No matter how much you might like your job, everyone deals with work burnout sometimes. As The Harvard Business Review (HBR) reported back in the spring of 2015, job burnout has been called the epidemic of the modern workplace — so learning how to overcome burnout at work is more important than ever. Thanks in no small part to the Internet, millennial women seem to be at a particularly high risk of burning out at work. Unfortunately, it turns out the same technology that allows young women to work pretty much any gig from pretty much anywhere is the primary reason so many millennial women are burning out before 30.
Smartphones have become so advanced in recent years that they're essentially pocket-sized offices, so it's more difficult than ever to avoid taking work home. As Heidi Grant Halvorson, social psychologist and author of No One Understands You and What to Do About It put it for the folks over at HBR: “There’s a lot of pressure in this 24/7 cycle.” Halverson continues, “It can lead you to feel lethargic, stressed, and depleted — literally spent.”
At least 3.7 million American employees work from home at least half the time — which can sometimes make maintaining a healthy work-life balance even more challenging. As a remote worker myself, I usually think it's pretty rad. I can also say from experience that, no matter how much you love your job, working from home can make you burnout quickly, if you're not careful. That said, the work burnout can also easily happen in an office.
The good news is, regardless of where you work, burnout is curable. Here's what to do if you're suffering from work burnout.
Make Sure It's Just Burnout
Image: Emma Darvick
Prolonged stress can actually turn into depression, so the first thing you should do if you're feeling burned out at work is make sure you're not dealing with something more serious. A number of symptoms — including trouble with memory, social withdrawal, and irrational anger — are all signs that your job and/or life stress has developed into depression. Depression can be debilitating at best, and life-threatening at worse, so if you think you might be depressed, tell someone about it.
If you're not depressed but you've stopped feeling like your work matters whatsoever, or you're facing some irreconcilable differences with your supervisor, then it might actually be time to find a different job. As Rebecca Knight over at HBR put it, "Is your manager giving you what you need to work at your best? If not, you may need a different position. Is the very nature of your work sapping your energy? If so, you may need to rethink your career."
Take Little Breaks Throughout The Second Half Of Your Workday (Or Every 52 Minutes)
If you're anything like me, then you probably prefer to power through your workday sans breaks so you can finish up sooner rather than later. Or maybe you just don't like taking breaks because you think you need to work harder than everyone else in order to excel in your career. Either way, you need to start taking breaks at work.
According to HBR, taking regular opportunities throughout your day to mentally recharge — whether that means taking a 10 minute walk around the block or going out for lunch — is one of the keys to achieving peak job performance. Just be sure you're not taking these breaks during your most productive hours. So if you (like me) feel the most productive and energetic in the early morning, take your first break around noon.
According to a 2014 study, the ideal length of a break should be 17 minutes away from the computer, followed and preceded by 52 minutes of work. If you take eight 17-minute breaks a day, that adds up to 136 minutes — more than two hours total. That might not sound feasible, but try it for a day if you can, and see if you're not just as or more productive. The science says you will be.
Take Long Weekends Whenever You Can
Depending on your job and your financial situation, taking long weekends on the regular might not be an option for you. If, however, your job is relatively flexible and/or you have a nice chunk of vacation time saved up, then you might want to consider taking a couple of long weekends per month until your burnout subsides. Evidently, mini-breaks from your job are actually more effective than long vacations when it comes to eradicating the mental and physical exhaustion of burnout.
As Heidi Grant Halverson told HBR, "you get a much greater benefit from regularly taking three-and four-day weekends." So, if it's possible for you to do so, start scheduling at least one long weekend per month — and don't check your work email once during that time.
Try To Focus On Why Your Job Matters To You
If you're feeling burnt out by a job that you used to feel really good about, then try focusing on why your job matters to you. If you work in healthcare, think about how much your patients need you. If you work in publishing, focus on how your current assignment could help you reach a future goal — like landing a promotion, an impressive byline, or simply gaining the confidence you need to finally ask for a raise. If your burnout isn't too serious, Halverson believes finding the meaning in your position should provide you with a, "jolt of energy that will give you what you need to barrel through that day or the next couple of days." If this little trick does nothing to boost your motivation, however, then you probably need to ask your boss for some time off.
Put Your Phone Away When You Get Home From Work
Now that our phones are basically pocket robots, it can be really difficult not to keep tabs on office email after hours. Because of this, it's crucial to make a point of limiting your use of electronics when you're off the clock. This might mean setting your phone in a designated basket or drawer the second you get home from work. Or it might just mean you need to get in the habit of turning off your phone at 7 p.m. However you decide to do it, just be sure to unplug when you get home from work. You won't beat burnout if you don't actively restrict your use of devices, and as Halverson put it for HBR, "Whatever it is, it can wait until tomorrow." If you feel like your job won't respect that, then maybe it's time to find a job that does.
Fill Your Downtime With Interesting, Restorative Activities
When you're struggling with burnout, it can be super tempting to spend all of your time off Netflix-and-Chilling. But experts say that filling your downtime with too much uneventful relaxation will likely do more harm than good. As Ron Friedman, founder of the consulting firm, ignite80, and author of the book, The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, told HBR: "What you do with your downtime matters."
According to Friedman, planning plenty of challenging, restorative, after hours activities to look forward to (like hiking with your dog or cooking a nice meal with your partner) is a far more effective way to treat job burnout than sedentary relaxation. Whereas watching TV can be a fun way to distract yourself from obsessively checking your work email, active downtime is a goal-oriented, fun way to take your mind off the office. As it turns out, when you're downtime is almost as productive and challenging as your time at work, you feel better overall. According to Friedman, "Even though it’s difficult, it will give you more energy."