Are You About to be Burned Out at Work? This 3-Question Burnout Test Will Tell You

Work burnout is a scary thing – it takes dedicated, passionate employees and turns them into frustrated, detached time bombs. Burnout is a key component of employee turnover, and turnover has high costs both fiscally and for morale.


So it should go without saying that burnout is to be avoided at all costs. But do you always know when you’re at risk of burning out at work? Here’s a short test to help you find out…


1. How do you feel at the beginning of the workday?

a. tired

b. frazzled

c. raring to go


You probably guessed that “c” is a great answer to give. But if you think that option “b” is the prime indicator of burnout, you’re wrong. Feeling frazzled at work, especially at the beginning of the day, isn’t great news, but actual burnout results in a feeling of exhaustion before you even start. The reality is that you can be busy without being burned out. So just because you have a lot on your plate doesn’t automatically mean you’re at risk of burnout. It can lead to future burnout, so be careful. But don’t assume burnout just because you’re busy. It’s when you feel tired even when there’s a stack of work to be done that you’re at greatest risk. This element of burnout is called emotional exhaustion, and it’s one of the first indicators of burnout we might notice.


2. If you have to talk to your boss about something critical, what do you do to prepare?

a. I don’t bother preparing, because my boss trusts my judgement and will do what I recommend

b. I don’t bother preparing, because my boss isn’t likely to listen to my ideas anyway

c. I over-prepared, because my boss can be critical of my work

d. I bring a few supporting documents to back up my recommendation


This question is testing your depersonalization, another element of burnout. It might seem like “c” is the answer most common in burnout. But (like the question above) while “c” might be an indicator of a poor workplace culture, it’s actually not a burnout indicator. The burnout indicator is “b,” because it suggests that you don’t even need to try because whatever you say to your boss will be ignored. When a conflict or struggle goes on for so long that you have depersonalized the other person (see this prior blog post for more examples of risky workplace conflict), you’re at risk of burnout.


3. If you were invited to go to an Elementary School for career day, what would you say is the most worthwhile part of your job?

a. The paycheck

b. Helping people

c. Using my skills/smarts/strengths


No big surprise, here: the burnout indicator is “a.” Answer “a” suggests reduced personal accomplishment, the final burnout indicator. We can stand long hours, poor pay, silly uniforms, even rude customers, as long as we feel that the work we’re doing is worthwhile. For many years I worked in the nonprofit sector, where I often faced aaaaaallllll of the above indignities, but my job had purpose and that fueled my fire even when the days were long and the pay was piddling. If you lose the feeling of pride in your work, then the slightest struggle will cause you to lose your motivation and be at risk of burning out.


Want to know more about the burnout indicators? Check out this article in Workplace Psychology.


Burnout doesn’t just come from being too busy. You can absolutely be busy without burning out, so don’t fret just because you have a long to-do list. Pay attention to your emotional exhaustion, your feelings of engagement with your colleagues, and your sense of accomplishment and pride in your work. Those are the three factors that will let you know if you’re at risk of flaming out. Catch them fast, and don’t let burnout get to you!