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August 24, 2022

The 3 kinds of burnout (and how to beat them)

Daily Briefing

    Writing for the Harvard Business Review, executive coach Melody Wilding details three different ways burnout can manifest itself—and offers tips on how to identify and address each type.

    Our take: 3 strategies to build baseline emotional support for your staff

    Type 1: 'Overload burnout'

    According to Wilding, the first type of burnout, known as "overload burnout," is the most common. It occurs when a person works "harder and more frantically to achieve success," which can ultimately damage a person's health and personal life.

    "Overload burnout typically affects highly dedicated employees who feel obligated to work at an unsustainable pace," Wilding writes. "As a result, they drive themselves to the point of physical and mental exhaustion."

    How to spot it:

    • Overlooking your own needs or personal life to meet work demands
    • Investing an unhealthy amount of time and energy in your career or ambitions
    • Jeopardizing your well-being to achieve your goals

    What to do about it:

    Research suggests that there are two ways to address overload burnout. First, Wilding recommends strengthening your emotion regulation skills by identifying and processing emotions and reframing any negative self-talk. For example, the belief that you need to work constantly to be successful can be reframed as "enjoying my life helps me become more successful."

    Second, Wilding recommends separating your self-worth from your work. "Consequently, by learning to keep a certain distance from work…," researchers Jesús Montero-Marín and Javier García-Campayo said, "individuals could avoid excessive involvement and prevent burnout."

    "Strive to diversify your identity — to create self-complexity — by investing in different areas of your life beyond work. You might decide to devote time to your role as a spouse, parent, or friend," Wilding adds.

    Type 2: 'Under-challenged burnout'

    Another way burnout manifests itself is when a person is "bored and not stimulated" by their work, leading to a lack of motivation.

    "People with under-challenged burnout may feel underappreciated and become frustrated because their role lacks learning opportunities, room for growth, or meaningful connection with co-workers and leadership," Wilding writes.

    In these situations, workers "tend to lose passion and become cynical and lethargic," Wilding adds. "They cope with the stress of being under-challenged through avoidance — distraction, dissociation, or thought suppression."

    How to spot it:

    • A desire to work on more challenging tasks
    • Feeling like your job does not provide development opportunities
    • Feeling like your current role hinders your ability to progress and develop your skillset

    What to do about it:

    When a person is experiencing this type of burnout, it can be difficult to care about anything, Wilding notes. In this case, she suggests lowering the stakes by exploring things that interest you.

    "Set a goal to learn a new skill in the next 30 days to kickstart your motivation. Start small and don't overwhelm yourself," Wilding suggests.

    "Making strides towards something that feels fun and meaningful to you creates a flywheel of momentum that can lift you out of a funk," she adds. "Even if the skill isn't directly related to your job, you'll likely find that the positive energy spills over to reinvigorate your passion for your work — or that it inspires your career to move in a new direction."

    Type 3: 'Neglect burnout'

    According to Wilding, the third type of burnout is called "neglect burnout," which "can result from feeling helpless in the face of challenges."

    This type of burnout occurs when people do not have "enough structure, direction, or guidance in the workplace." In this situation, workers may have a hard time meeting demands and expectations. "Over time, this can make you feel incompetent, frustrated, and uncertain," Wilding writes.

    How to spot it:

    • Not trying after something does not go as planned in the workplace
    • Giving up when met with challenges
    • Feeling demoralized by the thought of going to work in the morning

    What do to about it:

    When a person is experiencing this type of burnout, Wilding suggests looking for ways to reclaim "a sense of agency over your role." To do this, she suggests creating a to-do list and identifying the things you can outsource, delegate, or delay.

    "Look for obligations you need to say 'no' to all together and hone the skill of setting stronger boundaries," Wilding writes. "A great place to start is by identifying situations where you feel an intense sense of resentment. This is an emotional signal that you need to put healthier limits in place."

    Ultimately, Wilding suggests focusing on the things you can control. "Outside of office hours, be bullish about self-care," she suggests. "Create routines and rituals that ground you, such as a daily walk or journaling practice."

    "When you feel helpless about changing tides at work, some semblance of predictability is essential," she adds. (Wilding, Harvard Business Review, 8/22)

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