Updated: Jun 8, 2022
Feeling emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, or overwhelmed by stress? You're experiencing burnout. Find out what are the main causes of burnout at work.
Workplace stress is a silent killer.
It increases blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of having a heart attack. Our life quality may be at risk too, as it is not unusual for stress to be accompanied by an anxiety disorder or depression.
We become irritated easily. We lose interest in things we are usually excited about. And when you close your eyes, ready to get through the rough days, you find yourself having a sleep disorder.
If you think it’s just “one of those days”, it’s not. It’s a symptom of something more serious: burning out and losing the passion for your work.
Whether we work to live or live to work, we don’t want to die young. Yes, workplace stress can kill us - literally. Even the most passionate employee can suddenly be trapped into burnout.
To live a long, happy, and more productive life, we need to avoid burnout. And before we’re able to do that, we need to know the causes. Let’s explore the question: “What are the causes of burnout at work?”
Losing Your Passion - When the flame is burning out
The flame is indeed eternal. It is always there, igniting your passion. But if you fail to keep it in check for too long, it will burn you out. You need to resolve the problem immediately before it drags you down.
While burnout will eventually go away with “little treatment”, or even without you having to do anything, it goes in the constant loop. The cycle will surely hit you again, stronger. If it is left untreated, it may cause you to lose your passion permanently. As a result, you will no longer have the excitement and extra energy to walk another mile as you used to.
You can spot common causes of burnout immediately. What are the causes of burnout at work? Here are some of the workplace conditions that contribute to giving up on the reasons you love your work in the first place.
1. Emotional Fatigue from the “Same Old” Routines
Every business needs to go in a predictable and measurable way. That’s why there are routines. But doing too many of them for too long can put you on the road to burnout. You’re tired and whatever you do at work is simply robotic, no emotion attached - the passion is gone.
We take our routine for granted, but it’s one of the causes of burnout. Paulo Coelho put it this way, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal.”
Get the work done, go home, and repeat. This cycle will keep on going. Sometimes the boredom will fade away. But when it hits you back, you might be unprepared. Ignoring the nature of this cycle will ruin not only your career but also your personal matters.
The first victim might be your creativity. The next one could be your passion. That’s why the best video games are the ones with sandbox modes. Explore, find the unexpected, create your world, do things differently. Creativity and enthusiasm are your longtime friends. If you put your job into a “sandbox” state of mind, you will experience something fresh and diverse. After that, you might rediscover your interest.
Every person is unique. But in many cases at work, you’re just one of the many cogs in the big machine. You feel that you’re just a tool. The lack of personalization can turn you into a cynical person. It’s hard to keep the normal, well, normal.
Albert Camus said, “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to appear to be normal.”
You don’t trust your colleagues and the people around you. You feel that everyone is driven by greed; they do things because of their desire to fulfill their ambition. The world we live in is the world of materialism. That sort of feeling will drag you to cynicism. Your family might be the ones who notice this. When you realize you’re in this alarming state, make sure you’re aware that this is only the symptom, not the culprit.
Don’t push yourself too hard.
3. Lack of a Sense of Individual Achievement
Being a part of something big can nullify personal accomplishment. In the long term, it can lead to the lack of a sense of individual achievement. You see yourself as a failure. You “haven’t done much”. We tend to blame ourselves for the little reward and promotion we have had these past several years. We blame our company, the people around us, sometimes family, and the world. You carry the world on your shoulder. It costs too much.
Again, this is just another symptom that tends to magnify and dramatize negative thoughts.
Slow down. Share the load. Or as Lena Horne said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
4. Being drifted, distracted… lost
Like a pilot, you must decide on a destination before you get your plane airborne. One can’t just take off, be “creative”, and “expect the unexpected” just to get the excitement back. You need to know your destination. Sometimes we have drifted away from our initial life idealism that we forget where we’re originally going.
Remember the time when you had a purpose? Remember how alive you felt? Your purpose drives your mind and soul. Let’s correct your course and get back to your path.
It all starts with the “why” question. Simon Sinek famously said the “why questions" will determine the course of your life. Ask yourself, “Why do I even bother to do all of these things? Why did I end up reading this article to clean up the mess I made at my workplace?”
