Overworking has become one of the biggest problems of the modern office. This behavior and its consequence – burnout – are holding many employees back. They have become especially prominent in the last two years, as many people started working from home.
The pandemic has shown just how difficult it is to differentiate between personal and working time. Hence, many employees have started working longer hours. This has, in turn, caused a concerning amount of overworking.
You may be wondering But wait, what is overworking and burnout exactly? And we are here to answer those questions and show you the best techniques to avoid them.
Let’s Define the Problem
It is extremely difficult to approach a problem if you aren’t sure what it encompasses. Hence, we need to define overworking and burnout.
Overworking, aka The Cause
Overworking is the activity of working more than what you’re capable of. Most often it includes working overtime and happens over a relatively long period.
The reasons for overworking vary significantly. They include
- An increased workload a person can’t handle on their own
- Shorter deadlines
- Not being able to stop working
- Wanting to show enthusiasm for the work a person does
Burnout, aka The Consequence
Burnout is a combination of mental and physical consequences a person experiences after a prolonged period of overwork. The most common signs of burnout are emotional exhaustion, detachment from your work and other aspects of life, and the lack of feeling accomplished no matter how much you achieve. These warning signs result in a large number of concrete symptoms.
So, how can you tackle these problems? We are here to help! This post will examine the ins and outs of overwork and burnout – how they happen, the symptoms they cause, and the best ways to recognize and battle them.
The Difference Between Stress and Burnout
Let’s be honest – feeling stressed is never pleasant. However, there is a difference between feeling overwhelmed and actual burnout. The most important one is that stress is temporary. Hence, it is possible to bounce back from a period of stress.
On the other hand, burnout is a lasting syndrome and doesn’t stop once your workload is reduced. It usually requires a bit of time off of work (and other obligations) to completely heal from it.
How to Recognize You’re Overworking?
Working hard is a staple of the current business world. Simply put – you won’t be able to achieve your goals, be it a raise, praise, recognition, a promotion, or any other reward. Yet, going too far and dedicating too much time to work will catch up with anyone.
The consequences of overwork and burnout are serious and manifest through emotional, physical, and behavioral difficulties that only increase in intensity if you don’t address and fix the problems. Unfortunately, the constant stress and attempts to do more than what you’re capable of can and will slowly take over all aspects of your life. The most extreme results of overworking and burnout are, unfortunately, serious illness and death in some cases.
How Does It Start?
Many jobs demand employees stay and work overtime now and again. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, even though many employees find it tiring. Simply put, some occupations depend on time (i.e. a fiscal period or holiday season). This means some elbow grease is needed from time to time.
However, if staying late and bringing your work home becomes a habit, rather than an exception, you are probably going to become overwhelmed after a while. Simply put, humans aren’t designed to handle prolonged, and especially constant, states of stress. No matter how urgent the situation is, or how motivated you are to tackle a problem, doing so every day will catch up with you.
That is why it’s so important to recognize the signs of overwork and burnout.
As we have previously mentioned, there are three groups of symptoms.
– A constant state of tiredness
-Bodily aches (head, muscles, and back are the most common, but gastrointestinal problems occur as well)
-Immune system weakening
-Insomnia or conscious sleep deprivation
-Lowered or increased appetite
– Decrease in motivation
-Doubt in your abilities
-Reduced sense of accomplishment (feeling indifferent toward your work)
-Feelings of negativity, helplessness, or hopelessness
-No work/life balance
The Stages of Burnout
As you can see, there is a whole laundry list of symptoms related to burnout and overwork. Even if you don’t experience all of them, it doesn’t mean they’re not significantly impacting your life. Additionally, burnout doesn’t appear at once. This syndrome is extremely insidious, as it comes in gradually. You may notice the problems once they’ve piled up and became unbearable. However, you’ll probably notice them only when burnout comes into full swing.
Here is how to recognize the initial symptoms.
- The Honeymoon Phase
Being enamored with your work is, believe it or not, the first stage of burnout. There are a lot of positive feelings – i.e. being capable to handle the burden of a new task, pride due to your success, excitement about your newfound energy, etc. The name of the phase comes from the first stages of relationships and marriage, as most people don’t see any faults in their new partners. You will feel energized, motivated and happy to take on more tasks.
