Are You Burned Out? Or Is It Something Else?

Source: Kandi Wiens and Peter Loper, Harvard Business Review, October 14, 2021

Whether we’re feeling pressure from a looming deadline, tension from a strained work relationship, or compounding stress from a myriad of work issues, lack of engagement is inevitable. When those feelings related to work stress become debilitating, we often automatically jump to labeling our experience as burnout. But not all feelings associated with work stress are consistent with the full psychological syndrome of burnout. Examining and characterizing your stress-related feelings are the first and most important steps to connecting to the support that will be most helpful given your unique experience. The authors offer three questions to ask yourself to help you determine whether the feelings you have are consistent with burnout or if they’re something less serious that could lead to burnout if left unchecked.

Like migraines, burnout isn’t just a little pain or irritation that interrupts your day — it often results in significant functional impairment. It may feel excruciating and debilitating, and it causes feelings of intense emotional exhaustion, extreme cynicism, and minimal professional efficacy. Determining whether you’re experiencing burnout is extremely important, since it’s associated with increased long-term risk of serious medical problems like atrial fibrillation, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol that can lead to coronary artery disease…

Consistent with Kandi’s research, perhaps you’re experiencing one of these feelings, and not the full syndrome of burnout. To help you clarify, consider the following questions.

Do you feel you deserve more? If you feel underappreciated, undervalued, or taken for granted, you may not feel as effective at work as you know you can be. Few things are more demoralizing in a professional setting than working hard and going unnoticed. These feelings are typically the result of an absence of extrinsic reinforcement — feeling worthy of more recognition and/or respect from others….

Do you frequently think, “This isn’t what I signed up for”? If you often feel disappointed at work or question whether you’re in the right place, it’s likely that you’re experiencing feelings of disengagement. …

Do you work to keep up or do you work to escape? If you’re feeling emotionally exhausted, but generally have a positive attitude toward work, you’re likely experiencing feelings of overextension caused by overworking. …. Lance’s psychological experience is one of overextension, and this is distinct from the feeling of being both exhausted and cynical, two core symptoms of burnout.