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Navigating Burnout
Learn strategies and tactics to overcome an increasingly common issue.
Nicola Ballotta
Nicola Ballotta
Guest Writer
min read

This post was first published on The Hybrid Hacker.

Leadership and management roles can be incredibly fulfilling; however, they also present significant challenges. As a leader, you bear the responsibility of guiding and motivating your team, making tough decisions, and managing the pressures of the job. Over time, these responsibilities can take a toll on your mental and physical health, potentially leading to burnout.

Furthermore, leaders and managers are not only more susceptible to stress and burnout themselves but also hold responsibility for the well-being of their team members. It is crucial for leaders to recognize burnout symptoms and act swiftly before they escalate into larger issues.

In this essay, we will delve deeper into burnout, examining its causes, symptoms, and potential management strategies. By understanding burnout and its consequences, leaders and managers can not only better prevent its onset but also take appropriate action when it occurs.

🔎 Understanding Burnout

Although burnout isn't categorized as a medical condition, it was acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019 as an "occupational phenomenon", which essentially signifies a syndrome.

Here is the WHO's definition:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
• feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
• increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism cynicism related to one's job;
• reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Over the years, burnout has been the subject of extensive studies, and researchers have also developed surveys to assess its prevalence. The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), formulated by Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson in the 1980s, is perhaps the most well-known of these tools.

The MBI is a validated measure of burnout that examines three dimensions:

  • Emotional exhaustion, the sensation of feeling emotionally drained and depleted
  • Depersonalization, which refers to a sense of detachment and cynicism towards others
  • Reduced personal accomplishment, the feeling of not achieving your objectives or making a meaningful impact through your work.

Understanding the Common Causes of Burnout

In today's fast-paced work environments, burnout has become an increasingly common issue. Burnout can occur when individuals are subjected to prolonged stress or frustration, often a result of various factors that make the demands of their role overwhelming. Here are some common causes:

  • Work-Life Imbalance: when work and personal life overlap, it can create a feeling of imbalance. This can cause emotional exhaustion, which is a sign of burnout.
  • Heavy Workload and Pressure: many jobs require a lot of work and pressure to meet deadlines or goals. This can make people feel overwhelmed and can lead to burnout over time.
  • Lack of Control at Work: if someone feels they have no say in their work or the decisions affecting it, it can make them feel powerless. This feeling can create high stress levels and contribute to burnout.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: when goals at work are impossible to achieve, it can cause chronic stress and frustration. This constant striving for unreachable goals can lead to burnout.
  • Constant Change and Uncertainty: when things are always changing, it can cause a lot of stress. Not being able to predict or control these changes can create feelings of instability and insecurity, which can lead to burnout.

The Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model, established by Arnold Bakker and Evangelia Demerouti, offers a more theoretical approach to better understand when burnout can start to proliferate. This model suggests that burnout arises from an imbalance between the demands of a role and the resources available to cope with these demands.

JD-R Model to understand burnout

Job demands refer to the physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of a role that require consistent physical or mental effort, including factors such as workload, time pressure, and emotional demands. Conversely, job resources are aspects of a role that aid in achieving work goals, alleviate job demands, or stimulate personal growth and development. Examples include autonomy, social support, and constructive feedback.

The JD-R model proposes that having sufficient job resources can mitigate the negative effects of high job demands. In other words, when resources are adequate, they can help manage the stress associated with demanding work and thus help prevent burnout..

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

It's essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout to take action before they escalate in something more difficult to solve.

Some common signs of burnout can include:

  • Feeling exhausted, both physically and emotionally
  • Decreased motivation and interest in work
  • Lack of focus and productivity
  • Difficulty sleeping and concentrating
  • Increased irritability and moodiness
Having experienced burnout firsthand, in my opinion it can be brought back to apathy. You just feel helpless, lazy and you tend to procrastinate.

How Burnout Affects Productivity and Performance

Burnout can have a significant impact on your productivity and performance. It can lead to decreased job satisfaction, reduced creativity, and poor decision-making. While as we mentioned burnout is not classified as a disease, it can potentially impact your physical health, leading to high blood pressure, weakened immune system, and other health problems. If left unaddressed, burnout can ultimately lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

🛡️ Preventing Burnout

Years ago, when I first started my job as a manager, I was working long hours, handling a high workload, and struggling to balance my work and personal life. I began to notice that I was feeling exhausted, irritable, and unmotivated. As previously mentioned, I was also experiencing apathy and started to procrastinate.

