Job burnout is a very distinct, extreme, and destructive type of job stress – in fact, you could say it’s the Godfather of workplace stress. It’s a combination of physical, emotional, and psychological exhaustion, which outdoes ‘normal’ job stress symptoms because of the extreme exhaustive element.

Did you know that most people don’t recognise when they’re at job burnout? They think what they’re experiencing is simply a bit of stress, and that it just requires a bit of mental toughness on their part to get through it. It doesn’t matter if you work for yourself or somebody else; the way job burnout affects you is the same.

By the time you get to job burnout, you can find yourself way past the point of self-care – or, God forbid, self-compassion – and once you get there, it’s almost always a surprise.
I say this because almost everyone I’ve had the privilege of working with, coached, or trained, has said the following: “I didn’t see it coming, and I just got on with it – you know, as you do,” or “I knew that if I just kept going and pushed through it, then I could rest.” The most common one-liner, however, is the following: “I just stopped seeing what was important; I lost sight.” This painful and yet powerful one-liner often tends to be the catalyst for making people change. It certainly was for me.

In light of this, how do you know when you’re heading to or are currently at ‘job burnout’? If it sneaks up on you, how can you even start to become aware of what’s happening? Here are 15 warning signs to look out for – the more you answer yes to the following questions and recognise these effects, the more likely you could be on your way to, or be in job burnout.

  • 1Does it take you a while to get going in the morning? Do you set your alarm much earlier than usual so you can delay getting up by pressing the snooze button? This can often result in a panicked, frantic rush to get ready, and it can take you the rest of the morning (and sometimes into the afternoon) to wake up.
  • 2Do you feel overwhelmed and exhausted most of the time? If so, even simple decisions will become overwhelming and often the only thing you’ll want to do after work is sit down and do absolutely nothing, including engaging with loved ones. You may often use phrases such as “it’s just too much” or “I can’t cope.”
  • 3Is most of your energy taken up by trying to keep up with your workload and workplace politics? You may find yourself often taking work home with you, at the expense of yourself and your loved ones, resulting in feelings of guilt and shame.
  • 4Do you rely on ‘things’ you trust to become numb or stop feeling negative emotions? You may be using the internet, food, alcohol, drugs, or other ‘things’ to either numb your emotions, so you feel nothing or activate your emotions, so you feel something.
  • 5Are your sleep patterns erratic and inconsistent? This will make you much more tired and oversensitive to criticism – for instance, you may spend time going over and over what someone said or did, which will not only cause you to become more irritated, angry, and anxious but will also keep you up and disrupt your sleep.
  • 6Do you opt out of spending time with colleagues because you don’t have the energy, or because you have no interest in building those relationships? You may often find it easier just to say no than to pretend and feel as if you’re authentic; it takes a lot of energy to be inauthentic.
  • 7Do you find yourself treating some of your colleagues and customers with disdain because you’ve become far less invested in building relationships with them? This can result in you emotionally and psychologically checking out.
  • 8Do your colleagues make frequent comments, asking you “what’s wrong?” or saying “you don’t seem yourself”?
  • 9Have you lost interest or become less inclined to set career goals for yourself? This can become very difficult if you’re in a position where you need to manage other people’s career progressions; the lack of interest in your career goals can filter over into a lack of interest in those you manage.
  • 10Do you feel so trapped by your circumstances that you start to think negatively about everything? Do you carry that negativity home by constantly moaning about work to your loved ones? If they offer advice, you can often become angry, as it involves making difficult decisions you don’t want to think about because it’s all too much.
  • 11Do you find yourself slowly beginning to lose interest in what’s happening in the world of your loved ones? As it takes all of your energy just to get through the day, trying to focus on your loved ones’ problems as well can sometimes just be too much. It’s not because you don’t care; it’s more that you’re in a state of survival, only just coping with your own feelings.
  • 12Do you find yourself having lots of aches and pains, and feeling stiff in general? The stress chemical cortisol can cause inflammation of the cells, so you may find yourself feeling much stiffer.
  • 13Do you constantly feel anxious, fearful, and on edge? This is primarily due to cortisol – it tends to create a domino effect by hardwiring the pathway between the hippocampus of the brain (which is responsible for storing long-term memory of past experiences) and the amygdala (which is responsible for emotions, instinct, and survival), putting you in a destructive cycle of wiring a brain that is constantly in a state of fight or flight.
  • 14Do you find that your appearance is starting to matter less and less to you? Is the energy it takes to look nice just too much? As a result, you may start skipping the gym or cancelling hair appointments, and you may start to appear a little dishevelled – perhaps having the look of someone who hasn’t quite woken up yet. On that note, cortisol tends to break down collagen, causing premature ageing.
  • 15Do you find yourself getting irritable and angry with your loved ones? If so, they may feel like they have to walk on eggshells around you. If this goes on for too long, they may simply stop speaking to you about what is important to them, which will almost always send you into a guilt or shame response.

If you recognise any of the above and have answered yes to the questions posed, you may be heading towards job burnout.

If this is the case, what can you do about it? The first thing is to step back and assess. What can you change in your life right now to start looking after yourself? Do you need to find a way to work differently, or set some boundaries with yourself and with others? Perhaps it may even be time to start thinking about getting a different job or changing your working environment.

It is much easier to change the things that will prevent job burnout than to try and change those very same things once you’re at burnout. Prevention is better than cure, so if you answered yes to the questions above, it’s better for your resilience, mental health and wellbeing to start thinking about making those changes right now.