It might seem too early in the year to talk about burnout, but the reality is overwork, overwhelm and burnout don’t follow an annual calendar. In fact, the pressures of a new set of goals can drive us even further into the habits that contribute to our growing overwhelm at work.

What’s worse, we often don’t recognize the signs of pending burnout until it’s too late. That leads talented, hard-working employees to throw in the towel or risk fallout from unsustainable workloads and workplace structures - with our health and relationships taking the brunt of our collapse.

We recently talked about the important balance between work and leisure, and how as an American workforce we’ve overemphasized work at the expense of deeply important, restorative leisure time. We’re going to dive deeper into the idea of leisure and what it really means to take a break, but we won’t feel truly motivated to trade working hours for rest and relaxation if we don’t face our burnout epidemic head-on. It’s important to understand exactly what burnout is, how it happens, and the warning signs so we can stop it before our health, relationships and yes, our work, suffers.

Burnout Syndrome, a phrase coined as far back as the 1970s, is a “psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job, [resulting in] an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” According to research conducted at UC Berkeley, 28% of working Americans are facing burnout as we speak, and that number jumps to over 60% if you include those who don’t self-identify as burned out but exhibit the same signs and symptoms, including:

  • Exhaustion

  • Cynicism and detachment

  • Sense of ineffectiveness

  • Anger

  • Insomnia

  • Substance abuse and addiction

  • Depersonalization of others (often coworkers)

  • Physical illness

Are you scared yet? Burnout Syndrome is real, and it cripples us at work - not to mention in our personal lives. And of course, we can be burned out personally as well (for example, being primary caregiver for children or aging parents or dealing with ongoing marital problems) and burnout in one area of our lives simply feeds into others.

According to Gallup, 67% of employees say they are sometimes, very often or always burned out at work. That leaves them 63% more likely to take a sick day, 23% more likely to visit the emergency room, and over twice as likely to leave their job when they otherwise would have stayed. Yikes! That means burnout has real consequences for organizations, not just individuals.

If you recognize burnout in your own life, your coworkers or your employees, there is hope: by reimagining what we want our workdays to look like, we can structure how we spend our time - and how much of it - in a way that properly balances productivity with our health and wellbeing. A right view of rest and an elevation of leisure in our priorities is an important next step to preventing burnout, which in turn allows us to continue to do our best work without the sacrifice of our families, friendships, and communities.

Are you experiencing any of the signs of burnout? What first step can you take today to step off the burnout hamster wheel and prioritize true rest? We’ll share some suggestions soon!