The first thing that helped me was taking a break and conducting a deep self-assessment. This allowed me to recognize that I was experiencing burnout and decide to take action. I took some time off work, engaged in self-care activities, and connected with a mentor who helped me reevaluate my priorities and workload. Through this process, I realized that I needed to delegate more tasks to others on my team and establish clearer boundaries between work and personal life.

After implementing these changes, I noticed a significant improvement in my well-being and job performance. I became more focused, productive, and engaged in my work, and I felt more fulfilled in my personal life. This experience not only taught me to recognize burnout but also inspired me to find strategies to prevent this unpleasant situation.

The 3-3-3 Anti-Burnout Rule

Inspired by the 3/3/3 method for structuring the day by Oliver Burkeman, I developed what I call the 3-3-3 Anti-Burnout Rule. The 3-3-3 stands for:

  • 3 hours for you every week
  • 3 days for you every month
  • 3 weeks for you every year

The idea is to take at least 3 hours to rest, reflect, and self-assess every week, 3 days every month, and at least 3 weeks every year.

The 3-3-3 Anti-Burnout Rule

You don't have to follow this strictly (in fact, I would suggest resting more than what the 3-3-3 rule suggests), but it's a useful framework to assess your work-life balance and understand if you're taking enough time for yourself or not. Every week, month, and year, I conduct a personal assessment and ask myself:

"Did I take enough time for myself to rest?"

For me it works quite well.

More Strategies

There are several other strategies that you can use to prevent burnout, including:

  • Setting boundaries: establish clear boundaries between work and personal life to ensure you have time for self-care and relaxation.
  • Prioritizing self-care: engage in activities that promote self-care and wellness, such as exercise, meditation, and hobbies.
  • Practicing mindfulness: mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing and yoga, can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
  • Delegating tasks: learn to delegate tasks to others on your team to reduce your workload and stress.
  • Building a supportive network: surround yourself with supportive colleagues, mentors, and friends who can provide guidance and encouragement.

🥊 Overcoming Burnout

Despite utilizing strategies to prevent burnout, it's not always possible to entirely evade this condition. Moreover, even if you are disciplined enough to ward off personal burnout, you may still have to address burnout among your team members. So, what steps should you take in the face of burnout?

The first and most critical step is recognition, as previously discussed. If it's happening to you, self-identification might be relatively straightforward; however, if it's occurring to one of your team members, it may not be as apparent. The primary advice here is to approach the situation with objectivity, empathy, and understanding.

Following recognition, there are several steps you can take:

  • Taking necessary time off: if needed, take a break from work to rest and recuperate. Be aware that recovery might take time. In my experience, some individuals only began to recover after taking several weeks off. Of course, the duration of recovery will depend on the level of accumulated stress and burnout.
  • Reevaluating priorities and workload: reflect on your current priorities and workload. Take a step back and make adjustments if necessary. It's crucial to ensure your tasks are manageable and aligned with your personal and professional goals.
  • Finding new sources of motivation and inspiration: discover new activities and interests that can reignite your passion and motivation. Sometimes, a fresh perspective or hobby can make a significant difference in your outlook and energy levels.
  • Seeking support from colleagues or a mentor: reach out to colleagues or a mentor for support, guidance, and feedback. Having a supportive network can be instrumental in overcoming burnout, as it provides a platform for shared experiences, advice, and encouragement.


In summary, burnout presents a significant challenge in today's fast-paced work environments and should be a concern for everyone, not just leaders. Its impact on both personal and professional aspects of our lives highlights the need for awareness of its causes, symptoms, and preventative and remedial measures.

Throughout this essay, we have examined various aspects of burnout, including its definition, common triggers, indicators, and the detrimental effects it can have on productivity and health. Additionally, we went through some practical tips to prevent burnout, such as implementing the 3-3-3 Anti Burnout Rule, setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, practicing mindfulness, and seeking support when necessary. Furthermore, based on my experience, we have explored actionable steps to overcome burnout, including taking necessary breaks, reassessing priorities, and finding new sources of motivation.

In conclusion, it is essential to manage burnout proactively by gaining knowledge and implementing effective coping strategies. Prioritizing your well-being, as well as that of your team, is not a luxury but a necessity that leads to greater resilience, productivity, and overall life balance.

Additional Resources

For further reading on burnout and self-care for leaders, consider the following resources:

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