Are You On Fire at Work? Or Just Burned Out?

When you light the candle at both ends, it’s going to burn out pretty quickly. Yet that’s exactly what many of us do in our careers. We expel a great deal of effort to get ahead and get noticed, to rise to the top and be a leader, but at what cost to ourselves? How do you know if you are on fire or just burning yourself out?


Research on burnout in the workplace tells us that one of the key factors contributing to employee burnout is what type of relationship the company has built with its employees. Companies who invest in building a more two-sided relationship with their employees are less likely to have burned-out workers. If you feel like your employer looks at you like a machine out-putting whatever is demanded of you that day, you are more likely to experience burnout.


Another main predictor of burnout is how much change your organization is going through. A little change can be good – every company needs to innovate and keep up with the ever-changing marketplace. But some changes are bad. Research suggests that the more changes occur in a company, the more exhausted the employees are, and the less committed to the company they become. If your company is building something new and exciting, then that single big change might be energizing to the employees. But if you face change after change after change, constantly chasing the hottest marketplace trend, you and your colleagues are likely experiencing change fatigue, and that leads to high rates of employee turnover.


In a recent survey, 75% of human resources executives said that change management is one of the key competencies they hire for. So workplace change is likely to be a constant no matter where you go. How, in that case, do you avoid the burnout, and try to get your fire back?


Start by letting go of what you can’t change. It can be frustrating to feel like you are “giving up,” when we’re often taught that giving up is a bad thing. But if you are banging your head against a wall to make a change that you think is positive, you are expending too much of your precious energy on something that isn’t doing you any good. You keep telling yourself, “if I could just get them to make this change, I’d be happier at work!” But after several attempts on your part, not only does it become fairly unlikely you’ll ever get your message across, but if you ever do get the change you are fighting for, you will likely be too burned out to enjoy it, because you expended all your psychological strength fighting for it.


Then, find supportive colleagues who can be your “balloons.” Too often, when we’re feeling burnout creep in, we seek out like-minded individuals who are also frustrated. But those people can only act as “anchors,” dragging us down even further. Try to find some balloons – not people who are falsely cheerful, but people who have hope and energy left, who can pull you up with them.


Burnout can happen to any employee whose organization is going through changes or is struggling with employee-manager relations. But knowing how to manage that burnout can help you relight your flame and keep moving forward.