The threat of professional burnout isn’t new, but it certainly seems to be becoming more prevalent. Back in 2012, a ComPsych survey found that 62% of workers in North America felt high levels of stress, loss of control, and extreme fatigue. A study in 2021 reported that 60% of professionals experienced burnout often or very often, and 90% felt their work lives were getting worse during the pandemic.
We can’t deny that burnout is dangerous
So dangerous, in fact, that in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) added burnout to its International Classification of Diseases.
The research looking at burnout from a clinical perspective tells us that there are three components or symptoms that occur in response to chronic stress on the job:
These are all icky feelings with both short- and long-term effects. Extreme cases can have consequences on our mental and emotional well-being, as well as our physical health. None of us wants to burn out or be marred by the experience.
So how could we possibly frame burnout as a good thing? This one line altered my thinking: “Only when you’ve exhausted one way of doing things can you adapt to new ways.”
This isn’t a proclamation by a famed philosopher or thought leader. It’s not a quote from an expert or best-selling author. Actually, I heard it from someone you’d think unlikely to spark inspiration for a leadership and career-focused blog. It came from a physical trainer during one of my early morning workouts.
After being bombarded with messages about burnout as a bad thing, my curiosity was piqued by the idea of burnout as a good thing. It was counterintuitive and genius all at once. Of course exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy will prompt change! The cycle is unsustainable, and left unattended, it holds us back from achieving our goals.
I suddenly drew so many parallels between burnout at work and burnout during a workout. If you’ve ever physically trained for anything (10+ half marathons here!), you’ll probably recognize the similarities.
At work: Exhaustion is the physical, cognitive, and emotional fatigue that undermines our ability to work effectively and feel positive about what we’re doing. At work, we recognize exhaustion when it becomes difficult to concentrate or when it feels impossible to get motivated.
In a workout: Exhaustion during training isn’t much different. It’s often physical and equally emotional. It leaves us vulnerable to injury and pain and can contribute to a lack of motivation or decreased morale.
At work: Cynicism is marked by an erosion of engagement that’s sometimes referred to as depersonalization. At work, it occurs when negativity swirls, and we psychologically distance ourselves from our jobs.
In a workout: We might experience the same sense of cynicism when we’re training. Even a minor setback can make us feel like it’s “all for nothing” or tempt us to give up when we assume we’ve reached a plateau.
At work: Inefficacy often shows up as feelings of incompetence or low productivity. It occurs simultaneously with feelings of fatigue and pessimism because we can’t perform at our best when our energy is tapped or we feel disconnected.
In a workout: When we’re training, inefficacy manifests as reduced performance or progress. We might feel like we’re spiraling backward, which is usually an indisputable sign of overtraining.
But here’s the thing about burnout: in the office or at the gym, it can contribute to our growth.
Many trainers insist that performing burnout sets—the act of purposely working to fatigue—is one of the most effective ways to achieve muscle growth. Of course, you have to do it safely and effectively. Similarly, if we recognize and respond to professional burnout effectively, I believe it can help us grow and improve.
Recognizing the symptoms of burnout can encourage change and inspire positive, meaningful growth. Sometimes, it takes recognizing what’s not working to identify what will. It takes reaching a breaking point to finally abandon bad habits and old tendencies. It takes rethinking everything to gain new clarity and pave a path forward.
If you’re curious about how to turn burnout into positive, productive growth, then reach out to us today. You can learn more about Transitions Coaching and meet our team here.