The Problem of Burnout

A 2018 Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.

I was burnt out by the time I chose to leave my job at the end of 2019. I was experiencing nearly constant headaches, muscle tension, high anxiety, inability to sleep, and other physical symptoms. I also was not performing my best at work, felt increasingly cynical or emotionally distant toward my work and co-workers, and I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. The only way forward that I could see was leaving that job. I didn’t even have the emotional or mental energy to dream about or make a plan for what I wanted to do next. 

God wants us to be at our best at work because it brings glory to him when we do what we’re made to do. As Colossians 3:23-24 tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” 

Besides that, our bodies are created by God, and we’re meant to take care of them rather than leaving them sick, tired, and burnt out all the time. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 

Symptoms of Burnout

So what is burnout and how do you tell if you’re experiencing it? According to WebMD, “Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is related to one’s job. Burnout happens when you’re overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life’s incessant demands.”

Signs and symptoms of burnout include:

  • Feeling tired or exhausted physically and emotionally
  • No enthusiasm, and feelings of negativity toward your job, feelings of cynicism and emotional distance rather than empathy and compassion
  • Reduced performance or inability to perform your job
  • Decreased sense of accomplishment – feeling that nothing you do makes a difference 

Consequences of Burnout 

As you might imagine, this widespread burnout and subsequent disengagement have big consequences, both for companies and individuals. 

In the same Gallup study, they concluded that employees who say they “very often or always experience burnout” at work are:

  • 63% more likely to take a sick day
  • Half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager
  • 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
  • 2.6 times as likely to leave their current employer
  • 13% less confident in their performance

A July 7th, 2021 NBC News article by Martha C. White bears the headline, ”You’re not the only one who’s had enough — 95 percent of workers are considering quitting,” and goes on to cite statistics such as, “A new poll from job platform Monster.com found that 95 percent of workers are thinking about finding a new job, and 92 percent would consider switching industries for a new position. The top culprit, pollsters found, was burnout. Cited by 32 percent of respondents, it was the most common reason people gave for wanting to throw in the towel on their current job.” 

Completing the Stress Response Cycle

Prolonged stress and burnout can take a physical toll as well as an emotional one. It’s important to address both the stressors — what’s leading you to feel this way in the first place— and the stress — the feelings inside your body that are activated when you “feel stressed.” 

Authors Emily and Amelia Nagoski in their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, explain that when you are stressed, your body floods with adrenaline, cortisol, and glycogen and your physiological and neurological systems are activated — all with the goal of helping you fight, flee, or freeze in response to the danger your body senses. 

This physical stress response is incredibly helpful if you need to, say, flee from a dangerous lion in the woods. But it’s not so helpful when you’re sitting in an important meeting or getting some bad news on the phone. You can’t run away! Yet, your body still reacts the same way regardless of the nature of the stressor. Furthermore, it’s damaging and unsustainable to just let those chemicals hang out in your body. Something that must be done to release them, or as the Nagoskis put it, “complete the stress response cycle.” 

“Physical activity is the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle,” they write. You might try walking, running, playing ball with your kids, walking your dog, or doing a workout video you found online. Anything to get your body moving and releasing those hormones. 

Other methods of completing the stress response cycle include: 

  • Deep, slow breathing
  • Positive social interaction 
  • Laughter
  • Affection
  • A good cry
  • Creative expression  

Some other important steps to take to help with stress and burnout include: 

  • Getting enough rest and sleep — sleep is key to your body’s ability to recover and heal
  • Checking in on your spiritual health — deepen your relationship with God, pray, and plug into a community of believers 

What To Do About Your Job 

We want to be clear that leaving one’s job is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of burnout. While you may in fact choose to leave a job like I did, it’s very important to examine what’s contributing to your situation so you don’t end up in the same predicament at your next job! 

During the rest of August, we’re going to look at different work situations that might lead to burnout and disengagement— being overemployed, underemployed, misemployed, and/or unfulfilled. We’ve got personal stories to share, as well as reflection questions and potential steps you can take if you’re in a similar situation. Perhaps there are steps you can take to make your current role a healthy one for you. Or if you do choose to leave, you’ll have a clearer picture of what went wrong and what to look for in your next job.

Laura Miller works for Crossroads Career as a writer and editor, and lives in the Kansas City area with her accountant husband. Laura hosts and produces The Library Laura Podcast, which is a weekly dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm. She also runs the Crossroads Career Podcast, with new episodes every two weeks to encourage you in your career journey. Previously, she worked in the insurance and retail industries.

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