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Leadership Burnout

“I can’t do this anymore.”

“I am overwhelmed. No matter how hard I work I’ll never catch up.”

“I can’t afford to go on vacation. What will happen if I do?”

“I wish I could just walk out tomorrow; I’d move to a remote island.”

Does that sound too familiar? Vital leaders are even more vulnerable to burnout. Burnout is a special type of work-related stress—a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.We are living and working in a fast-paced culture that rewards busyness. Companies have fewer resources and need to do more with less. We have mammoth goals personally and professionally. We want to have it all. Our adrenaline systems are constantly firing with little capacity to recover. We are overwhelmed perpetually, and over time, we become unstable.


  • You are putting self-care on hold because you don’t have time.

  • Your energy levels are so low you need the entire weekend (or more!) to recover.

  • You fantasize about leaving a job you used to love.

  • It feels like Groundhog Day; each day blends into the next and nothing seems interesting or inspiring.

  • You feel “bone-tired.”

  • Your sleep is very irregular. You can’t fall asleep or stay asleep because of your anxiety.

  • You can’t seem to control your moods. You lose your temper too often.

  • You can’t maintain enthusiasm for things you used to enjoy.

  • You have become cynical and critical.

  • You have become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients, and even at home.

  • It is hard to concentrate.

  • You feel little satisfaction from your achievements.

  • You use food, drugs, or alcohol to “relax.”

  • You are troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints.

  • You have brain fog, forgetfulness, and make more mistakes.

The list could go on with more and more characteristics in the same family. They are like dominos; one tips the next one.


You might be more likely to experience job burnout if…

  • You identify so strongly with work that you lack balance between your work life and your personal life. People are always telling you that you work too much. Your family is dissatisfied.

  • You have a high workload, including overtime work.

  • You try to be everything to everyone. NO is an unfamiliar word.

  • You work in a helping profession—health professionals, counselors, pastors, or church workers are at high risk. The Mayo Clinic lists serving in a helping profession as one of the top six risks for burnout.

  • You feel you have little or no control over your work. You feel like your hands are tied.

  • You think a majority of negative thoughts. The average American is said to spend 70-80 percent of their day focused on negative thoughts. The steady stream of adrenaline and cortisol tax the mind and the body.

  • You aren’t doing a job you love.

  • You are in the midst of escalating conflict.

  • You have a personal situation draining you. If team members feel isolated at work and in their personal lives, they might feel more stressed and burned out. Many in this country claim to feel lonely. The percentage of people who have a close confidant in their lives has been dropping in recent decades. Many employees, and half of CEOs, claim to feel lonely in their professional lives. Loneliness and weak social connections have a huge impact on our work and our health. They are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and an even greater reduction in lifespan than that associated with obesity. Loneliness is also associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety. Loneliness can lead to stress. Chronic stress leads to elevations of cortisol and increased inflammation in the body. These changes over time can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, joint disease, depression, and premature death. At work, loneliness reduces task performance and impairs reasoning and decision making.


  • Develop a regular routine of self-care. Of course, it includes eating, exercising, and sleeping well. But most successful leaders find a spiritual practice is helpful as well.

  • Regularly unplug from your devices. One night a week without the technical tools will make a huge difference.Technology keeps us constantly connected to work. The lack of boundaries perpetuates an “always on” mindset.

  • Increase the efficiencies at your work. Streamline tasks, delegate tasks. Have a clear schedule.

  • Renew—check on yourself regularly. Develop a high level of mental fitness.

As leaders, we need to be able to not only recognize burnout in ourselves so we can be at our best for our teams. We also need to take steps to help all the people who work with us overcome and prevent burnout in the workplace.

SO, IF IT HAPPENS, HOW DO WE HANDLE BURNOUT? If you are the one with burnout, do it for yourself. If it is an employee, let them know you support them to do these things.

  • Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor or employee, depending on who is at risk. Maybe you can work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions. Try to set goals for what must get done, and what can wait.

  • Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends or loved ones, support and collaboration will most likely help you cope. Don’t be afraid to get some counseling, especially if your job pays or has resources.

  • Try a relaxing activity. Do something you enjoy.

  • Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress. It can also take your mind off work.

  • Get some sleep. Sleep restores well-being and helps protect your health.

  • Take breaks between big projects. Burnout puts your mind and body in a weakened state, so avoid jumping from one stressful, time-consuming project to the next in order to give your mind and body a chance to recover.

  • Take an inventory. Make a list of all the situations that cause you to feel stressed, anxious, worried, frustrated, and helpless. Don't rush through it. It's not a race; it's a process. In fact, you should consider it a work in progress, adding to it as things enter your mind.

  • Write down at least one way to modify that situation to reduce its stress, and then begin implementing them in your routine. Don't get frustrated if you don't see immediate changes. Burnout doesn't happen overnight, so it's unrealistic to expect it to go away overnight. Consistent implementation of positive changes in your routine is the best way to see improvement.

  • Limit your contact with negative people. Hanging out with negative-minded people who do nothing but complain will only drag down your mood and outlook. If you have to work with a negative person, try to limit the amount of time you spend together.

Burnout can beat you up, but you don’t have to let it. You can become resilient and bounce back to a better life.

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