How to avoid job burnout and rediscover your self-motivation

How to avoid job burnout and rediscover your self-motivation

Job burnout is a reality for thousands of Australians, as the fast pace of modern life and the blurring of work-life boundaries leaves more people exhausted – physically and mentally.

Recent research from Microsoft’s latest Work Trends Index has shown just how widespread job burnout has become, with almost half of employees and a majority of managers globally saying they’ve experienced it.

As a nation known for being laid-back, interestingly Australians are feeling the pinch even more so than the global average. According to Seek, about three in five Australians say they’ve felt burnt out at some point, while 59 per cent of workers say they’ve noticed that others in the workplace are feeling burnt out too.

Burnout on the rise

Burnout is known to be one of the driving forces behind the ‘great resignation’ – a term referring to the large number of workers who quit jobs, changed careers, or focused on pursuits outside work in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

It has also been linked in Australia to the recent phenomenon of ‘quiet quitting’ – the practice of workers completing duties as per their job description, but declining to go ‘above and beyond’ or do anything more than ‘the bare minimum’. Sparked on social media platforms such as TikTok, the take-it-easy movement can be viewed as a rejection of the hustle-culture mentality and a tool to help workers avoid burnout.

With this in mind, let’s explore what job burnout is and discuss ways you can avoid it while seeking career renewal and a greater sense of job satisfaction.

A clock next to a person shutting a laptop depicting exhaustion at work.

What is job burnout?

Job burnout is an increasingly common problem that can have a huge impact on workplace performance and an individual’s overall well-being. It occurs when the demands of work become unbearable and resources to cope with them are insufficient. Those experiencing job burnout often feel exhausted, cynical, trapped, and disengaged.

But burnout is more than this. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), job burnout is its own syndrome caused by ineffectively managed chronic workplace stress.

As per the WHO, burnout is not exactly a medical condition, which differentiates it from diagnosable disorders such as anxiety and depression. It’s also different in that it can be hard to spot given it happens gradually over months or years as workplace stresses build.

Burnout is a serious health matter, with experts pointing to it potentially leading to behavioural issues beyond personal and professional dissatisfaction, such as social isolation, relationship problems, depression and even substance abuse.

What causes job burnout?

According to expert bodies and Australian health services such as Reach Out, common causes of burnout include working in high-pressure environments, having unrealistic expectations placed upon you, and feeling like you have little or no control over your work.

Other industry research from Infinite Potential also suggests organisational factors are at play, especially post-COVID-19 which has led to a culture of not disconnecting from work and less support, making a healthy work-life balance more difficult to maintain.

Risk factors that may contribute to job burnout, as well as signs to be mindful of, include:

  • A lack of work-life balance
  • Working extended hours under a heavy workload
  • A job in a caring profession such as healthcare
  • Minimal or zero control over your work hours and conditions

Signs of burnout at work

Burnout can quite often be difficult to identify due to the fact it often builds over an extended period of time. As such, it’s important to stay alert and aware of the symptoms, according to Australian online employment marketplace, Seek.

To help pinpoint the signs, the WHO suggests that burnout is characterised by three key factors:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Increased mental distance, or negative feelings related to one’s job
  3. Reduced professional efficacy

In practical terms, these symptoms may manifest as struggling to get to work, lacking focus and energy, being critical and angry with co-workers, isolating yourself more, and feeling apathetic. It can also lead to a decline in productivity and a feeling of being ‘snowed under’.

A man at his desk in the office looking up at the ceiling displaying signs of job burnout.

7 ways to prevent feeling burnt out at work

Whether it’s from doing too much, working long hours, or feeling overwhelmed in the office, job burnout can take its toll on anyone. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies to help you prevent feeling burnt out while keeping your productivity and mental health intact.

  1. Identify the cause: Work out where your job stress is coming from by taking the time to write out a list of potential pressure points. Once you’ve done this, identify steps you can take to bring down the pressure. Start small, with one action item per week and then advance to bigger actions
  2. Get help: This could take the form of reaching out to a trusted supervisor and speaking to them about what you’re experiencing or making use of employee assistance programs if these are available. There may even be an option to arrange shorter or more flexible working hours with your manager and human resources team. Lastly, don’t hesitate to seek professional help if or when it’s required
  3. Learn to say ‘no’: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, the last thing you want to do is take on additional tasks and responsibilities. Hence, it’s advisable to consciously set boundaries and commit yourself to decline any extra work demands made of you, within reason, of course
  4. Focus away from work: Work can become your major focus in periods of burnout. But it’s good to be reminded that it’s not everything in life. Consider taking annual leave to take a break from work to rest and re-energise. Other ways to take your mind off work include taking a walk outside or organising a coffee catch-up with a friend
  5. Turn off: Screen-time can be a big impact on time and energy, so when you’re recuperating from burnout it’s a good idea to try and minimise the use of devices as much as possible
  6. Prioritise your health: Put physical and mental self-care at the top of your agenda. Remember, eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly are all imperative to well-being. If you don’t already, consider implementing self-care techniques like mindfulness or yoga and be aware that ignoring health can add to stress
  7. Use a weekly planner: This can help you map out your working week more efficiently, giving you an achievable roadmap to curb stress. Having clear-cut goals will help you get to your most important tasks first and assist in managing your workload without feeling overwhelmed. Download our free weekly planner template
Two female workers communicating and collaborating happily in the office.

Workplaces have a role to play

It’s not all about workers doing the heavy lifting when it comes to burnout. Organisations also bear a responsibility to ensure they’re not contributing to unhealthy workplaces. That is why it’s paramount for leaders to set a culture that does not contribute to staff feeling burned out.

