Burnout. The word alone evokes candles snuffed, fires extinguished, flames slowly dimmed. But for those who suffer from the phenomenon, the notion of a bright light turned dark—whether that happens emotionally, physically, or mentally—is powerfully real. So what, exactly, is burnout? And how does one recover from it?
Lawyer turned New York Times bestselling author and Happier podcast host Gretchen Rubin shares her definition: “It’s the feeling of being overwhelmed and feeling stale…. When you’re burned out there tends to be a feeling of resentment or that you’re at the end of your rope.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout isn’t just a mindset, it’s a syndrome. More directly, it’s “conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress.”
Natalie Azar, M.D., a medical expert and NBC contributor, elaborates: “I would frame it as you’re performing a job that you might have been doing for many years and you’re no longer deriving the same enjoyment, professional or personal satisfaction from it.”
What Is Workplace Burnout?
Workplace burnout is all too common. According to a Deloitte survey, 77% of professionals have experienced burnout in their current jobs, owing to three main culprits: lack of support or recognition from leaders, unrealistic deadlines or expectations, and working long hours, including weekends. The hustle has indeed lost its luster. Research conducted by Zippia cited burnout is the number one reason people in the U.S. leave their jobs. This was the story for yacht chef Kesi Irvin. After the Wharton grad landed a coveted role on Wall Street, she felt something was amiss. “I left my job because I knew I would regret not taking a career break to travel,” she says. “I had a very large wanderlust, and only having two weeks of holiday per year was not enough if I wanted to see the world.” It’s now been eight years, and Irvin hasn’t looked back. “My plan was to only take a one-year break, but I have not stopped traveling since 2015.” Irvin has shared her journey on her website, To and Fro, which encourages others to take their own career breaks. “I want to change corporate culture by helping Americans take travel sabbaticals so they won’t experience burnout,” says Irvin. “Travel is the ultimate teacher.”
Some people are more susceptible to burnout than others. In her book The Four Tendencies, Rubin identifies four foundational personality types people typically fall into: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. (Here’s a quiz to recognize your own behavioral patterns.) “People who are obligers are much more susceptible to burnout. So if you’re the type of person that agrees with the idea, ‘I keep my promises to other people but I have trouble keeping my promises to myself,’ that is a very big sign that you may have a problem,” says Rubin.