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How to Spot—and Avoid—Career Burnout

Photo by: Abbie Bernet

We all have days in our working lives where we just can’t seem to get motivated. We may feel irritable, over-tired, anxious, or reluctant to engage with colleagues and clients.

It’s good to know that this experience is completely normal—especially if you’re in a senior role, running your own business, in the process of setting up your own business, or generally have a very full workload. It’s so easy to get stuck on a one-track frame of mind and focus on the go-go-go of doing everything. Sometimes these feelings are simply our mind and body’s way of letting us know to take a day or two off to re-focus.

However, it could also be the start of something deeper. If you find you’re going through long stretches of these feelings with no reprieve, or that they’re escalating to other symptoms such as lack of sleep, loss of appetite, or consistent low mood, you could be experiencing career burnout.

Career burnout is a distinct form of chronic job stress that leads to a continued state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. This may be combined with negative feelings and thoughts about your competence at work, your ability to achieve goals, and the value that you bring to your workplace.

What triggers career burnout?

Triggers for career burnout can include:

  • Feeling under-resourced
  • Feeling inadequately qualified or skilled
  • Unreasonable or unpleasant management or coworkers

The hidden upside of career burnout

Believe it or not, career burnout can actually be a helpful experience for some people. It can indicate that you’re being undervalued, underutilised and underappreciated in your current workplace, and that it may be time for you to seek something new. Burnout is certainly unpleasant, but it may push you towards new opportunities that you’ll end up loving.

So, what can you do help combat career burnout?

As with most things in life, prevention is better than the cure, so it’s worthwhile to invest a bit of time in exploring if your current feelings of stress at work are just part of your job, or if they’re leading to something more.

To do this, evaluate how long and how often you have these feelings. Keep a work diary of stressors so you can start to build a more conscious idea of what’s happening in your work life and how it’s impacting you. Once you’ve done that, follow these steps:

1. Identify the source of your stress and/or trigger

Once you have a better idea of what is actually causing you to feel burnout, you can take positive steps towards addressing it. If you find that every Friday is a haze of anxiety, stress and pressure, really think about what’s causing it. Is there a client or colleague you have to deal with on that day that pushes your buttons? Do you have more commitments you have to undertake at home that push you beyond your capacity? Do you have a regular team meeting you always feel unprepared for?

2. Figure out ways to deal with these issues

Some things will be easier to address than others. If a particularly client is giving you grief, find out what you need to do to end the relationship. Finish the project, get to the end of the contract, or find someone to take over for you; the best thing about freelance is that you do get a say in who you work with, and if the relationship is toxic, you can move on quite freely and professionally.

Finding a trusted mentor, supervisor, friend or partner who you can open up to will also help. Let whoever you confide in know what you want from speaking with them to—if you just want someone to listen or someone to help you problem solve—so the conversation becomes meaningful and not stressful.

3. Create some boundaries

Draw up a realistic timetable of what you can commit to and achieve in any given day, week or month—and then stick to it. Start small and add in extra commitments if you can, but don’t put pressure on yourself to add more. Evaluate regularly and make sure you factor in “me time” and family time, too.

4. Listen to your gut

Call it instincts, gut feelings, intuition—whatever your choice of words, we usually all know deep down when something isn’t right for us. If after three months of evaluating, setting boundaries, and adding “me time”, work is still getting you down, you need to make sure you do right by yourself. Maybe this isn’t the right path for you to be on, and there’s no shame in admitting that and making the positive changes that you need to make.


Stress is a natural part of the workplace—we’re all human, after all. But there’s a distinct difference between feeling pressured because of a one-off large deadline and consistent feelings of dread when you walk into the office.

Don’t let career burnout get to the point where it’s damaging you. Take control, take stock of what’s happening, and seek support to get you to the place you want to be: feeling positive about your career.


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