- The Onset of Stress Phase
This stage can be described as starting to recognize both the demands of the work and how they affect you. Your motivation is reduced, which leads to moderate stress. The stress isn’t constant, but you feel it more frequently as time progresses. Your focus will also worsen and it will become more difficult to get the same results you used to. Additionally, your physical health will take a toll, as the initial fatigue will commence. Finally, your social and personal lives may have to be put on the back burner due to your work obligations.
- The Chronic Stress Phase
The intervals between stressful periods will decrease until you become completely overwhelmed. At this point, most aspects of your life will begin to suffer from the stress. When it comes to business, your motivation will be slowly dwindling. This can cause a vicious catch 22, as your results affect your motivation and your motivation decreases your results even further. You start to dedicate more time to work, not because you want to give your 120%, but because you can’t stay up-to-date with your workload. This, in turn, impacts your professional and personal relationships.
- The Burnout Phase
The accumulated and constant stress will bring you to your limit. Once you cross that line you will become more and more overwhelmed with work-related issues. This is bound to consume your personal time and relationships as well, as the feelings of self-doubt grow. In other words, your behavior will change to the point when your friends, family, and significant other will notice and be affected by it. finally, this is the stage when physical symptoms, like constant tiredness and pain, will become a common occurrence in your life.
- Habitual Burnout Phase
Being in the burnout phase for an extended time leads to the worsening of all symptoms mentioned above. Your mental health will deteriorate, as well as your relationships and the state of your body. You will not be able to bear your usual workload even though you are giving it your best, so the stress caused by work will only increase.
There are two options in front of you at this point – you can either give in or face the problems and their causes head-on and make changes to your behavior to improve your overall state.
How to Reduce or Eliminate the Symptoms
Battle Feeling Tired
As you can see, the physical exhaustion doesn’t come in all at once. Unfortunately, this symptom of overworking and burnout creeps in very gradually, so you won’t notice it taking over. However, at some point, you will become extremely aware of it.
The lack of sleep caused by work is the biggest culprit, but there are also other factors, like the lack of exercise and changes in your eating habits caused by overworking.
Simply put, we can only endure a certain amount of activity in our daily lives. That means that as your workload increases, you’ll have to dedicate less attention to the other aspects of your life.
The most obvious step you can take to improving your work habits and, in turn, your overall state, is starting to take your time seriously. That means understanding your priorities, as well as the amount of time you can give them. Using a time tracker, to conduct a time audit is a great way to see whether you are using your working hours well.
Once the time audit is over, you will be able to look at the results and find the biggest distractors, as well as the tasks that give you the most trouble. Additionally, you will be able to see how much time each of your weekly work activities takes.
Finally, and most importantly, you will discover the times of day when you are most productive. Even though these periods can be short and far apart, knowing when they start is a great first step to battling overworking and burnout.
Use the knowledge you accumulated to avoid distractions for a while. Use productivity tools to prevent you from wasting time on social media or other ways you waste working time. Then compare your results to the ones before this change. Also, don’t blame yourself for the distractions.
Most websites are designed to keep their visitors online as long as possible. It is only natural to turn to them when you’re feeling stressed. However, reducing the time you spend on work-unrelated sites will help you achieve more during your work hours, in turn reducing the need for overtime.
The time audit will also give you an insight into your most productive periods. You could start time blocking, or simply moving your daily work routine around until you find a system that works for you. The most common tactic people use is using their most productive periods to tackle the biggest and most challenging tasks.
We understand this may sound counterproductive to a person struggling with burnout syndrome. However, overworking demands some time to breathe for you to be able to gather some energy for the rest of the day. Hence, don’t skip lunch breaks, and give yourself short moments to relax during the workday.
Business vs Personal Time
Once you start using your personal time for business it’s very difficult to stop. Especially so if you’re working remotely. However, you will have to draw a line and allow yourself some free time you’ll dedicate to your own well-being. Whether it’s watching a movie, reading, spending time with friends and family, or something completely different, it is important to give yourself an outlet and time to renew your energy.
