Recovery From Burnout

Recovery From Burnout

When you hear the term BURNOUT, what do you think it means? Some people visualize a rocket, one that loses its fuel and becomes ineffective, drifting off into space. Others consider burnout as it relates to people and the workplace. Often, employees can fall into the same situation of being inefficient at work. We are going to discuss the concept of burnout, and ways you can truly “re-fuel,” if this is something you are suffering from.

What is burnout? Burnout is a form of extreme chronic stress that can manifest itself in a variety of dysfunctional ways (irritability, difficulty concentrating, poor appetite, feelings of negativity or cynicism). Burnout is different from stress in that it is chronic – it persists over time. The source can also change work, family, and health can be just a few factors that lead to burnout.

  • A 2016 study by Harvard Business School and Stanford University researchers found that workplace stress contributes to 120,000 deaths annually and costs American businesses up to 190 billion in healthcare costs
  • 59% of Americans have concerns about their own mental health, the health of a household member, or a close friend/family member outside their household since April 2020
  • 51 million people in the US live with mental health issues, only half of the people with a mental health illness receive treatment


Recognizing burnout is considered the most important step in the process of recovery. How is burnout different from stress? Stress goes hand in hand with what we do every single day. But how we can handle and control that stress is crucial. Burnout doesn’t simply go away.

Learning how to identify burnout can promote awareness of this common condition. Everyone experiences stress in their own unique way. Common symptoms of high stress that could indicate burnout are feeling emotionally exhausted, physical symptoms such as headaches or muscle tension, lack of motivation, lower productivity, self-doubt or low self-esteem, and feelings of loneliness and detachment.

In addition, we should also look at what BURNOUT IS NOT. Burnout is not a light switch you can turn “on” or “off.”  Burnout is not complaining – it’s easy to just have that “suck it up” mentality. Burnout is not a reflection of Millennial culture or laziness.

Often, we don’t realize that we’re suffering from burnout until it’s too late. When we push our creativity and productivity to its limits, we can easily find ourselves teetering on the brink of burnout. There’s a fine line between being in the zone and falling down the slippery slope of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. The term “Burnout” was coined by a German American psychologist named Dr. Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970’s. He conducted extensive research on the topic and identified 12 stages of burnout. They are worth noting and a great way to self-diagnose. [1]

  1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself: demonstrating worth obsessively; tends to hit the best employees, those with enthusiasm who accept responsibility readily.
  2. Working Harder: an inability to switch off.
  3. Neglecting Their Needs: erratic sleeping, eating disrupted, lack of social interaction.
  4. Displacement of Conflicts: problems are dismissed, we may feel threatened, panicky and jittery.
  5. Revision of Values: values are skewed, friends and family dismissed, hobbies seen as irrelevant, work is only focus.
  6. Denial of Emerging Problems: intolerance, perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined, cynicism, aggression; problems are viewed as caused by time pressure and work, not because of life changes.
  7. Withdrawal: social life small or non-existent, need to feel relief from stress, alcohol/drugs.
  8. Odd Behavioral Changes: changes in behavior obvious, friends and family concerned.
  9. Depersonalization: seeing neither self nor others as valuable, and no longer perceiving one’s own needs.
  10. Inner Emptiness: feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs; activities are often exaggerated.
  11. Depression: feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak and dark.
  12. Burnout Syndrome: can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.


Now that we have defined burnout and looked at the various stages, it is important to discuss ways to recover from this common condition. “Put on your own mask, before helping others.”  You often hear this term on an airplane. The skill of recovery is well known in fields that require performance under extreme pressure or where there is a need for prolonged periods of concentration. Consider a pilot – pilots are officially required to recover for defined periods during and between duty to maintain safety standards.

Recovery from burnout can be addressed in a variety of ways. Externally – you can prioritize rest, exercise, a healthy diet, playing with your children or pets, reading, treating yourself, even cleaning something. Internally- journaling, meditation, coaching/therapy, or reminding yourself of a special memory are strategies that can be impactful. Finally, considering daily habits, such as: mindful breathing, spending less time on social media, simplifying your choices, reconnecting with things that bring you joy, morning or lunch walks, or less caffeine can all reduce the effect of burnout on our lives.

The tricky thing with burnout is that research shows that when our bodies and minds need to recover and rest the most, we’re the least likely – and able – to do something about it. In the Harvard Business Review, this is referred to as the “paradox of recovery.”  HBR lists 6 steps that are critical in devising a recovery plan from burnout, and to overcome the paradox. [2]

  1. Detach psychologically from work
    • Cognitively withdraw from thoughts of work
      • Identify and remove triggers that prevent detachment
    • Dedicate a fixed time to non-work activity
      • Start with even a few minutes
  1. Harness the power of “Micro-Breaks” during the workday
    • Short breaks (10 minutes) are surprisingly effective for recovering from work stress
      • Moments of meditation, eating a nutritious snack, enjoy social interactions
    • Resist the urge to push through the day, week
      • 70% of millennials say they find themselves pushing through the day
  1. Consider your preference for recovery activity
    • Conforming to peer pressure or norms can deplete your energy
      • Lunch preferences, hobbies
    • Be mindful of how you use your breaks
      • Spend your time doing recovery activities you enjoy
  1. Prioritize high-effort recovery activities
    • Research shows that more “active” activities can be more effective for recovery, as opposed to “passive” or “low-effort” activities such as watching tv or relaxing
    • Beyond exercise, “mastery experiences” help you generate new skills and replenish depleted resources that can be applied to your work, approaching recovery from a different angle
      • Pursuing a new hobby
      • Learning a new language, guitar lessons
      • Volunteering
  1. Shape your environment for optimal recovery
    • Some companies are building direct and indirect exposure to natural elements
      • Encouraging park walks during lunch breaks
      • Window access, indoor greenery
        • Impacts sleep quality, perceived stress, and overall health
    • Indirect exposure – (photographs or nature scenes on a screen) can even have benefits of recovery


Creating and enacting a recovery plan can help sustain your energy and performance over time. Employees who are engaged and motivated will make an impact on everything your organization does.

If you need additional support, PRADCO offers personalized coaching to help improve performance. In addition, our engagement surveys are an excellent tool to gauge the pulse of your organization and help you gain insight into how your team is feeling from a productivity standpoint. If you are interested in learning more about our personalized coaching offerings to help improve employee performance, reach out to PRADCO at (

Mike Wujnovich
As a Management Consultant at PRADCO and with over 20 years of experience as an educator and coach, Mike works with leaders to refine their leadership skills and offer strategies to enable them to reach their full potential. His excellent facilitation and communication skills enable him to conduct training on a variety of topics. Prior to joining PRADCO, Mike was employed by a marketing company and helped build a large team of over 400 marketing professionals while leading expansion of the company across the country. He supported hundreds of individuals earning promotions while evolving into leadership positions and did quite a bit of training and leadership development in his role. Mike earned his B.S. in Education from Cleveland State University. He also holds a Master in the Art of Teaching from Marygrove College.