How to beat workplace burnout

With recent reports showing that corporate burnout is rising, Shona Hirons – otherwise known as the Burnout Angel – shares her best burnout-busting tips

Burnout is described by The World Health Organisation as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. However, is this definition still valid today? 

The last couple of years has had an impact on our health, both physically and mentally. Recent studies have revealed that 69% of workers are feeling burnt out as a result of work-related stress (CNBC). 

But is the workplace to blame? Sometimes, it can be down to poor culture, not taking a proactive approach to wellbeing – such as listening to what staff actually want and need – as well as other problems spanning finances, illness, grief, relationship issues and unhealthy boundaries, to name a few. In turn, this has a negative impact on workplace performance, because the feelings associated with burnout – behavioural changes, denial, withdrawal, depression, working harder because you are falling behind, neglecting your needs, and conflict with others – can all lead to a complete breakdown if not managed. 

Employers, therefore, have a duty of care to ensure their staff are well and are being heard, to understand what is causing them to feel burnt out, rather than increasing the pressure. 

Focusing on the solution, rather than the problem is essential. Shona Hirons shares how to avoid burnout in the workplace, whether you work remotely or in the office.

Set healthy boundaries

As 53% of employees state that they work more hours while working from home, it’s clear that people aren’t setting healthy boundaries.

If you work from home, get up at the same time as you would do if you were commuting to work and take a fake commute’. If you simply get out of bed and go straight to your desk you will have less energy and it can affect your performance. By owning your morning and finishing your day with another ‘fake commute’, you get into the right mindset of starting and finishing work at set times. 

If you work in an office, get off the public transport a stop early and walk the rest of the way. Use the stairs instead of the lift and make an effort to go for a walk during your lunch break. 

It’s also key to know when to say ‘no’. Communication is essential and with excessive workloads being the biggest cause of burnout at work, being realistic about what you can and cannot do is essential. 

Managers have a role in encouraging staff to take their breaks and annual leave, plus making it clear that they are not expected to work if they are feeling unwell. 

Take 5-minute movement snacks 

People are not moving enough. We spend more time in front of video calls and sitting in the same spot for prolonged periods of time, which can be incredibly draining. Before jumping on the next call or task, take 5 minutes to get up and step away from your desk. Ideally, do something that will release those happy hormones. If you’re at home, put on a favourite song and dance around the room, or knock out a few exercises. 

It is possible to do a full body workout in just 3 minutes that will get the heart pumping and wake up the energy inside you, making you more productive during the day. Here’s an example:

  • Set your timer for 3 minutes
  • Do 12 wall presses, followed by 12 squats and 12 burpees. Repeat for the whole 3 minutes. You can do this several times throughout the day and mix up the exercises

If you’re in the office, set a timer and walk up and down the stairs for a couple of minutes, or use the break as a bathroom break and walk to the furthest one away. Evidence suggests that climbing the stairs burns twice the fat in half the time than running.

Do not multitask

It is a myth that multi-tasking gets things done quicker. Sometimes, you have to slow down to speed up. Focus on doing one thing at a time. Maybe decide what can be delegated. Before you do it, ask yourself: “Do I have to do this?”, or, “is there someone else that could help me?”

If you have lots of things on the go, plan when best to do each one. The Pomodoro Method is a great way to prioritise and organise time. Decide what task needs your attention most and schedule that during the most productive time of the day. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work solidly for that time. Then take a 5-minute break away from your desk. Repeat four times, then take a longer break. 

Turn off notifications

Getting distracted by pings and dings throughout the day from your laptop, smartphone and, in some cases, your smartwatch can seriously hinder your productivity, adding hours to your day. 

Think of the number of times you’ve received a notification and you’ve stopped what you’re doing to check it. You then find yourself dealing with whatever has distracted you. The way to manage this is to create email and social media handling times – and stick to them. In between, turn off your notifications.

If you cannot turn your notifications off, try waiting 10 minutes before you check any that come through – it’s amazing how quickly the distraction goes away. If you still want to check the notification after 10 minutes, allow yourself to do it. The chances are you won’t need to.

Prepare an Achievement List

Whether or not you’re a list person, sometimes, you can get to the end of the day and can’t think of anything you’ve achieved, despite having a to-do list as long as both arms. 

Preparing an achievement list for the day ahead can change this mindset. Include five must-do work-related tasks and five must-do things for you, which can include movement snacks, a lunchtime gym session or walk, time with the family after work, or a fake commute at the start and end of the day. 

Before you go to sleep each night, reflect on what you have achieved that day. You are likely to feel happier, sleep better, and wake up feeling more energised. 


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