How to recover from burnout and stay motivated at work

17 April 2023 dot 5-minute read
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Recognising symptoms like physical and emotional exhaustion is essential to prevent work burnout. (Credit: Getty Images)
While not classified as a medical condition, chronic work stress or burnout is a syndrome that should not be underestimated. It is characterised by emotional exhaustion, feelings of negativity toward a job and reduced professional efficacy. Experiencing these symptoms is difficult, but awareness helps in better decision-making for recovery.
A plan to restore and sustain a work-life balance requires a positive mindset and practical coping strategies. But these tools can only be effective when the cause of burnout is identified. Read on to learn how to recover from burnout.

Causes of burnout

Chronic job stress makes you vulnerable to sickness and anxiety. (Credit: Getty Images)
A combination of work-related and personal factors can cause burnout. For Christina Maslach, PhD, who pioneered burnout research, a mismatch between the job and individual increases the risk of chronic work stress.
The mismatch can occur in six areas, leading to burnout symptoms such as fatigue, detachment and inadequacy.

1. Unsustainable workload

A heavy workload, with too much to do and too little time or resources, can lead to burnout.

2. Lack of control

Autonomy means employees are empowered to take ownership of their work. Research in Frontiers in Psychology suggests those who have control over how they perform their tasks raise their productivity.
Limiting an employee's autonomy leads to disengagement and frustration. It also hurts morale, especially when employees sense a lack of trust in their ability to perform their responsibilities.

3. Insufficient reward

Recognition for a job well done involves more than just monetary incentives such as a raise or other perks. A lack of credit, respect or other intrinsic rewards weakens the motivation to perform.

4. Lack of community

Supportive colleagues and supervisors foster a sense of belonging, boosting motivation and engagement. They also inspire confidence and competence. A company rife with office politics drains the mental and emotional bandwidth of employees, preventing a fulfilling and positive work culture.

5. Absence of fairness

A perception of discrimination or unfairness in the system heightens feelings of disrespect and increases conflict. Employees who feel unfairly treated may become less productive and more likely to leave the company.

6. Conflict in values

In her research, Maslach says meaningful and purpose-driven work motivates people to perform well. She adds that many people will gladly take a pay cut if they can keep their values intact.
Employees may experience cynicism and detachment when they feel their work does not align with their sense of purpose. This kind of job dissatisfaction may lead to resignation, Maslach adds.

How to stay engaged in the workplace

Talking to a friend, having fun with co-workers after work and relaxing with family can help relieve work stress. (Credit: Getty Images)
Recognising stressors is the first step in overcoming burnout. In an interview published by the American Psychological Association, Maslach explains it takes both the company and the employee to manage the chronic nature of job stressors.
Alleviating burnout symptoms begins by talking to your manager or HR supervisor. Ask for guidance on conflict resolution, better time management and even counselling.
Meanwhile, rediscover your work purpose with these resiliency-building strategies.

1. Change work patterns

To combat burnout, learn to set boundaries and carve some time out for self-care. Consider implementing small changes, such as frequent breaks throughout the day, reduced overtime and strict guidelines in responding to correspondence.

2. Request for a flexible setup

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance will help with stress relief. Start with small actions like asking for help when the workload is heavy or requesting a hybrid work arrangement

3. Get social support

Discussing struggles with loved ones in a safe environment will help alleviate stress. A study in Frontiers in Psychology finds that social support helps resolve the negative effects of burnout. Spend time with family and friends who can give constructive advice and guidance.

4. Practice relaxation strategies

Recovery from burnout entails self-work and time. The journey can test patience, so explore relaxation techniques. A study in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice shows meditation, stretching or breathing exercises effectively reduce emotional exhaustion and depression symptoms.

5. Stay physically and mentally fit

A Frontiers in Psychiatry study finds that exercise has an anti-depressant effect based on several randomised controlled trials. Working out will release the tension in the body while producing endorphins, which are also known as the feel-good hormones.
Quality sleep can also help you cope better with stress. You need to get at least seven hours of sleep at night. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults aged 18 to 60 years sleep seven or more hours daily and those aged 61 to 64 years sleep seven to nine hours daily. Those 65 and older ideally need to sleep seven to eight hours daily. Sleeping for under six hours can make a person more susceptible to illness.
Meanwhile, a healthy diet can boost immunity, making you less vulnerable to stress and fatigue.
A review in PLOS One Journal finds that chronic stress has links to cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal pain. Joining a comprehensive wellness programme like AIA Vitality empowers you to take charge of your physical and mental fitness. You can tap into AIA Vitality's network of healthcare professionals to help you better understand your needs.
Practising self-care strategies makes you more resilient to work-related stress. But recovering from burnout must be a collaborative effort between you and your workplace. Let your management know when you spot the signs of burnout. You and your company will benefit when you help each other create the formula for your work-life balance.
The effect of one night of sleep deprivation on your overall wellbeing is significant. In this episode of AIA Voices, sleep and mental health experts Olivia Arezzolo, Kate Yan and Asher Low explain what happens when we get less than adequate sleep.
AIA Voices is a community of influential and educational voices from around Asia to talk about life, health and wellness. A platform to educate, motivate and inspire people to make positive behavioural changes on their health and wellness journey. Providing an opportunity for communities across Asia to connect, collaborate, and learn from each other. Designed to drive AIA One Billion, our ambition to engage a billion people to live Healthier, Longer, Better Lives by 2030.
Frontiers in Psychology. 2020. Autonomy Raises Productivity: An Experiment Measuring Neurophysiology. [online] [Accessed on 9 March 2023]
CDC. 2022. How Much Sleep Do I Need? [online] [Accessed on 9 March 2023]
World Psychiatry. 2016. Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
World Health Organization. 2019. Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases. [online] [Accessed on 16 December 2022]
American Psychological Association. 2021. Speaking of Psychology: Why we’re burned out and what to do about it, with Christina Maslach, PhD. [online] [Accessed on 16 December 2022]
Frontiers in Psychology. 2019. Social Support Mediates the Effect of Burnout on Health in Health Care Professionals. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Vol 35. 2019. The effects of a relaxation intervention on nurses' psychological and physiological stress indicators: A pilot study. [online] [Accessed on 19 December 2022]
Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2018. Physical Exercise in Major Depression: Reducing the Mortality Gap While Improving Clinical Outcomes. [online] [Accessed on 26 January 2023]
Clinical Psychology Review, Vol. 21. 2001. Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: A unifying theory. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Med J Islam Repub Iran. 2019. Interventions on reducing burnout in physicians and nurses: A systematic review. [online] [Accessed on 19 December 2022]
Sage Journals. 2017. Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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