Hence, you should start reducing overtime. We are aware that this isn’t an easy feat, especially if your workload is looming over you. But, even 15 minutes in the beginning can mean a lot.
Not dedicating the entirety of your time to work will help you focus on productivity and effectiveness (aka quality) rather than the hours you work (quantity).
Fixing Your Sleep Schedule
It is clear that more sleep on a regular basis will mean feeling more energized and reducing how tired you are. Yet, regulating your sleep schedule can be a truly difficult task. There are two reasons for this.
- You need more time to finish your tasks
- You can’t sleep due to stress and overthinking
As you can see, we have another catch-22 to tackle.
Delaying sleep due to work
You will find yourself in a situation where you simply cannot go to sleep because of an incoming deadline. However, if this becomes a standard occurrence for you, your health can suffer in many ways. Sleep is crucial in leading a healthy and happy life, and prolonged periods of sleep deprivation can cause permanent damage to your mental and physical health.
Hence, if you are in the habit of delaying sleep to get more work done in a day, you need to reconsider this method, as it will not work in your favor after some time.
Setting up a regular sleep schedule means having some time away from all electronic devices. This includes your work laptop. Hence, you will have to gradually reduce the amount of time you dedicate to work at home. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working from a home office, or bring your work home.
You will need to set up some boundaries and stick to them. Most importantly, our work computer must be turned off after a certain time. You can start by setting a timer to signify the end of your workday. Some people will need two timers – one to let them know they should be finishing for the day soon, and the second one to bring a definitive stop to the workday.
Dealing with insomnia caused by stress and overwork isn’t easy either. There you are, in your bed, trying to get some much-needed rest. Yet, your mind is still reeling and can’t stop focusing on all the work you need to do tomorrow. In this case, you will also have to set up a bedtime routine.
Avoid caffeinated drinks – drinking coffee or tea right before going to sleep is counterproductive. If your cravings are serious, you can use a decaffeinated option.
Calming physical and mental activity – calming yoga is a great way to relax before sleeping. It will also help you get in tune with your body and activate muscle groups you’re not using due to prolonged periods in your work chair. You can also try guided meditation for better sleep to get your mind as far from thoughts about work as possible.
Improving Your Immune System
There are many warning signs that your immunity is dwindling due to stress. However, many people are ignoring these signs to be able to finish their daily workload. Additionally, stress caused by overworking can lead anyone to unhealthy food choices. Fast food and stress-eating, as well as an increase or decrease in appetite, can be detrimental to your health. However, they may also seem like an inevitable part of your career.
Humans are not machines, but the different aspects of their lives are intertwined and affect each other either positively or negatively. Once you start paying attention to your body’s needs, you will be able to fix the underlying problems – albeit gradually. We have already talked about the importance of rest and sleep on your immune system, so let’s see what else you can do.
Managing Appetite Fluctuations
The way we take care of our bodies begins with sustenance. Constant stress has many people too exhausted or lacking time to cook a healthy meal. As a result, many people will skip meals, while others will turn to fast food and increase the amount of food they eat in a day to cope with the stress. As understandable as this is, you will have to work on your eating habits to battle overworking.
Most people have started diets at some point in their life. And only a few of them were successful in the long run. That is why it’s important to start small.
· Incorporate fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet instead of snack food
· Try cooking one healthy meal a week, and increase as you feel more capable of taking care of yourself
· Don’t skip meals while at work. This way you won’t lose energy, nor will you overeat once you come home
· See your doctor and start taking vitamin supplements – vitamin D will help you with skin conditions and depression, while vitamin B will increase your appetite and help you sleep, for example
· Diversify your diet as much as possible
If you are suffering from stress-induced gastric problems this is a great way to find the foods that reduce them.
Finally, if you are experiencing headaches and fatigue, you could be dehydrated. Try drinking more water (not coffee or tea!) to keep yourself hydrated and feeling more energized.
Reducing Mood Changes Caused by Overworking
Feeling physically and mentally strained from overworking is bound to cause consequences to anyone’s mood. Especially so if the period of overworking doesn’t end and you start suffering from burnout. That is why it’s important to try to have some time for yourself.
