Are you burnt out?

Amy Hamilton-Chadwick
Are you burnt out?
Feeling low and struggling to focus at work can be signs of burnout

Tired all the time, struggling to focus and feeling like your job is a waste of time?

When you feel like you’re at the end of your tether at work, and you’ve been there for too long, you may be experiencing occupational burnout. 

In 2019, the spotlight was on burnout after the World Health Organisation redefined it as a syndrome tied to “chronic workplace stress”.

New Zealand doesn’t track occupational burnout, so we don’t have good numbers about how common this condition is, or whether it’s on the rise, says Gaynor Parkin, CEO of Umbrella and clinical psychologist.

However, she and her colleagues regularly visit local workplaces and carry out well being assessments on employees.

They typically find that 20% to 30% of people in any organisation are reporting some or all of these symptoms:  


  •     Feeling tired and exhausted for no good reason. 
  •     Psychological distress – feeling low and flat. 
  •     Struggling to concentrate at work, which might lead to you being unproductive. 
  •     Feeling worried and anxious.  
  •     A sense that your job is a waste of time and/or you are getting nowhere in your career. 


Five steps in reducing your feelings of burnout 


  1. Pause: “You’ve got to give yourself a reset,” says Parkin.“For some people that will be a lunch break or an exercise class. For others it’s going to mean a day, a week or two weeks off work.” Too busy to take time off work? That may be true, but she says you have to ask yourself the question, ‘What is the price of not pausing?’ Allowing ourselves (or other people) to take a break when necessary is an important way to prevent burnout. 
  2. Self-care. “Most people can already rattle off this stuff”: Exercising, sleeping well, eating well, spending time with friends and family, having hobbies.  
  3.  onnect with your meaning and purpose. It might be your family that drives you, or your health, but there must be something in your life that’s more important than work. “When you look back in 20 or 30 years, how will you think about your life? Will you think that you should have played more and worked less?”  
  4. Building positive habits into your life – and make them non-negotiable. For Parkin, it’s having one day out of the office each week, spending time with her children, and going to yoga twice a week. Everyone in her life knows about her non-negotiables and she (mostly) doesn’t let them be overridden by work. “Habits take less cognitive energy, so when you build recovery habits into every day, it becomes easier.”  
  5. Disconnect. “Unless you’re an emergency doctor, you should be able to have some time away from all your devices every week. There’s so much research to say that our brains and bodies need that.” 


When should you ask for help from a professional? 

This is a grey area, Parkin admits, but if you’ve made use of your own resources and your support network, yet still feel burnt out, it’s probably time to talk to someone.  

“It’s normal to have a go [at self-treatment] and relapse, but if you keep trying and you’re not creating a shift, it’s time to get help.

There’s no harm, so when in doubt, get some professional help.” 

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