Experiencing burnout? Here is how to find joy in your job again.

Megan Hays, Ph.D., provides tips on how to overcome burnout.

Shot of a young businesswoman looking stressed while using a laptop during a late night at workBurnout is on the rise across the United States. In a survey of 1,500 U.S. workers conducted by the online job site Indeed, 52 percent of respondents said they were experiencing burnout, with 67 percent of respondents saying that burnout worsened during the pandemic.

“Burnout was already a well-documented issue prior to the pandemic; but after multiple surges of COVID-19, we are seeing unprecedented levels of burnout,” said Megan Hays, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “Fortunately, there are some steps people can take that may help them manage burnout.”

Remember your “why”

With the stress that comes with the pandemic, it can be easy for people to lose sight of the meaning behind the work they do.

“Getting into the practice of reminding yourself why you chose your career in the first place is an important step in learning to love your job again,” Hays said. “Trying to understand the driving force behind why you chose your career can help facilitate meaning and fulfillment in your job.”

Hays also recommends reminding oneself of the unique skills they bring to the table and ways in which they make a difference in their place of employment. Some examples of those skills involve making co-workers laugh when they need humor the most or being able to remain calm under significant pressure. When someone appreciates themselves and their contributions, this can lead to feelings of joy and purpose in themselves and the work that they do.

Get back to the basics: Water. Sunlight. Sleep. Movement.

Physical and mental health are inextricably linked. When people neglect their basic needs, they become more vulnerable to problems like burnout, making it difficult to find joy in their day-to-day work.

“Sometimes we can get so busy and wrapped up in our day-to-day lives, that we treat our basic needs like ‘nice-to-haves’ rather than ‘must-haves,’” Hays said. “When you find yourself neglecting your basic needs, consider pressing the reset button for your body and mind by creating some specific and realistic goals for meeting these needs.”

Hays recommends that instead of making multiple changes at once to try to address each need one at a time.

Some examples of prioritizing one’s needs include going on a 30-minute walk outside, setting a water goal for the day and, perhaps most importantly, getting at least eight hours of sleep each night.

“Sleep is one of the most important things your body needs,” Hays said. “Make sure you go to bed at least eight hours before you have to wake up, even if you still have things that need to be done. The reality is that there will always be things that need to be done, but trying to get all of them done with insufficient sleep will be even more difficult than it already is.”

Use vacation and sick days

Nearly 44 million working Americans reported having seven or more paid vacation days left to use in 2019, and a commonly cited reason for this is work guilt, according to a 2019 Priceline Work-Life Balance Report.

Many studies have demonstrated the health benefits of taking vacation time, including decreased risk of heart disease, decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and reduced stress. Going on a vacation, or simply taking time away from work for a staycation, can improve an employee’s productivity, energy and focus within the workplace.

“Research shows that, when organizations and supervisors support employees’ taking vacation time, employee retention, employee loyalty to the organization and job satisfaction all improve,” Hays said. “Taking your vacation time is a win-win situation for both employees and their employers.”

Separate work and home lives

For those who are feeling burned out by their job or find themselves dreading the workday, Hays recommends establishing personal and professional boundaries.

To set these boundaries, she encourages employees to practice mental boundaries by telling themselves to leave work responsibilities at work when leaving for the day or having a box on their desk where they symbolically put all their work-related thoughts and emotions before heading home.

Employees can also create contextual cues for themselves by leaving all paperwork in their workspace before leaving for the day, changing out of their work clothes as soon as they arrive home, or immediately doing something enjoyable once they get home such as cooking a new recipe, lighting their favorite candle or listening to their favorite music. For those who work from home, maintaining a separate workspace that is in a different location than where they spend their leisure time is an important step in establishing boundaries.  

Upholding personal values

Values act as a map that provides direction when feeling lost. When one stays true to their values, it helps overcome adversity, disappointments, loss and trauma and prevents these things from taking away their meaning and purpose.

“Values can ultimately help people find meaning in their work again and build resilience to overcome the burnout they may be feeling,” Hays said. “Although it is extremely important to hold onto values outside of work, it’s also extremely important to use your values to guide your personal life as well.”

For example, those who hold family time as one of their top values might set a goal to do one thing that reflects this value each day such as calling family members, spending time with their children or enjoying date night with their partner.

“It’s important to remember that it is possible to manage burnout, but it will take a little time and effort,” Hays said. “Start by trying just one of these strategies, and then slowly incorporate others one at a time.”