Harvard-trained psychologist: 3 ‘overlooked’ red flags that your job is setting you up for burnout

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Burnout manifests differently for everyone, but the root cause is often the same: our jobs. 

In 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon resulting from "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." 

Since then, employee burnout has steadily increased: Job burnout is at an all-time high since spring 2021, according to recent research from Future Forum, with over 40% of global workers reporting that they are emotionally spent.

Part of avoiding extreme mental exhaustion and stress is paying attention to the red flags that could indicate your job, or company, may be conducive to burnout, says Debbie Sorensen, a Harvard-trained clinical psychologist in Denver.

Here are the top 3 red flags to watch out for: 

Employee churn 

Be wary of a company with a history of mass layoffs or people quitting in droves. 

"If you're in a workplace that's chronically understaffed, everybody who's there is probably working overtime or cutting back on their time off to keep up," says Sorensen. "You're putting yourself on a fast track to burnout."

It could also be a sign that the company's leaders are out of touch with their employees — or don't care enough to give employees the resources they need to thrive, she adds. 

Lack of autonomy 

Having little choice in how and when you work can also lead to burnout. 

While managers in a healthy workplace will trust that you can get the job done, other bosses resort to micromanaging, expecting their employees to "always be on," even after work hours, setting unrealistic deadlines and offering employees little control over their schedules, Sorensen explains. 

"Sometimes, micromanaging is overlooked, as people will chalk it up to an expectation of the job or industry they work in but nobody realizes how draining that can quickly get," she says. 

Competitive co-workers 

Another risk for burnout is an unsupportive or unfriendly work environment, which Sorensen warns can leave you feeling isolated and exhausted. 

"You want to be able to bring your authentic self to work, and feel comfortable contributing or making mistakes," says Sorensen. "Spending your energy constantly competing with someone or worrying about being judged as incompetent for a misstep can just be unproductive and draining." 

Having a supportive team doesn't reduce your chances of burning out to zero — but, Sorensen adds, "having people who are rooting for you and willing to help really, really reduces the sting of a stressful situation."

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