Breaking Up with Burnout: 4 Steps

Coming back from a place of exhaustion takes a thoughtful approach. 

It was a recipe for burnout: two years of putting in long workweeks and trying to balance caregiving responsibilities, all while feeling isolated from friends and colleagues who could provide emotional and practical support. According to a 2021 Korn Ferry survey, 89% of professionals say they are suffering from burnout, with the vast majority (81%) reporting they are more burned out now than they were at the start of the pandemic.

Most experts say this situation hasn’t gotten much better even as the pandemic fades—especially for employees who got used to the grind. "People who burn out often take on more and more, which then leads to more burnout because they become known as the people others turn to and say, ‘Oh, look, she can do it,'" says Frances Weir, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach

Whether it's a lack of passion for what you do, a weariness due to the number of hours you're working, or just the toll of the past few years, experts say there are ways to hit the pause button, assess what's driving you to burn out, and figure out a way back to a better balance.

Don't quit your job.

When we feel like we've hit rock bottom, it's easy to jump to radical solutions out of desperation—such as quitting immediately. But career experts say quitting can set you back in your pursuit of passion or balance, because you're potentially increasing the stress that comes with the lack of structure or a paycheck.

Instead, establish a routine that prioritizes setting aside some time to work through stress, like a morning walk or a journaling session.

Be more social.

Now that the world is opening back up, socialization is the balm many people need to regain perspective. Reach out to colleagues, mentors, and friends for feedback on your situation. It's often helpful to hear others’ views on dilemmas and to connect with people who may be going through something similar.

And it’s important to take a break from responsibilities and just have fun. "We need people around us now more than ever,” Weir says. “Make those social plans and keep them, even if there’s more work to be done.”

Set (or reimplement) boundaries.

For many professionals, working from home has destroyed the already weak boundaries between work and the rest of life. Spend a week tracking how you’re spending your time, and then take the data to your boss with solutions on how to fix the issues or delegate the work. 

You can also begin to set boundaries by slowly readjusting expectations. For example, instead of responding to emails as they come in, from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep, only answer them when you’re officially “in office”—even if you work remotely. Very few jobs truly require you to be on call 24-7.

Put your passion into focus.

Sometimes burnout can happen because you have a nagging feeling that you aren't doing the work you find meaningful. But if you don't know exactly what kind of work that is, the feeling of being lost or aimless can drain your energy. To add to that, while you’re trying to figure out your passion, you're stuck despising your day job.

“Instead of thinking the entire job is worthless, ask yourself if you're lacking a challenge at your work,” says Mark Royal, a senior director at Korn Ferry. If there's a different role that could challenge you, talk to your boss about ways you can position yourself to make a change. Even if there isn't something else you want to try at your current company, figuring out what you don't want to do can help you discover what you do want to do.