Work cannot be the only thing you dedicate your time to. try to take out a little time each day to do something you enjoy. Talking to a friend or visiting them, going for a walk, reading and listening to music, revisiting an old hobby that gave you a creative outlet are only some of the things you can do to improve your mood.
That is to say, you will need to separate the time you invest in your work and your free time. this can be difficult, so, yet again, we suggest starting small. Those 15 minutes you ‘’stole’’ from your usual overtime hours? A great chance to call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.
We need to get serious for a second now. Unfortunately, overworking and burnout could be just some of the causes for an underlying mental health issue. If you find yourself not being able to enjoy things you once loved, or connect to people closest to you, you may want to talk to your doctor. Constant stress can cause depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, and it is important to check in with yourself in time so you can get the help you need.
Improving Your Mental State
Once work starts consuming your life the decline of your mental health is inevitable. Namely, you are losing one of the most important resources – time. that means you have no time to rest, see friends, engage in hobbies or other activities that used to bring you joy.
Overworking will consume your sources of happiness without giving you an alternative. As we have previously stated, the sense of pride disappears once burnout commences. In other words, your days will be consumed by an activity that seems endless and thankless. Unfortunately, this can lead to chronic fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
Mental health is still a taboo in many parts of the world. It is especially difficult to express that you are going through a difficult time in your workplace. Simply put, the business can’t suffer due to the employees being unhappy. It goes so far that some companies decide to neglect even the basic physiological needs of their workers, denying them bathroom breaks.
However, most workplaces aren’t that extreme. Hence, most people will have the opportunity to take a break now and again. We have already talked about taking breaks during work hours. However, it is equally important to leave your work at work.
The Problem of Home Offices
The last two years have brought an extreme increase in work from home. This means that many people had to figure out how to divide their work and private space and time. Here are just some of the problems people who have started working from home face:
- Learning to use new technology to communicate with the rest of their team
- Working from home with children and babies
- Setting up a home office space
- Sharing said home office with a significant other or roommates
- Logging off once the shift is done
Companies have seen an increase in productivity since the pandemic started. However, the added pressures of working from home have accumulated and only make the consequences of overworking and burnout more intense.
The Impact of the Pandemic
Covid has significantly impacted most people’s mental health. Many people have lost their loved ones or suffered long-term consequences of the illness. However, even if the pandemic hasn’t impacted you personally, it is absolutely normal to feel overwhelmed by it.
Burnout happens due to prolonged exposure to stress. Many people have had to change their lives significantly and keep enduring the constant pressure. Remaining healthy, following all the guidelines, not being able to travel (either for leisure or a simple visit to your family) and not knowing what comes next definitely add to said pressure and make burnout inevitable.
What Can You Do?
Battling so many factors at all times is a harrowing task. It may seem like life is becoming unbearable. Especially so if you can’t find the time or the energy to do anything more than surviving another day.
We keep insisting for you not take drastic measures. This is very deliberate, as forcing yourself to make large changes to your life and habits while experiencing burnout due to overworking and other factors usually doesn’t end up well. Yet, you will have to start.
Physical activity is a great way to start getting some serotonin flowing. Now, if you’ve ever made a New year’s decision, you know very well that large changes tend to be effective only short-term. So, what do you do?
You start with a walk around your neighborhood. You do 15 minutes of yoga or cardio. You pick up those dumbbells, even if you have to start with the lightest ones. You go for a swimming session, a bike ride, or a hike. And then you repeat it once you have the time and energy. It isn’t a lot, but it will give you a boost in energy and mood. And maybe the next day at work won’t be so stressful. Plus, you’ll have something nice to look forward to.
Renewing contacts can seem scary. However, there has never been a better time to do so than right now. The pandemic can be a great excuse to pick up the phone and say ‘’Hey, I just thought of you and wanted to know how you’ve been doing’’. This is especially important if you’ve neglected your social life due to overworking.
It is important to see your friends and loved ones in person. However, if that isn’t possible (as adult friendships turn into promises of hanging out once you’re both free), a call or video chat can be a great alternative.
