Dealing with Workplace Burnout

Whether you’ve been working for 30 years or three, you likely know it well – burnout at work. It happens to most everyone, and more often than we acknowledge. Some may find burnout tough to admit because the American workplace values those who push their efforts into overtime as the norm. Add to it our hyper-connected world, and some workplace cultures rarely turn off. 

Let’s start with the definition of “burnout”. The World Health Organization says burnout is feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.

According to a study published by the International Labour Organization, Americans work longer hours than workers in other industrialized countries, with nearly one-quarter of American employees working more than 45 hours per week (45 would be nice!) Additionally, Americans often have fewer paid vacation days and shorter maternity leave policies compared to other countries.

The American Psychological Association found that workplace stress is a major issue in the United States, with 65% of Americans citing work as a significant source of stress. This high level of stress can lead to burnout, decreased productivity, and negative health outcomes. 

But it’s not all a gloomy picture. Work can be a major source of pride and personal development. We like to contribute, achieve financial independence and have a purpose. A healthy workplace contributes to an overall positive sense of self-worth among individuals. 

That said, burnout happens. I’ve experienced burnout a few times over the past 30 years. When that overwhelmed, overtired, negative mindset takes hold more than a few days, I take action.

No surprise, I’m not a mental health expert. However, surviving and some would say thriving in the workplace for more than half of my life has given me valuable experience with burnout. I spent the first half of my career working for others, in a wide range of workplace environments – one or two of the early experiences qualify as toxic. For the past 15 years, I’ve been “the boss.” Employee and employer have their own stressors and both situations are equally prone to burnout. 

So take this as well-vetted advice that may help unless you’re in a place that’s consistently negative, harsh, inflexible, or abusive in any way. A few strikes in these categories and it’s time to move on (or possibly call an attorney). 

  1. Be honest with yourself. Do you like what you’re doing (most of the time)? If you don’t like or even enjoy the work and those you work with, make a list of pros and cons. What can you control? Then…
  2. Be as honest as possible with your superior, assuming you have one. A shift in the work, from responsibilities and team members to time of day, location, etc. may make a big difference for the better. 
  3. Are you a super-achiever? Give yourself a break! Literally. While at work, get up, go outside, get coffee with a friend, etc.  I don’t always practice what I preach, but any workday beyond 5 hours deserves a break. 
  4. Take a vacation. Ideally, take a full week so that you have five full days to remove yourself from the workplace environment. It can be a staycation but be sure it’s nowhere near your workplace (unless you’re remote) or those you work with. Turn on the OoO email and, short of unforeseen emergencies, do NOT look at email!
  5. Talk to a mentor. If you don’t have a mentor, find one – they can be helpful in this scenario and well beyond. A good mentor utilized consistently should be able to help you avoid burnout. If not a professional mentor, tap into a parent or trusted family member.
  6. Talk to friends, especially those in a similar industry. Compare notes about the workplace and vent! Your friend may have some good ideas to try back at the workplace. Or, he/she may have some ideas of where to look for another job. 
  7. Treat yourself to something you truly enjoy and something that can take your mind off work. Do this regularly. It’s called work-life balance and is very important. Need not be expensive. 
  8. Pick up a self-help book on the topic. There are plenty on Amazon. Since everyone’s version of burnout differs, the pros will best address the range of burnout, from the source to the solution. 


I’m curious if you have any time-tested burnout treatment plans, no matter how unconventional. We must take care of ourselves to perform well in the workplace. Thanks for reading and I’m off to happy hour.