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Do You Have Burnout? How You Get It — And Get Rid of It 

Humans have limits to how we cope with pressures and demands that exceed our ability to manage them. Hit that threshold at work, and you've got job strain, or stress. When the stress is chronic, day in and day out for months on end, it can lead to the depletion of all coping resources: burnout. You have nothing left to handle the demands.

Burnout is the last stage of chronic stress. The textbook burnout definition from the World Health Organization is "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." It's a serious medical condition that can lead to stroke, depression, heart disease, and other major medical problems, not to mention suck the drive, energy, and meaning out of your life.

Stress management leader and burnout coach Joe Robinson, seen on CNN and Today, shows you how to identify the key physical and mental burnout symptoms and how to recover from burnout. He has written widely on burnout, such as in this article in Men's Journal and in his book Work Smarter Live Better.

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Changing Thoughts That Drive Stress

See Video. Joe Robinson explains why dogs are smarter than humans when it comes to reflex stress reactions. They can teach us a thing or two about a crucial element of managing stress and burnout prevention: How not to hang on to stressful events. The longer stress is unchallenged and stressors aren't resolved, the longer stress drains and damages key systems, which can morph ultimately into burnout.

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Work Smarter, Live Better

See Video. Joe Robinson explains the hazards of reflex behavior and the keys to smarter work and a better work-life. Joe has appeared on the Today show and CNN, and has led programs for organizations from IBM to Nestle, Kellogg's, Blackstone, McDonald's, New York City Public Health, Pfizer, LEGO, and Anheuser Busch. His many articles, such as this one on how you get burnout for Men's Journal, detail the condition.

What Is Burnout?

Work burnout is a three-way, mind-body shutdown — emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue, and cognitive weariness. It's a cumulative condition, the result of a long period of chronic emotional and interpersonal stress on the job that burns up all your body's energetic and coping resources. You have been drained.

The main markers of burnout are exhaustion and cynicism, the opposite of the chief domains of engagement — energy, commitment and positive outlook. The high fatigue level of burnout means poor performance. It takes much more effort to get the work done in a state of exhaustion.

The health costs of burnout are huge, as Joe Robinson reports in "Do You Have Burnout or Are You Just Tired." For employees, it ranges from cardiovascular disease, to diabetes, irritable bowel, and depression. For employers, medical bills are seven times more expensive than that of the standard office health malady (Goetzel et al). 

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Burnout Symptoms

Job stress can lead to burnout when we have a loss of physical and emotional resources too great to replace. Stress tricks us into believing we are handling things when we are actually getting more unhealthy. The adrenaline released by the stress response masks the fact that the body is going down until one day the battery is dead.

Burnout triggers include overwhelming workload, emotionally challenging work, lack of control, and insufficient support. Burnout strikes the hardest workers, not slackers. (See Joe Robinson's article, "Burnout Hits the Best and Brightest.")

As burnout takes over your whole being, energy and drive vanish. Thoughts turn to the negative and pessimism. You aren't yourself anymore. Here are some of the key job burnout symptoms:

  • Emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue, mental weariness
  • Emotional numbness and cynicism
  • A sense of depersonalization
  • Loss of drive, motivation
  • Lack of accomplishment and mastery
  • Depression in advanced stages of the cycle
  • Absence of positive emotions

For more details on the hostile takeover of burnout, click below for Joe Robinson's article on the symptoms of burnout, "The 7 Signs of Burnout."

Click for the 7 Signs of Burnout


Burnout Recovery

Dire thoughts set off by the stress response and growing fatigue lead to one of the main features of burnout — the absence of positive emotions. It makes it hard to see a way out, but you can exit burnout when you resolve burnout triggers, adjust schedules, change reactions to demands, and deploy recovery strategies.

Burnout recovery is a two-part process to return to full-strength. First, deactivate stressors and make adjustments to habits that are driving burnout — from excessive overwork without breaks for recovery, to no boundaries, to perfectionism, and unviable schedules.

