Aug 15, 2022

10 Strategies To Manage Burnout

Addressing mental wellbeing in a work environment is a very real and pressing challenge for everyone in an organization: whether in digital marketing or indeed any area of business. Managers need to have a good understanding of people’s personal and individual perspectives and challenges, and how this affects the organization.

Unfortunately, one of the main mental health challenges in the workplace is burnout. How can both managers and employees be more tuned in to the signs of burnout? And what steps can they take to address the early signs of chronic stress?

In this article we take a look at general ways in which an organization can address workplace burnout, and how an individual can deal with it.

Note: This piece is based on a DMI webinar on mental wellbeing. If you have concerns about your own mental wellbeing, you should consider getting professional advice (such as a doctor or therapist) on how to best address your own particular situation.

Mental health is a workplace issue

Issues around mental wellbeing can arise in any workplace. However, we tend to treat them very differently to any other workplace issue. For example, employees may have no problem telling their boss that they have a stomach upset or are otherwise physically unwell. But they may be reluctant to admit when they are feeling stressed or experiencing symptoms related to stress.

Encouraging employees to be open about their mental health concerns is an essential ingredient of a healthy, positive corporate culture.

Not too young to burn out

It is often expected that younger people can better handle stress and ‘get on with things’: perhaps as people assume they have more energy and fewer responsibilities than older colleagues. However, research by the US National Library for Medicine (2020) found that burnout could start as early as 32 years of age. As the stigma around workplace stress begins to fade in current times, employees of any age should feel comfortable about raising their mental wellbeing issues with their managers.

What is burnout?

According to the World Health Organization (2020), burnout is:

A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

Let’s unpack that definition:

  • Chronic workplace stress: Every job involves a certain amount of stress, and indeed a healthy level of stress can spur people on to perform better. However, when that stress becomes persistent (chronic) and toxic, it can negatively impact performance and affect a person’s mental health. Left unchecked, chronic stress can lead to burnout.
  • Not successfully managed: Once acknowledged, stress can be successfully managed. Both the employee and the manager or organization have a role to play in this.

Symptoms of burnout

According to a YouGov survey in 2021, one in five UK workers felt unable to manage pressure and stress levels at work. This sense of being overwhelmed by persistent stress leads to several symptoms, listed below.

1. Loss of energy

Burnout can result in people feeling tired, drained, or even exhausted most of the time: not just occasionally tired but an ongoing lack of energy. Sometimes, the reduction in energy levels is subtle, and you may not even be aware of it.

2. Negativity

Negative and/or cynical feeling towards your job is another common symptom of burnout. This can lead to an obsession with workplace problems and a tendency to constantly complain. Instead of actively looking for solutions, people experiencing burnout may not be able to see beyond the problem.

3. Lack of control

People suffering from burnout can feel overwhelmed. They feel trapped in a negative situation, which leads to feelings of helplessness and lack of control.

4. Self-doubt

Burnout may also lead to a loss of self-confidence. Because people no longer have the energy they need to cope with problems, their performance suffers, and they can start to think they can no longer do their job.

5. Desire to escape

Rather than facing up to their problems, people suffering from burnout may try to escape from them. This could result in procrastination, as tasks are endlessly put off. People may also try to escape by bingeing on things they believe will give them pleasure (alcohol, food, box sets, and so on).

6. Reduced performance

Burnout impacts people’s ability to do their jobs. Lacking the energy and commitment they once had, they are no longer able to meet the standards they previously achieved.

Note: Not all people who suffer from burnout exhibit all these symptoms. The combination of symptoms varies from individual to individual.

Journey to burnout

According to the same YouGov report, 46 % of UK workers felt more prone to extreme levels of stress compared with a year before. Burnout is on the rise.

Burnout doesn’t happen suddenly. It can be a gradual process over a number of weeks or months. In fact, most people start jobs in a positive frame of mind, even though some end up in a very negative place.

The journey to burnout often has four stages.

