What Kind of Burnout are You Facing?


By Yvonne Milosevic

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone not experiencing some degree of burnout these days. It’s a global condition afflicting workers across the employment spectrum. In a recent Deloitte survey of more than 1,000 respondents, 77% said they had experienced burnout at their current job. Furthermore, 91% reported that unmanaged stress impacts the quality of their work.

But the damage isn’t limited to the workplace; 83% of those surveyed said burnout negatively impacted their relationships. And loving your job doesn’t fully inoculate you from that fried feeling—64% of those respondents still said they get stressed frequently at work.  

To better identify and understand burnout and learn how to stave off its effects, we’re turning to the expert, executive coach Melody Wilding. She’s the author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work and writes extensively about imposter syndrome, burnout, and resiliency.

The costs of burnout are huge. Left unchecked, chronic stress contributes to depression, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders. —Melody Wilding

In her recent piece in Harvard Business Review, Wilding pushes back against our conventional understanding of burnout. Rather than boiling it down to just being busy and tired, she explores a more nuanced interpretation of workplace stress.  

“In my work as a coach for women and entrepreneurs, I’ve found that burnout … is about being demoralized for one of several reasons,” she explains. Wilding has identified three types of burnout and offers advice on overcoming each version.

Overload Burnout

This type of burnout is the easiest to recognize. Often, these are the workaholics drowning in tasks as they strive to maintain unrealistic output levels. They never unplug from work, and any attempts at work-life balance went out the window during the pandemic.

 “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.”

Warning signs include overlooking your own needs and personal life and having an excessive, unhealthy devotion to your career. If this sounds familiar, you can take steps immediately to reduce your stress. First, reject the notion that a successful career requires the complete absorption of your very being.   

Resting is not a reward for success. It’s a prerequisite for performance. —Melody Wilding

Start taking baby steps now to combat the draining effects of being in constant work mode. Reconnect with people and interests outside of the office. And for goodness sake, do not leave those unused vacation days on the table.

Under-Challenged Burnout

This version is the equally evil twin of the subtype we just covered. Also known as boreout syndrome, this happens when you have a mental underload at work. With boreout, there’s a general lack of purpose and intellectual stimulation. Even more dismaying, the under-challenged face little prospects for career progression in their current position. Your personal and professional growth comes to a halt, leaving you with the sense that your work has no meaning.

“Workers who feel their tasks are monotonous and unfulfilling tend to lose passion and become cynical and lethargic,” Wilding notes.

To combat this type of burnout, she suggests sufferers explore their curiosities and set a goal to learn new skills. “Making strides towards something that feels fun and meaningful to you creates a flywheel of momentum that can lift you out of a funk,” Wilding says.

Ask your supervisor if you can take on a new role or more meaningful tasks. You can also try job crafting, where you find new ways to incorporate your passions and skills into your daily work. By adding or dropping responsibilities outlined in your official job description, you can shape your role into one that brings more meaning to you—and your organization.

Neglect Burnout

The third type, also known as worn-out burnout, happens when people feel helpless in the face of challenges. “Neglect burnout occurs when you aren’t given enough structure, direction, or guidance in the workplace,” Wilding explains. Individuals feel like they can’t meet expectations and keep up with demands. Over time, Wilding says, this can make you feel incompetent, frustrated, and uncertain.

“When things at work don’t turn out as they should, those with neglect burnout become passive and stop trying,” she reveals. Learned helplessness takes over, making the worn-out worker unable to solve problems even when solutions are readily available, Wilding adds.

How can you tell if you’re suffering from this type of burnout? Ask yourself these two questions:

  • Do you immediately throw up your hands when you encounter obstacles or setbacks at work?
  • Do you feel dread when you wake up and must face another day at the office?

To overcome neglect burnout, Wilding says the first step is to regain a sense of agency over your role. Make a list of tasks you can remove from your plate by outsourcing or delegating. “A great place to start is by identifying situations where you feel an intense sense of resentment,” she advises. “This is an emotional signal that you need to put healthier limits in place.”

No matter which form of burnout you face, the key to improvement is focusing on what you can control. Also, prioritize self-care—meditation, journaling, socializing, exercise—to boost your mood and fortify your resilience. Burnout may feel overwhelming when you’re in the thick of it. But once you identify the source of your stress, you can chart a path toward recovery that ultimately leads to a happier, healthier life.