Are You Burned Out? Or Is It Something Else?

Lack of engagement is inevitable, regardless of whether you are feeling pressured by a deadline or tension from a difficult work relationship. When these feelings of work stress become overwhelming, many people automatically label their experience as burnout. Not all feelings related to work stress can be equated with burnout. Identifying your stress-related emotions and analyzing them is the first step to finding the right support for you. To help you identify if your feelings are consistent with burnout, or if they're something more serious that could lead you to burnout, the authors suggest asking three questions.
It is normal to feel a little disengaged at work. A lack of engagement is common, regardless of whether you are under pressure due to a deadline approaching, tension from a difficult work relationship, or stress from multiple work issues.

When stress becomes overwhelming, we tend to automatically label our experience as burnout. Not all feelings that are associated with work stress can be attributed to this condition. One of our ongoing, unpublished research studies on highly stressed leaders shows strong evidence that prolonged exposure to extreme stressors at work does not necessarily correlate with burnout.

How can you tell the difference?

Identifying your stress-related emotions and describing them is the first and most important step in connecting with the right support for you. Consider the following questions to help you identify if your feelings are indicative of burnout or something more serious that could lead you to burnout.

We often hear from leaders and coaches who have been burned out that their experience is similar to the difference between the two. Burnout isn't just an irritation or pain that interrupts your day, it can also cause significant functional impairment. Burnout can be excruciatingly painful and debilitating. It can also cause extreme emotional exhaustion, extreme cynicism and limited professional efficacy. It is crucial to determine if you are experiencing burnout. This is because it can increase your risk of developing serious health problems such as atrial fibrillation, type 2, diabetes, high cholesterol, which could lead to coronary heart disease.

Additionally, burnout is an organizational problem and not a result of poor self-care. This can help you to advocate for meaningful organizational change to improve the well-being and culture of your organization.

What is it, if not burnout?

Some of the Kandis leaders who are stressed out have indicated a lack in full engagement. However, most of them aren't burned out. They experience strong feelings that are associated with one or more of the symptoms of burning out, such as disengagement, ineffectiveness, and overextension.

According to Kandis research, it is possible that you are experiencing one of these feelings and not burnout. These questions will help you to clarify.

Do you feel you deserve more?

You may feel less appreciated, undervalued or taken for granted at work. There are few things that can make a professional environment more miserable than not being noticed for your hard work. These feelings usually result from a lack of external reinforcement that makes them feel worthy of more respect and recognition.

You are more likely to feel ineffective than burnout if you feel engaged, not pessimistic or emotionally drain. Research shows that ineffectiveness is less related to stressors than it is to a lack positive work qualities such as autonomy, meaning, appreciation, feedback and helpful feedback. You can increase your effectiveness by asking your boss for more meaningful and challenging work, more autonomy, and feedback that shows you care about your growth.

Are you often tempted to say, "This isn't what I signed up for?"

You may feel disengaged if you are often feeling disappointed at work, or unsure if youre in the right job. Casey*, one of our clients, loved working at a small startup. She enjoyed being challenged and had the flexibility to take care of her children. There was also a direct link between her work and the positive impact she made on the clients. She felt incredibly disconnected from the direction the company was heading after learning that they were being bought by a larger firm.

This is referred to by organizational psychologists as a breach in the psychological contract. People like Casey feel disengaged at work and are able to cope with the demands of their job. They also feel more confident in their abilities. Their stress is not due to a lack of alignment with the organization's values, culture, or profession. You might want to give the situation some time before looking for a new job. Don't forget to tap into your emotional intelligence to accept changes that may be associated with psychological contracts.

Are you trying to keep up with the Joneses or are you looking to escape?

You may feel emotionally exhausted but have a positive outlook on work. This could be due to overworking. Lance*, one of our coaching clients is a physician who is passionate about his job and derives meaning from it. However, he feels tired due to the long hours and insufficient time to recover. Lance is a person who feels fulfilled and engaged in his work but also very tired. Lance's psychological experience of burnout is one of overextension. This is different from feeling tired and cynical.

Overwork can cause burnout, it's not hard to see. It is difficult to determine what or who is driving the work demands. Overexertion in the workplace can lead to burnout, which is when the demands of the job exceed the available resources.

A different phenomenon can be caused by self-imposed work requirements. Workaholism is also known as work addiction. It's not always bad, especially if your work is something you love. You could become compulsively working too hard if you aren't careful. This can often be a way to escape from emotional distress. Workaholism, if not controlled, can lead to serious health consequences such as increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. You can set a goal for how many hours you will work each day, choose a hobby, learn a new skill, or establish a time limit.


Stressors at work are a natural part of professional life. Being more aware of our emotions will help us avoid being overwhelmed by work. We can identify our inner experiences and seek out the support and help we need to stay resilient, resolved, and committed to our professional passions by examining them.

* Actual names have been changed


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