We've all been there. Even if you love your job, there are times when the pressure builds, stress ensues, and you find yourself both mentally and physically exhausted from work

According to a recent survey conducted by Accountemps, a subsidiary of the global staffing firm Robert Half, 96 percent of senior managers believe their teams are experiencing some degree of burnout. 91 percent of employees confirmed by indicating they were at least somewhat burned out. 

When asked, workers listed constant interruptions and fires to put out as the number one cause of burnout while managers pointed to unmanageable workloads and long hours. 

The term burnout has been thrown around for years as more of a buzz word with ambiguous connotation. But now, that's all changed. The World Health Organization has added burnout as an official medical diagnosis. It defines burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, and added it to its list of medical diagnoses. It is characterized by three dimensions: 

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Alright, so you know how to diagnose burnout. But, why does it happen, and how can you combat it? 

I caught up with Robert Half's District President, Brandi Britton, to understand why burnout has gone from a figure of speech to a formal diagnosis. 

In her words, burnout is on the rise because of an "always-on mentality." Technology is a blessing and a curse. It makes work and communication more efficient, but it also removes barriers that used to define work/life boundaries. 

Another issue is that people are innately bad at recognizing signs of burnout before they become too serious. We fail to take intentional breaks, say 'yes' to more than we should, and continue to pile-on the work until we are overwhelmed. 

Britton offered three pieces of advice for those approaching burnout. 

1. Truly take a break.

This one hit me hard. Even on vacation, I don't think I've ever really "unplugged." It's too easy to check emails, take a quick call, or respond to a text. I know this seems unrealistic, but the truth is, each one of these seemingly innocent actions is a gateway to a morning or afternoon being hijacked by work. 

You have to take breaks. If you're worried about things falling apart while you're out, then put parameters in place (away messages, time-restrictions, or an SOS list) so you don't worry about it, and people only contact you when they need to. 

2. Speak up about your workload.

If I had to venture a guess, I would bet that you're operating outside the lines of your job description -- you're doing the work of other people. With organizations continuing to flatten organizational charts, sticking to your job description is becoming increasingly difficult. 

However, to protect our time (and sanity), we have to get better at prioritizing and saying "no" to tasks that are not our responsibility. 

Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't be a team player. But, I am saying that you need to be more selective. If you're like me, then you take on tasks without even questioning whether or not you should be involved. 

Your job and responsibilities should come first. 

3. Ask for help. 

In my experience, I typically feel burnt out when I have too many tasks on my to-do-list and no idea where to start. This is what your manager is for. Ask them to help you prioritize. 

If you are the manager, then reflect on your goals and prioritize based on the mission-critical tasks. 

In both cases, it's vital to take a step back, acknowledge burnout, and get in front of the situation before your work product suffers. 

Once you identify that burnout is present, work with your employees/manager to discover the source. In most scenarios, burnout can be avoided by a little planning, saying 'no' to the least important, and truly taking breaks.