31 Days

Presented by

The Motley Fool
Day 11

Tell Your Boss You’re Burned Out

Workplace burnout

We know burnout is real. While there isn't a clear cut definition, the American Psychological Association's David Ballard, PsyD tells us job burnout is “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.”

“A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress,” says Dr. Ballard. “In those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors.” If you're feeling burned out lately, you're not alone.

Workplace burnout

Working remotely has put many of us on a Groundhog Day-like cycle of “work, eat, work, sleep, repeat.” Then you throw in economic and pandemic stress into the mix and your stress can go through the roof. In fact, Greg McKeown, leadership strategist and author of Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most, says there are two kinds of people today: “people who are burned out and people who know they are burned out.”


The trouble with burnout, he says, is that the very nature of it clouds your judgment and clarity, including your self-awareness. But one easy litmus test is when any request“no matter how small”feels next to impossible. “With so little space everything costs more, emotionally.”

You might think that your superiors at work know how burned out you feel. After all, more than 50% of workers recently surveyed by the Conference Board said their mental health has degraded since the start of the pandemic. But if you assume your boss will make the first move, that's probably an inaccurate assumption. Speaking up is critical.


But how can you get some breathing room, and back to feeling like yourself, without jeopardizing your career? Taisha Caldwell-Harvey, a corporate wellness expert, told the Wall Street Journal that you don't need to share just for the sake of sharing. “The goal is to share so that you can ask for what you need.”

Evaluate what it might take to stop feeling overwhelmed, and think about whether you really require permission to get it. Can you attend virtual therapy in the morning before work without telling your boss? Speak up if you need to, and mention burnout by name if your colleagues seem supportive of diverging viewpoints and mental-health struggles, Dr. Caldwell-Harvey says. But keep it simple. Your manager is there to support you, but they're not your therapist. This doesn't have to get emotional, you're simply looking for a solution so that you can do your job at 100%.

Do you need a deadline extension or different work hours? Perhaps, a short leave of absence would do the trick. If you don't say something, nothing will change. But be conscious of your workplace's needs too. Look into the near future, for a time when business is slower, to suggest taking a short leave. This gives your boss plenty of time to prepare.

For all the risk, there are a lot of positives that can come from speaking up and sharing how you're really doing. You could build deeper trust with colleagues and make space for others to open up, while chipping away at a pressure-cooker work culture. In the end, you could be less miserable, and so could everyone else.

Embrace the
Midday Break

Coffee cup illustration

To perform at your best over the long term, you need regular opportunities to restock your mental energy. Stepping away from your work gets you out of the weeds and serves as a physical prompt for you to reexamine the big picture. Why in the afternoon? That’s likely when you need it most.