woman burnout

How to Identify Workplace Burnout

Workplace burnout is becoming increasingly common. There are typical causes and signs of burnout that you should know in order to prevent, identify, or recover from burnout in your own life. 

Burnout is caused by exposure to chronic stress in the workplace. 

This is HUGE! Read it again.

Burnout is caused by exposure to chronic stress in the workplace

Our bodies are made to be resilient in time of acute (short-term) stress. They are not made to deal with constant, chronic stress. 

The Truth About Burnout

I used to associate burnout with people who were overachievers and workaholics. I thought it was something that people brought on themselves, so I had a negative image of burnout. I thought that if I did all the “right” stress management techniques I wouldn’t get burnout. But it never helped for long. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling burnout!

It was confusing and frustrating for me because I didn’t understand how much the workplace contributes to burnout, and that it wasn’t just about my ability for self-care. Because of my past mindset, where I thought if I had burnout it was all my fault, it took me a LONG time to acknowledge that I was actually experiencing burnout. I didn’t want to be “that person” who couldn’t handle stress.

Once I understood that burnout is caused by chronically stressful workplace conditions that you are unable to change and not by my lack of resiliency, it was easier to accept that I really was experiencing burnout. It is more about the constantly stressful situation you are in than about you as a person. Once I realized that, I was relieved and was able to accept it. As with most things, acceptance is the first step to healing and I am on a good path to healing now. If you haven’t read it yet, check out my post on why I quit my job as a pharmacist to hear more of my story.

pharmacy counter

Workers in healthcare professions are especially susceptible to burnout due to the nature of the work; high pressure, time constraints, high workload, highly emotional nature of working with patients, constant choices, and the responsibility for the consequences of choices made. 

A recent Gallop Poll found that nearly two-thirds of all full-time workers have experienced burnout on the job. The study found that the burnout rate among physicians was even higher, at 46%.

The Harvard Business Review found that “the physiological and physical problems of burned-out employees, cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the U.S.”

A systematic review by the National Institute of Health found that “burnout was a significant predictor of the following physical consequences: hypercholesterolemia, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hospitalization due to cardiovascular disorder, musculoskeletal pain, changes in pain experiences, prolonged fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems, severe injuries and mortality below the age of 45 years. The psychological effects were insomnia, depressive symptoms, use of psychotropic and antidepressant medications, hospitalization for mental disorders and psychological ill-health symptoms.”

Burnout needs to be taken seriously. Learn the causes and symptoms of burnout to protect yourself and your loved ones. We can be proactive with our work environments if we understand what is happening.

So without further ado, here are ways to identify workplace burnout.

Workplace Factors

pile of work papers and books

The following workplace factors play a big role in your chances of experiencing burnout. If you are experiencing many of these situations at work, you may be at risk of experiencing burnout. Watch for my upcoming article on preventing burnout and what you can do to improve your working conditions.

  • Lack of control over job
  • Unclear expectations
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics; feeling bullied or discriminated against
  • Unmanageable workload 
  • Lack of autonomy
  • Insufficient rewards, lack of raises
  • Lack of community and social support
  • Unfairness or injustice in the workplace
  • Value conflicts between you and the organization you work for

Signs of Burnout

sad face

There are three (3) key signs of burnout. 

  • Physical, Mental & Emotional Exhaustion
  • Increased Cynicism
  • Decreased Self-Efficacy
Physical, Mental & Emotional Exhaustion

This can manifest as:

  • irritability
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • loss of motivation
  • decreased self-confidence
  • giving up
  • neglecting self-care
  • dreading work
  • new or worsening physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues, heart palpitations, etc
  • decreased immune system resulting in frequent illness
  • loss of appetite
  • anger
  • substance abuse as a coping mechanism
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • feeling like everything takes too much energy, even things you normally enjoy

 When I was experiencing burnout, it took all my energy just to make it through the work day. I would come home exhausted mentally and emotionally. I had no energy to do fun things in the evenings with my family or the hobbies that I used to enjoy. I felt that I needed to “conserve” my energy just to make it through the next day. This was an awful way to live because both my work life and family life were no fun. I just felt worn out ALL the time. 

Increased Cynicism

This can look like:

  • loss of enjoyment in work
  • pessimism
  • isolation
  • negativity
  • sarcasm
  • feeling negative and cynical about the job, coworkers, and the organization
  • distancing yourself from the job

Being cynical at work seems to be so common these days. In my experience, many people rely on negative conversations and complaining as a way to connect. This is not helpful for the person experiencing burnout, or for anyone! While experiencing burnout, these feelings of negativity can become more extreme and can affect your performance at work and your connection with others which will lead to feeling even more isolated. 

Decreased Self-Efficacy

This could manifest in a few different ways:

  • reduced ability to perform job duties
  • perceived reduction in abilities
  • questioning your abilities and skills
  • reduced self-confidence

Often the decreased self-efficacy occurs through procrastination due to feeling ineffective on the job, hopeless, like nothing you do matters or will be right, that everything is overwhelming and so your efforts seem futile, feeling detached from work, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness. Once our productivity starts to fail, we start to stress about our decreased proficiency and the cycle worsens. 


Workplace factors can be a cause of chronic stress in the workplace. Being exposed to chronic stress in the workplace is serious. It can lead to burnout as well as negatively impacting your health. Now that you can identify some common signs of burnout, watch for my upcoming articles on things we can do to prevent and treat burnout. 

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