Job burnout: Understand symptoms and take action

Discover if you're at risk of burnout, and what you can do when your job begins to affect your health and happiness.

By Mayoclinic Staff.

It's time to head back to work after your brief vacation. You have a demanding job and carry a great deal of responsibility on your shoulders. Even though your time off was relaxing, you dread going back to work. A trusted friend says you may have job burnout.

Maybe you've started to wonder yourself whether you have job burnout. Or maybe — like many people — you've just tried to ignore the issue all together and deny there's a problem. A closer look at job burnout and why you may have it can help you face the problem and take action before it affects your health.

What is job burnout?

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations. Burnout is the cumulative result of stress.

Who's at risk of job burnout?

You may be more likely to have job burnout if:

  • You identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between work and your personal life
  • You try to be everything to everyone
  • Your job is monotonous
  • You feel you have little or no control over your work
  • You work in a helping profession, such as health care, counseling, teaching or law enforcement

What are job burnout symptoms?

Ask yourself these questions to see if you're experiencing job burnout signs or symptoms:

  • Do you find yourself being more cynical, critical and sarcastic at work?
  • Have you lost the ability to experience joy?
  • Do you drag yourself into work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
  • Have you become more irritable and less patient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you feel that you face insurmountable barriers at work?
  • Do you feel that you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you no longer feel satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you have a hard time laughing at yourself?
  • Are you tired of your co-workers asking if you're OK?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you self-medicating — using food, drugs or alcohol — to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, neck pain or lower back pain?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing job burnout. But because some of these symptoms also can indicate certain health conditions, such as depression, be sure to consult with your health care provider about your symptoms.

What are the causes of job burnout?

You can overcome job burnout. But first, understand what's causing your job burnout. Job burnout can result from:

  • Lack of control. Perhaps you're unable to influence decisions that affect your job, such as which hours you'll work or which assignments you get. Perhaps you're unable to control the amount of work that comes in.
  • Unclear job expectations. Examples include uncertainty over what degree of authority you have and not having the necessary resources to do your work.
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Examples are working with an office bully, being undermined by colleagues or having a boss who micromanages your work.
  • Mismatch in values. If your values differ from the way your company does business or handles employee grievances, it will wear on you.
  • Poor job fit. Working in a job that doesn't fit your interests and skills is certain to become more and more stressful over time.
  • Extremes of activity. When a job is always monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused, leading to energy drain and job burnout.

Is it time to take action against job burnout?

If you feel you may have job burnout symptoms, don't ignore them. Job burnout can have significant consequences including:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Unhealthy weight changes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • A negative spillover into your relationships or home life

Talk to your supervisor or mentor, or see your doctor or a mental health provider. Some employers have an employee assistance program (EAP), which can help you assess your interests, skills and passions. This can help you decide if you should consider an alternative job, whether it be one that's less demanding or one that better matches your interests.

Recovery from job burnout is possible, but it may require changes and take time, so don't expect a quick fix. Keep an open mind and consider all your options. Don't let a demanding job affect your health.