Leaders from the c-suite down ideally should proactively identify and redesign modes of working inside their organisations that put the well-being of employees first. A culture of trust and open dialogue is imperative, enabling business leaders to identify potential stressors before they become an issue. This approach helps foster a positive work environment where all employees feel heard and supported.

In fact, Research from think tank Infinite Potential echoes this sentiment, suggesting that to curb burnout, managers should foster an environment of ‘psychological safety, belonging, and ensuring strong employee engagement’. These types of support aid workers to believe that their contributions are valued, and their employer cares about their physical and mental health.

It’s also worth noting that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to avoiding burnout. Managers should experiment with solutions and work closely with staff to ease chronic stress and embed it as a ‘strategic imperative’ in the workplace.

A businesswoman presenting to a boardroom of people in the office.

How to rediscover your self-motivation

Beyond preventing, or grappling with burnout, there are a host of ways you can endeavour to feel more productive and satisfied with your working life. Below are some key steps to help rediscover your self-motivation.

Use goal setting

Much research has shown the importance of goal setting in success at work. Goal setting can assist in dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed, or fatigue, in a job. As a first step in setting goals, list them out and separate them into two categories – what needs to get done, and what can wait.

Other tips on setting goals include, whenever possible, them being sourced from intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. That’s because an extrinsic goal – one serving a purpose outside yourself – can be harder to stay motivated to achieve.

It can also help to keep your goals realistic and achievable. Consider the evidence-based ‘SMART’ approach, which refers to making sure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed. This can help safeguard against feeling overwhelmed.

Reward yourself

Let’s be honest, some tasks in a job can be onerous whether that’s due to monotony or, by contrast, exhausting complexity. In either case, creating external motivators for yourself over the short-to-medium term can help to keep morale up. This could be as small as going out for lunch after completing a particularly big task.

Make the most of co-workers

Remember, humans are social creatures by nature and constantly look to see, and evaluate, what peers are doing. With this in mind, try to stay close to high achievers, as working alongside a high-performing employee or team can improve your level of engagement and satisfaction at work, according to Indeed.

If you’re working under a hybrid model, consider spending more time in the office than at home. Not only can you connect and collaborate with co-workers, it also can help your physical and psychological health, lowering the risk of burnout.  

It’s okay to say ‘no’

Rediscovering self-motivation may also mean freeing yourself from the pressure of a difficult manager who’s loading you with too much work, or imposing unrealistic deadlines. If this is the case, having the strength to say ‘no’ when you’re at capacity is an essential workplace tool.

It may be necessary to shift your mindset and negotiate workloads with your managerto avoid potential overloads, as well as saying no when you need to. If you fall into this camp, think about challenging yourself to make your personal life as much of a priority as your work. Next, schedule those personal priorities, whether they’re catching up with friends and family, exercising, or just relaxing at home, into your calendar.

If you’re in a position where you say ‘yes’ to more work, it’s worth thinking about any juggling of tasks you’ll need to do to make deadlines. Ask yourself: do you have the capacity to take on extra work right now, and what tasks will you need to shift if you take this on?

Be accountable

Another hack is to have a workplace ‘buddy’ with a healthy work–life balance who can keep you accountable and help you stop falling back into bad habits. You can then work together to keep each other accountable in meeting your individual and team goals.

Two female workers enjoying a conversation while on a break at work.

Explore career opportunities

Finding renewed purpose at work can also be aided by embracing professional challenges and opportunities, so a good move may be to re-examine your career path.

Ask yourself questions like ‘What do I want to accomplish in my career?’, ‘What makes me feel most fulfilled at work?’ and ‘What values are most important to me?’ can get you thinking about whether you’re on the right path, or if you want to redirect.

Once you’ve re-established the direction to take, write down your resolution and the pathway you plan to tread, then consult it regularly so you know you’re staying the course. And importantly, communicate this with your manager.

Consider online courses or mentorship programs

Another way to refresh yourself is throughupskilling via mentorship. Alternatively, reach out to management about the potential of doing coursework sponsored by your organisation.

Other ways to combat job burnout

Getting refreshed for work doesn’t always need to involve big changes. Sometimes all you need is a small change to spark a positive shift. For instance, it may be that your home office setup has become stale and you could do with a home office revamp.

To help combat a stale home office, designate a room or space within your home that is strictly for work-related tasks only, then put some time and effort into creating an environment that fosters mental and physical well-being.

There are many ways to achieve this, but some common ideas include making sure you have enough natural light, the inclusion of greenery, working in an uncluttered space and keeping your office well organised.

The importance of office ergonomics can’t be underestimated – having the correct desk  and chair is incredibly important for both health, and productivity. Check out our guide on office ergonomics for more tips.

Also, don’t forget to invest in the right office equipment. Recent research from Brother found that the top five most useful tools in the home office are:

  1. An additional screen or monitor
  2. An ergonomic chair
  3. A personalised desk with adjustable height
  4. A Wi-Fi booster
  5. A printer or scanner such as those in the Brother INKvestment range

Investing in high-quality office equipment will help keep you focused on the tasks at hand, while providing comfort in the sanctity of your own home.

Once you’ve rediscovered your motivation for work, the next step is staying motivated. Make sure to look after yourself, spend time with people you care about, recognise your limits, and keep strong boundaries at work to avoid burnout in the future.

Remember, job burnout is something that thousands of workers deal with and, by taking the right steps, it’s manageable and preventable. By making a few simple changes, workers can get on the path to overcoming burnout, and look forward to enjoying their work once again.

Read our catalogue of working-from-home articles to explore helpful tips and best practices.  


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