The second step is building back up the emotional, physical, and mental resources that got crashed, things like a sense of social support and mastery. Beyond that, it's essential to have burnout prevention strategies to keep this human power outage from ever happening again.

Joe Robinson's burnout recovery coaching provides you with the stress management skills and the recharge of emotional resources to get you back to the real you.



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Burnout Coaching Testimonials

“Working with Joe was the best choice I made when I finally realized I had to do something about my feelings of burnout and stress at work. He quickly helped me pinpoint the main issues causing my stress and then provided practical solutions that I could use every day.”

Alex - Digital Engineer

"Even if you love your work, Joe said, if you do too much of it, you'll hate it. That was me. Three one-on-one coaching sessions later, I accomplish more in many fewer hours, and instead of being stressed to the point of quitting, I look forward to both coming to work and going home without feeling guilty.”

Susan - Finance Executive

"I was looking for a workplace expert who could help me develop skills to better manage stress at work. Joe was fantastic! I now understand the triggers for burnout and have learned what I can do to prevent it happening again. I strongly recommend Joe. His sessions were affordable too. It was a win-win!"

Jill - Executive, Environmental Organization

"I hired Joe as a work-life coach and found his expertise to be incredibly worthwhile. He gives practical advice that will help you enjoy life, be more productive with less time working, and reduce stress. I frequently refer back to the great tips in his books, and have referred others to engage him in coaching sessions. I highly recommend Joe Robinson."

Chad - Finance Executive and Company Owner

"Joe's advice gave me the courage to take back my life, challenge my fear of imperfection, and realize that guilt is a choice. Thank you, Joe!" 

Kristin - Government Attorney

After working with Joe Robinson for a couple of months, I’ve learned to manage my stress much better. I went from a whirlwind to somewhat calm and at peace by utilizing Joe’s techniques. Joe is an excellent coach, and I highly recommend him if you are desperate for help to bring order to your life.“

Will - Project Manager, Healthcare Technology

How You Can Stop Burnout Now

What can you do about work burnout? Take action to shut it down. Thinking over and over about the stressors that led to burnout aggravates the false beliefs driving stress and the feeling of being trapped. You can deprive burnout of its oxygen — chronic stress — by changing the thinking and conditions that fuel stress.

Since burnout shuts down coping resources, including personal energy and a belief you can do anything about it, it helps to have an outside expert on your team. Studies show that a coaching or counseling program is one of the best ways to exit the burnout cycle.

Joe Robinson helps you reframe stressors and adjust burnout drivers, such as overperformance, no recovery time, lack of reward and support, and unviable schedules.

His stress management and burnout recovery coaching help individuals and teams regather crashed emotional resources and regain vitality, drive, and confidence again.

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Are You Burned Out? Take the Burnout Test

To assess your stress level, take the burnout test below. The Shirom-Melamed Burnout Questionnaire measures stress on the three levels that comprise the burnout condition: emotional exhaustion (EE), physical fatigue (PF), and cognitive weariness (Cog).

Answer each of the statements below by indicating how often you have the feeling during working hours. Almost always = 7 points; very frequently = 6 points; quite frequently = 5; sometimes = 4; quite infrequently = 3; very infrequently = 2; almost never = 1. Add up your scores for each of the three categories. See below test for score range.

The Burnout Test

  1. I feel tired. (PF)
  2. I feel physically fatigued. (PF)
  3. I feel physically exhausted. (PF)
  4. When I get up in the morning to go to work, I have no energy. (PF)
  5. I feel fed up. (EE)
  6. I feel like my emotional batteries are dead. (EE)
  1. I feel burned out. (EE)
  2. I feel emotionally fatigued. (EE)
  3. I feel I am not thinking clearly. (Cog)
  4. I have difficulty concentrating. (Cog)
  5. My thinking process is slow. (Cog)
  6. I have difficulty thinking about complex things. (Cog)

Men whose scores average 3.0 to 3.75 and women who average 3.6 to 4.0 are at the high end of the burnout range.