Once you are in a bad place mentally, it is easy to start feeling like you’re a burden. But the truth of the matter is, most people will be thrilled if you reach out to them.
Asking for help is one of the scariest possibilities in many people’s perception. However, it may be the best option for you. Whether it’s simply venting to a loved one, or asking for professional help, this is a great way to relieve some of the stress.
Overworking vs Productivity
It isn’t difficult to deduce that overworking will cause you trouble at work. Depending on the stage of burnout, your results will dwindle and can lead to even more stress as you’re wondering whether your superiors will notice and give you trouble.
Even though you may think you will be more productive if you constantly work overtime, many studies show the opposite is true. A 40-hour workweek has been the staple of most workplaces around the world for a reason. Working more than that long-term is what causes burnout. On the other hand, there are more and more companies and organizations looking into a 4-day workweek, and seeing great results.
In other words, you are actively harming yourself and your career by working more. The simple explanation for this is that you become tired and cannot focus, so your productivity decreases. In other words, you’re working harder, but not smarter.
Necessary vs Unnecessary Overtime
We have already stated that overtime is necessary in some cases. This is especially prominent in the so-called crunch time, which usually doesn’t occur often.
Sometimes, projects will take more time than you’ve assessed. And most clients will expect them delivered on time. This means that employees of your company will have to put in some extra effort and often stay in the offices longer than their business hours. Sometimes, they will also work from home.
This is necessary overtime. However, there are some cases when an employee will stay longer even during the relatively low-traffic periods. This is a cause for concern for superiors and business owners. There are two reasons for this to happen.
- The employee is wasting time during regular work hours or simply stays longer in the offices to reap the benefits of overtime payment policies.
- The employee is overwhelmed with their current workload, which may lead to overworking.
Whatever the case may be, any good employer will look into ways to reduce overtime.
Why Should an Employer Care?
You may read that final sentence and not understand it. Of course, time theft is bad, but isn’t more work better for the company? We are here to debunk that.
There is a reason overtime regulations exist in many countries. They most often regulate both the pay an employee has to receive for overtime and the maximum number of overtime hours per month. Namely, even though there may be a need for more hours, the laws are there to protect employee wellbeing.
However, this isn’t the only reason for them. The laws also have companies in mind, as there are multiple downsides to the business itself.
The Quality of Work Will Decline
The exhausted your employees become, the more mistakes they will make. Simply put, people don’t work as well when they’re well-rested compared to when they’re overworking. The mistakes they make can range from almost unimportant to crucial. In other words, it is in your best interest to have a well-rested team on board.
You Will Miss Deadlines
The mistakes we have mentioned in the previous paragraph will lead to the need for detailed revisions, or, even worse, the clients will demand you to go over the undetected problems. In other words, you will have to do the same job twice. This usually means delegating tasks to other employees, who will – you guessed it – have to work overtime and subject themselves to overworking. To conclude, the fatigue will spread and your clients will not be happy.
Once an employee enters the stage of habitual burnout, they will be able to accomplish very little during their working hours. This will lead to either you demoting or firing them, or to them quitting on their own. You want neither of these cases to become a staple of your company.
- Your reputation as an employer will decrease, as word spreads very quickly. Especially on the internet. That means you will lose many opportunities to hire experts and employees that show potential, as they are very likely to search the online comments on their potential new companies
- People who aren’t experiencing burnout are more likely to leave as well. Simply put, the morale in the company can’t be high if many employees are leaving due to overworking. The costs of high turnover are significant, since you will have to recruit, interview, and train new people regularly, even for the lowest positions.
As you can see, overworking isn’t good for the business either. Your reputation with clients and employees, as well as the overall company productivity, is bound to decrease. Hence, you should look into reducing overworking and burnout as much as you can.
What Can an Employer Do?
Preventing overworking isn’t easy if you can’t catch its warning signs. Hence, it is important to monitor employee activity as carefully as possible without overstepping into micromanagement. Time tracking solutions are the perfect way to do this. Especially the solutions that rely on timesheets instead of screenshots and monitoring user activity.