  1. Honeymoon: When you start a new job or project, there’s a prevailing sense of excitement with new learning opportunities and new people to work with, even though you may have some niggling anxieties about your ability to actually do the job.
  2. Stress: Teething anxieties may crystalize into stress, and you start to notice symptoms such as lack of sleep, inability to switch off, working longer hours, or physical symptoms such as sweating or high blood pressure.
  3. Chronic stress: The anxiety becomes persistent, and there may be behavioral changes, such as taking less care of your health and appearance, or you might become more prone to illness, such as recurring headaches, stomach upsets, or palpitations.
  4. Burnout: All the negative aspects of stress are amplified, which can result in self-doubt, pessimism, isolation, personal neglect, and even depression.
“Burnout is essentially a failure to manage stress successfully. Because of this, it is vital to recognise the symptoms and treat them early to avoid burnout. ”

What causes burnout?

There is no one single cause of burnout. It is usually a combination of many things. Research by the US National Library for Medicine (2020) surveyed people to find common causes of burnout:

  • 58% identified working long hours.
  • 52% said they were given too many tasks.
  • 47% felt they were ‘always on’, expected to be on call at any time.
  • 39% mentioned that they were not taking enough time off.

Common causes

Building on this research, we can identity several possible causes of workplace burnout.

  • High demands: People may be facing too many demands. Sometimes, people are overworked because of tight deadlines or lack of resources or people.
  • Insufficient resources: Does the technology enable you to do your work? Do you have adequate broadband and wifi? Are your laptops advanced enough for your tasks? Are there enough people on your team? And don’t forget your inner resources. Do you have the personal coping strategies to handle workplace stress?
  • Lack of control: When people feel they have a lack of influence over decision-making, this can lead to stress and burnout. In some circumstances, lack of control can lead to job insecurity, a major source of stress for employees.
  • Lack of clarity of purpose: As humans, we like to feel good about what we do. We want to have a sense that we have contributing. Ideally, your job will align with your values and purpose, giving your role a sense of personal mission. When you don’t feel this sense of purpose, lack of job satisfaction starts to creep in, leading to further stress.
  • Insufficient reward: This doesn’t just refer to financial rewards, such as salary or bonus. Rewards can come in the form of recognition, appreciation, and promotion. When there’s a lack of reward, employees’ motivation and job satisfaction can start to wane.
  • Lack of belonging: Most employees work in a team environment with colleagues. Ideally, this engenders a sense of community and shared purpose. Unfortunately, it can also lead to interpersonal conflicts with colleagues, due to lack of respect or inappropriate or aggressive behaviour. This can cause people to lose that sense of belonging, resulting in stress.
  • Unfairness: Not everything at work goes according to plan, and sometimes decisions, promotions, and work allocations can seem unfair. This may lead to accusations of favoritism or even discrimination. This creates a toxic environment that breeds stress.
  • Impact of technology: There is no doubt that technology advances have made many work processes more efficient. On the downside, however, technology has now made us ‘always available’ over multiple communication channels. This trend has been exacerbated by the move to remote working (see below). Stress levels are likely to increase when employees feel that they cannot switch off.
  • Society or industry norms: In some corporate cultures, employees see it as a badge of honor that they work long hours. Often, employees feel that they shouldn’t close their laptop before their boss. When these behaviors become the norm, they increase the risk of burnout.
  • Value conflicts: Many people find themselves in roles that conflict with their own personal code. Their work may cause them ethical conflicts. They may object to the company’s working practices or they may object to some of their clients’ services or practices.
  • Personal characteristics: A person’s characteristics can contribute to their stress.  Being familiar with your personal characteristics can help you build your personal brand. However, you do need to be aware of unhealthy tendencies. Some people like to feel busy and work long hours, some are perfectionists, and some always offer to take on extra workload.

Stress during Covid-19

According to a YouGov poll, 46% of employees believe that working from home has contributed to burnout. Whereas working from home had been seen as a perk of a job before the Covid-19 pandemic, the enforced working from home changed people’s attitude to this, especially as they tried to juggle work commitments with personal commitments, such as home schooling.

Many people felt almost ‘trapped’ at home. There was no clear boundary between workspace and home space. It might have been difficult to find a dedicated office or garden space to escape to or were stuck working (and living) with housemates around kitchen tables or from their bedrooms.

Source: More Happi
Source: More Happi

10 strategies to beat burnout

If you’ve identified yourself as being at risk from burnout, what strategies can you use?

