Visualize someone who is experiencing burnout. The person who comes to mind is probably overwhelmed and over-scheduled, drowning with demands and struggling to decide what to prioritize. However, burnout is more complicated than just having a full plate and feeling fatigued. These struggles can actually be broken down into 3 types of burnout.
For decades, it was believed that everyone reacted to chronic workplace stress the same way. New research has indicated that burnout takes different forms depending on each individual’s working environment and personal coping mechanisms.
Let’s examine 3 types of burnout and how to prevail over each of them.
The first of the 3 types of burnout is overload burnout is the result of pushing yourself to work harder and harder to succeed, even if it’s at the cost of your health and your work-life balance. Of the three types of burnout, it is the most common, and it’s also what most people think of when they think of burnout.
Professionals with overload burnout tend to be driven and committed but work too much out of a sense of obligation. Their compulsion to overdeliver leads them to push themselves to the point of exhaustion.
Those who experience overload burnout often try to manage it by venting to others or complaining about feeling overwhelmed. They are prone to jumping into problem-solving mode, generating even more tasks for their to-do lists, and worsening their sense of being overextended.
Signs to look for:
- You sacrifice your personal life and your own needs in favor of work demands
- You dedicate an unhealthy amount of time and energy into advancing your career
- You jeopardize your well-being for the sake of your goals
How to move forward:
Studies have indicated that a two-pronged approach is the best recovery strategy for overload burnout. First is strengthening emotional regulation skills, including processing and naming your feelings and reframing negative self-talk. One example of reframing could be to replace the idea that it’s necessary to work constantly in order to succeed. Instead, you could tell yourself that “better work-life balance leads to greater success.” Taking time off to rest and recharge is one of the foundations of performing at your peak, not a reward for success.
The second part of rebounding from overload burnout is to maintain a strong distinction between your work and your sense of self-worth. In the words of Jesús Montero-Marín and Javier García-Campayo, who have researched overload burnout, “Consequently, by learning to keep a certain distance from work […] individuals could avoid excessive involvement and prevent burnout.”
Endeavor to see yourself as the complex individual you are by making commitments to spheres of your life that have nothing to do with your career. This could mean investing time in your relationships with a parent, a friend, or your spouse. One of my clients recovered a dormant part of his identity during the pandemic by renewing his pilot’s license. Volunteering with the Civil Air Patrol gave him a reason to spend time away from his computer, in addition to a renewed sense of purpose.
Many people are surprised by the idea that not doing enough can lead to burnout. If your job feels tedious and stagnant, your motivation will suffer as a result. You might not feel appreciated at work, and you may be frustrated by the absence of growth opportunities, chances to learn, and deep sense of connection to your colleagues.
When you face work that you find dull and unrewarding, it’s hard to maintain your enthusiasm. Instead, you may feel apathetic and cynical. To manage the discomfort of feeling under-challenged, you may resort to avoidance, like dissociating, distracting yourself, or trying to suppress your thoughts. An example of thought suppression would be commanding yourself not to think about a particular topic.
Signs to look for:
- You yearn for tasks and assignments that will challenge you
- You sense that your role lacks opportunities for you to grow and learn
- You feel stymied when it comes to furthering your abilities and moving forward in your career.
How to move forward:
Renew your sense of passion by following what interests you. Rediscover your sense of motivation by giving yourself 30 days to develop a new skill. Start small. Perhaps you’d like to dedicate 20 minutes a day to learning a new language. Or maybe you’d prefer to take an hour a week to study code.
The pursuit of something you enjoy and find worthwhile can propel you out of lethargy and into feeling inspired. Even if the skill you choose has nothing to do with your profession, your renewed enthusiasm is likely to carry over into your career or even motivate you to explore a different line of work.
Another possible road to recovery is job crafting, turning the job you have into the one you want. One of my past clients, Kim, worked as a team lead for a software development company when I met her. Over the course of the pandemic, she felt an increasing sense of frustration with the limitations of her position, which made few demands upon her other than managing the performance of her team. I challenged her to keep a record of which tasks gave her a sense of psychological flow. Kim found that she consistently felt inspired by finding solutions to problems with workflow, as well as her interactions with customers. Kim delighted her supervisor by suggesting a project that would allow her to combine both types of tasks that she most enjoyed and use them to enhance her company’s flagship product.
The third subtype is worn-out burnout. Since it can stem from a sense of helplessness when encountering difficulties, it’s sometimes known as neglect burnout. This subtype is the result of lacking guidance, structure, or direction at work, making it hard to live up to your responsibilities or meet the demands of your position. This can lead to feelings of frustration, apprehension, and inadequacy over time.
Someone struggling with neglect burnout may grapple with feelings of learned helplessness. This is a result of feeling that it’s impossible to resolve challenging problems—even when those problems have readily available solutions. When faced with disappointment and suboptimal results, worn-out professionals resort to passivity and simply give up.
Signs to look for:
- You retreat and give up when you encounter a problem at work
- You stop trying when your job offers challenges you can’t easily resolve
- You feel disheartened by the idea of going to work and dread stepping into the office
How to move forward:
Experiment with making a to-don’t list. Figure out which of your tasks can be delegated, outsourced, or delayed. Determine which of your current responsibilities can be removed from your plate entirely, and maintain firm boundaries.
You may want to open a conversation with your supervisor about the type and amount of work you’ve taken on. Give them an overview of how you’re allocating your time, and ask if you’re prioritizing the right things. Let them know you’re open to changing what you’re doing if it’s not in alignment with what they want. You might suggest that you roll off one of your current projects so you can focus on the biggest needle-movers. Your boss will probably be delighted by your show of leadership and your big-picture thinking.
It’s critical to keep your focus on the things you have control over. Establish rituals and routines that make you feel grounded, like keeping a journal or going for a walk every day. Even when you’re facing changes in your workplace that make you feel powerless, you can still maintain the stability of your routine outside the office.
Burnout takes on different forms and stems from different circumstances, so you’ll benefit from understanding exactly which of the 3 types of burnout you may be up against. It’s even possible to face one or two different types of burnout simultaneously. Figuring out your unique situation empowers you to find the right strategies for whatever problems you face.
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