How to battle burnout without quitting your job

November 15, 2021, 4:30 PM UTC

Even as an estimated 15 million people in the U.S. have quit their jobs since April amid the so-called Great Resignation, millions more are still grinding away at work, feeling stuck, and financially strapped, with declining mental health and no career motivation. 

An estimated 80% of workers nationwide say that the past year has negatively impacted them, and 75% say they feel unable to move forward, according to a 2021 survey by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence, an HR research and advisory firm. Because of the current labor shortage, the people who are still working are often putting in more hours without additional pay.

But do you need to quit your job in order to avoid burnout? The answer is no, according to workplace experts. If you see any shred of hope that your organization is trying to figure out a way to change, then it’s a wise move to stay with your employer and work on managing your chronic stress, said Jennifer Moss, author of the forthcoming book, The Burnout Epidemic. 

Smart employers will check in with their employees to see how they are doing and what they need—and follow through with accommodations. When employees quit owing to burnout, it can be because their employers overlooked warning signs: a missed meeting, lower productivity, loss of enthusiasm, or slumped body language during a recent Zoom.

“It requires employees and employers working together,” said Rick Grimaldi, a workplace attorney at Fisher & Phillips in Philadelphia and author of Flex: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace. 

Employers must make employees feel valued, set clear boundaries that separate work and personal life, and create reasonable expectations for work hours, said Moss. Employees also need fair policies when it comes to parental leave, addressing systemic discrimination, and creating an environment in which employees feel safe speaking up about their concerns. 

“Burnout is about your organization, not your people,” she added. “You stop trusting when an employer makes bold declarations about doing better for employees but never follows through.”

As for what employees can do, managing workplace stress before flaming out could be a matter of taking a step away from a job for a period of time to recharge, said Grimaldi. But it doesn’t always require complete disconnection. Employees can also work on modifying their time to decompress. 

Set clear boundaries between your personal time and work hours, and ensure you’re taking breaks during the day to refuel yourself. This could include creating time between back-to-back meetings, adding a phone call with family or friends, taking time to do a great workout, or arranging a social lunch date, said Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Workplace Intelligence, and author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.

“It can be the little things that bring you into balance,” said Grimaldi. “Don’t be afraid to sit down with your employer and have a conversation, because if you’re a contributor, they won’t want to lose you.”  

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