Go “home” to your initial purpose. Maybe you originally want to work for your family, contribute to charity nearby (the best cure for depression and anxiety), or run your own business. Whatever your initial purpose is, rediscover it.
Remove your disturbances. Redeploy your battle formation. Reconcile. Put yourself together. And get ready for the next engagement.
When life gets blurry, adjust your focus.
5. Trying to please everyone
Steve Jobs once said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Sell ice cream.” He wanted to point out that it’s impossible to please everyone. Even ice-cream sellers can’t please those who don’t like ice cream.
It’s a futile effort. The one that will drain you and leave you nowhere. You’ll get overwhelmed in the process and feel the pressure growing. There’s only one moon, you can’t promise it to everyone.
Focus on yourself first. You matter.
6. Staying in the comfort zone for too long
The Comfort zone, as the name suggested, is comfortable. Everything is manageable and predictable; there’s no sudden surprise, no unknown danger. This is the place to avoid any changes as changes are unpleasant.
But it’s also boring. As John Assaraf puts it, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” Staying in your comfort zone will kill your passion. Your life will become dull. It’s like watching a movie while always knowing what will happen in every scene. It’s no fun.
What you should do instead is to find your safe zone. It’s your place to step back, reconcile, calibrate, and refuel before soaring back into the vast sky. It’s the place that shelters you before going out to fight another battle.
When you lose your passion, take a break and enter your safe zone.
7. Emotional collapse
Just like your muscles, your emotions can also get tired if you use them excessively. Dealing with difficult customers, dealing with difficult co-workers, being overloaded with work, intense interaction with superiors, are some of the reasons for the inner fatigue.
Emotional fatigue can occur to anyone with any kind of job. Many employers and employees don’t have the understanding and the ability to manage this emotive tiredness. Regardless of their positions in the company hierarchy, most of us do not have the knowledge nor the chance to absorb how to cope with this.
To deal with emotional collapse, we need to take time off from work. Never make a crucial decision when you’re in this state. Don’t forget to start a healthier routine, such as drinking a lot of water, getting enough sleep, and exercising.
If slowing down doesn’t work, take a break.
8. Toxic workplace
This is one of the highest stress contributors which can lead to burnout or the absence of passion. It can emerge from bad leadership, poor communication, gossipy behavior, or simply an unmotivated work environment.
One indication that a workplace is toxic is high employee turnover. “People don’t leave jobs, “ said Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi, “They leave toxic work cultures.” You can jump in and make a change. But it will probably add unnecessary pressure to your life. Is it worth it? Probably not, but you decide. There’s not much we can do unless you’re a high-profile employee who authorizes most of your company’s decisions. Pick your battles wisely.
If you can’t do anything about it, you can leave. But don’t do it rashly.
9. Little to no reward
One of the basic human needs is self-recognition. Having a meaningful life is not only about the career and the monetary reward, but also about self-actualization. There’s something far beyond money and position that touches the very personal aspect of every person’s life.
Reward interrelates in a straight line with motivation, enthusiasm, and even inspiration. Harvard Business Review advocates that 82% of Americans don’t feel their bosses are aware of their hard work. Furthermore, 40% of Americans also identified they would put more sweat into their effort if they were recognized more regularly.
When your company gives little or no reward at all, we can safely say it is as alarming as a toxic workplace.
Dale Carnegie said, “People work for money, but go the extra mile for recognition, praise, and rewards.”
Burning In - Reignite the Passion
What are the causes of burnout at work? We’ve listed down nine of them. The next step is to find a way to avoid or cure the burnout and reignite the passion. There are a few ways that you can do this, such as going on a spiritual retreat to recharge your soul or continuing your learning journey to improve yourself.
Don’t forget to also talk to your boss about the options. And if all fails, be ready with your exit plan. Polish your CV and start looking for better opportunities elsewhere. But do it wisely. Ask yourself whether quitting will make your life happier in the long run.
At the end of the day, your most priceless investment is in yourself. To stay productive, you must take care of your happiness and your health. You are not living alone, don’t exhaust your life only for your company. You still have your family, friends, and yourself.
To know the best step to take to improve your life, ask yourself. Start with the “why” question. The answer is there.