  1. Identify early warning signs: Are you the first to arrive (or log on) and last to leave? Are you taking on too many big workloads compared to your colleagues?
  2. Identify triggers: Know what situations are likely to cause to stress. Are you aware of your stress symptoms? Do you recognize any changes in yourself? Keeping a journal is a good way to monitor this.
  3. Reduce external stressors: Are you being taken advantage of. People may be dumping work on you. Decline tasks. Take time off. Do you turn your computer off at the end of the day? Do you turn off work communication notifications? 
  4. Reduce internal stressors: Assess your beliefs and thinking patterns. Do you create extra stressors for yourself? Try to be more reasonable and compassionate to yourself.
  5. Increase resources: Do you have the resources and supports needed to do your job? Perhaps you need extra funding or may need to hire more people. Remember that inadequate technology can also be a source of stress.
  6. Self-care: Focus on self-care. Allow yourself enough time for healthy eating, sufficient sleep and rest, time in nature, and just precious moments of mindful breathing.
  7. Work-life balance: Take control of your schedule in order to maximize work-life balance. Structure your day and stick to your schedule. Have a dedicated workspace that sets a boundary between your work life and your personal life.
  8. Take breaks: Remember to take breaks. Get fresh air and go out into nature. Find an hour in the day (one segment or split across smaller ones) where you’re active, even if you’re still working.
  9. Mindfulness: Develop an understanding yourself and how your body feels at any time. Stay in the present moment. Calm the monkey mind and enjoy a sense of inner peace, even if it’s only temporary.
  10. Talk to someone: Don’t keep your problems to yourself. Talk to your employer or HR department. In some cases, you may need to consult a health professional.

The power of talking

When we keep our thoughts to ourselves, they can get jumbled up and confused. Talking to someone, like a professional coach or therapist, can help to unclutter the mind and see things more clearly. The process can enable you to come up with actions to tackle issues and create plans and act in a calm manner.

Note: Coaches are not therapists. If you suffer burnout, you need a therapist. Coaches can help you prevent burnout.

Talk before you decide

  • If you feel stressed, you may make snap decisions because you feel short of time or too irritable to fully investigate a situation. Talk to someone (especially your manager) before making decisions. This can help you to get perspective.
  • If you can’t talk to your manager talk to a peer or a supportive or professional network and use them as sounding boards. You don’t have to accept their advice. Just discussing the issue with others can give you the space to clarify the issue for yourself and help you get in touch with how you’re really feeling about the issue.
  • Keeping a journal can help you to monitor your stress levels. You might also decide to keep a scorecard of how you’re feeling in different areas of your life.

Talk to your manager

  • Remember, your manager can be your coach. You should be able to discuss anything with your manager. After all, if your boss is unaware of your issue, they can’t help you.
  • Prepare yourself for a conversation with your manager, based on your understanding of the manager’s leadership style and your relationship with them. You may wish to first bring up the issue of mental wellbeing in the company in a more general sense before going into the specifics of your case. There may already be supports available that you’re unaware of.
  • But what if you find it difficult to talk to your boss?
  • In medium-to-large organisations, you might first approach HR. You should be able to share, in confidence, how you feel. They should be able to help you get the resources and support you need to help you tackle the problem.
  • Consider talking to colleagues who are trusted friends. Avoiding latching on to people who are happy to listen to you moaning. You need people who actively listen and can offer advice.
  • Take your cue from leadership. Does it cultivate a culture where mental wellbeing is seen as a priority? If not, does the company align with your values?
  • If you feel the necessary support isn’t available withing the organisation, consider seeking it elsewhere.

Identifying potential burnout in one of your employees

Your organization should aim to create a culture where employees feel that they can approach their manager with mental wellbeing concerns. In addition, train managers so that they are more aware of the signs of burnout.

Remember, just because you’re having regular meetings with employees doesn’t mean that you know how they’re feeling or whether they’re struggling. They may not feel comfortable expressing their feelings to managers. Ensure that it is not seen as a weakness.


Whether you’re an employee or manager, mental burnout can be a serious risk for your organization. Knowing the warning signs, and having strategies in place to deal with them, can help ensure that employees are able to be productive and feel motivated without succumbing to excessive stress.

Paul Lewis
Paul Lewis

Paul is a 20+ year marketing veteran who began his career in Los Angeles with the global advertising agency BBDO. He then moved on to spend eight years at Experian, the world’s leading global information services company. Since 2013, he has been overseeing the management, creation and execution of social media marketing and sales enablement programs at global tech company Pitney Bowes.

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