained and unrelenting stress that can quickly start taking its toll.

Burnout is not just about hating your job and feeling like you never have time to yourself but it can lead to more serious issues like anxiety and depression.

Occupational burnout: the statistics

Burnout is a problem for both workers and their employers. Doctors, nurses, teachers, dentists, lawyers and social workers often appear at the top of the list when it comes to professions most likely to suffer from burnout but no one is immune.

Burnout is responsible for up to half of the annual workforce turnover.

A UK YouGov survey found that 51% of respondents felt they have suffered from burnout. And according to a Kronos study of US employees, burnout is responsible for up to half of the annual workforce turnover.

With stats like these, most of us will either have suffered from burnout ourselves, or know someone who has. So what are the warning signs?

burnout recovery
Burnout recovery tips

5 signs of occupational burnout

  1. Feeling exhausted (all the time)

The obvious sign of burnout is bone-numbing exhaustion. It’s not just physical exhaustion at the end of a tough week or a result of the regular home/life juggle – it’s constantly feeling tired when you get up in the morning or even after your fourth coffee of the day. This physical response to burnout is likely to be coupled with mental exhaustion and feeling like you’re never in control.

  1. Never switching off

Burnout will start to suck the enjoyment out of your free time with work preoccupying you every waking moment. You’re probably working on weekends to keep your head above water, but even when you’re not, you’re thinking about the pile of work waiting for you on Monday, the stressful conversation you need to have with your boss, and an overwhelming feeling that you’ll never get on top of things.

You’re probably working on weekends to keep your head above water.

Burnout can also lead to insomnia so rather than catching up on much needed sleep you’re consumed by work at 3am, perpetuating that feeling of exhaustion.

  1. A negative physical reaction to your workplace

If you’re suffering from burnout, you’ll start to hate everything about your office. And it won’t just be about the work, your boss, and coworkers. The walls, ceiling, even the coffee cups in the kitchen can start to take on almost a sinister quality, especially if you don’t have access to natural light. This physical reaction to your office is only going to compound the negative feelings you’re having about your work which ends up becoming a vicious circle.

  1. A feeling of nothing to lose

Burnout does not make for a happy employee. Relentlessly working yourself into the ground will decrease your productivity, not help you get more done, and this will start to come through in your performance at work. If you’re hating every second of your work day then you’ll start to miss deadlines, stop caring about outcomes and become less collegiate. And you won’t care when people starting noticing which can put your professional reputation at risk.

  1. Getting sick all the time

If you’re rundown, then you’re likely to be sick more often. You might start finding you catch every cough, cold and fever that’s going around which is only going to make it more difficult to manage your workload. And that’s not to mention the mental health impacts arising from chronic stress which, left untreated, can lead to anxiety and depression.

How to beat occupational burnout

As the Harvard Business Review says,

when relentless work stress pushes you into the debilitating state we call burnout, it is a serious problem.’

If you’re suffering from burnout, or feel you’re on the edge, then it’s clear you need a break.

So what can you do about your burnout symptoms?

1. Have an adventure

Taking a break from work won’t hurt your career. In fact it will probably do you the world of good. Whether it’s the overseas holiday of your dreams, lazy mornings and Netflix in the afternoon, or a yoga retreat, forgetting about work for awhile will give you the chance to refresh and reenergize. It’s funny how once you’re away from the office and looming deadlines, many of those urgent, critical tasks, or work grievances start to lose their importance. So use your leave to spend quality time with your family and friends and remind yourself what’s really important.

Here are a few destination guides to inspire you to submit that leave request:

Los Angeles


Hong Kong



Siem Reap


The Iceland travel guide like you've never seen it irislillian.com
Kill occupational burnout with an adventure in Iceland
2. Use your support networks

If you think you’re suffering from career burnout, don’t be afraid to tell someone about it. Sometimes you might just need someone to listen but family, friends or your mentor can also offer sage advice or help you keep things in perspective.

While workplaces can be the root cause of burnout, there is an increasing awareness that burnout is not only bad for employee wellbeing but bad for productivity. 23% of respondents to a recent US survey indicated their company offered burnout a prevention program.  Employers are starting to take additional steps to support their employees so consider whether approaching your Human Resources team or accessing an Employee Assistance Program might help. If not there are also professional services available to assist you in developing strategies to start feeling like yourself again.

3. Time for a new job or career change?

While taking a break from work is a great start, returning to paid employment is going to be a necessity at some point. But it doesn’t have to be the same job, or even the same career.

If you love your profession but can’t stand the idea of ever walking through your office doors again, take some time to check out what other roles are out there. But if your career hiatus was a wake up call that you’re simply in the wrong line of work, take some time to plan your next move. It could be as easy as signing up to a recruitment agency or you might decide you need to do some further study to kick start a new career. While that may seem daunting, remember that frequent career changes are part of the modern reality of work, so it’s never too late to pursue something you’re really passionate about.

This marketing executive decided to take a punt on a mid-life career change, and her life is now better than ever.

Burnout is not the norm

It’s not. But it can seem that way if you live with it for too long. Anyone can be affected by burnout so if you’re recognizing the tell tail signs, take a moment to develop an action plan and start taking steps to get your life back.

You can do this.

When does stress become burnout? What steps can you take to manage burnout? Share your tips with the Iris Lillian Squad or continue the conversation in the comments below.

Work, depression and burnout do not have to be synonymous

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