The greatest thing about timesheet software is that it offers many different types of reports. So, in a nutshell, you’ll receive both information on how your employees are doing, and crucial data on the most important metrics for your business. This complete overview will help you predict problems and identify them before they consume your organization.
Secondly, you will have to encourage your employees to take breaks. This can be tricky, especially when leading a remote team. Additionally, you should encourage all employees (not only the struggling ones) to use up their paid time off and get away from the company for a little while.
If your country doesn’t mandate paid time off, you should make sure to make a decision on the company level. This will encourage your employees to get some much-needed rest.
Finally, if you miss the warning signs of an employee experiencing burnout, be as understanding as possible if they come and ask for help. delegate a part of their workload or let them go for a vacation if possible.
Being understanding and investing in the overall health of your employees are practical ways of showing that you are understanding and fair to them. In other words, you will practically demonstrate the fact that you’ve created a positive business environment. This automatically means lower turnover and a better reputation in your industry.
How to Approach Your Employer
We are aware that many companies don’t have the means to look after their employees as much as they wish to. In other words, you, as an employee, will have to talk to your managers or higher-ups and inform them about your overworking.
This isn’t an easy task, especially since we cannot give universal one-size-fits-all advice that will work for each company. Hence, we have divided our advice into three categories
· Taking some time off
· Explaining your situation
· Plan B
Taking Time Off
This is the simplest solution, as it doesn’t require much work or risks. Take some paid time off, go for a vacation or a staycation and dedicate your time to rest and establishing healthier habits. Make this time a starting off point for better organization of your workload and try not to fall into your old ways once you’re back at work.
The negative side of this piece of advice is that some countries (the US, for example) don’t have a paid time off policy.
Another risk is that once you’re in a chronic burnout phase, a vacation simply won’t be enough to recover. That is why it’s important to recognize the first signs of burnout. You should ask for some time off as soon as you realize you’re overworking.
Explaining Your Situation
Your approach depends on the size of the company, department, or team, as well as the general company culture. That is to say, if you can be open and honest with your superior, it is possible to explain your situation. Letting your manager know you’re experiencing burnout can be quite a balancing act as well.
Firstly, managers and other higher-ups carry a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. You can connect with them by sharing your common priorities and goals, and explaining that you cannot manage your workload properly.
It is crucial not to blame the manager for your current workload. That is why you’ll need to be extremely diplomatic. Rely on the assumption that they aren’t aware of just how much you have on your plate.
Create a List
You should list all of your obligations to illustrate just how much you’re dealing with. The management may be forgetting about earlier assignments you still have to do while also battling the new obligations.
Once your superior sees you are truly overwhelmed, you can start looking for a solution together. This usually means revisiting your priorities and delegating some of the less important tasks to other team members. Another option is to keep your current workload, but get more time to complete all tasks. this will reduce, or, in the best case, eliminate the need for overworking.
It is important to determine your biggest priorities together. You may have opposing opinions, and you will most likely have to adjust to what is in the company’s best interest. What’s important is that your obligations won’t be as crushing as before.
So, you’ve tried meditating, walking, reaching out to your friends, tried to sleep more. And you still feel fatigued. So much so, that dealing with anything that’s more than mere survival feels like a burden. This is a clear sign that you’ll have to take a more drastic step and recover for as long as possible.
As you can imagine, it is basically impossible to get that long of a leave. Hence, you will need to make sure you have enough savings to get through the period off from work. however, having that time to yourself and being able to establish healthier habits and rest properly will be worth it.
Once you are ready to get back to work, you should consider the reasons that caused the burnout in the first place. In other words, you’ll have to make sure your new job gives you enough freedom to manage your time and has an appropriate workload.
Overworking is a common workplace problem. Its causes vary, but most of them stem from not being able to handle the current workload.
We are very aware of the fact that not everyone is in the situation to afford some time off to be able to rest. However, we also tried to give you some tips on focusing on your health and creating more sustainable work habits.
We sincerely hope you found at least some tips that could help you. Don’t be afraid to modify them to accommodate your specific situation either.
Finally, understand that it will take some time to completely recover. Don’t take on more responsibility than you can handle as soon as you feel better, as this could be just the first step, and overworking again could push you back into burnout.
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