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Are you burnt out, or just tired? Here’s how to tell the difference

Feeling smashed at work? It could be more than just regular tiredness. (Source: Getty)
Feeling smashed at work? It could be more than just regular tiredness. (Source: Getty)

If you’re typically raring to go for a drink on a Friday afternoon after a tough week of work, you’re certainly not alone.

However, if you’re feeling exhausted and downbeat after the end of every week, that’s probably not just regular tiredness.

Burnout, while it isn’t officially a medical condition, is what happens when chronic workplace stress isn’t managed effectively, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) which re-classified it as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ in May.

In Australia, burnout is estimated to affect about 7 per cent of the workforce.

But how do we know we’re more than just tired?

Burnout: How this is different to regular tiredness

According to Deakin University School of Psychology professor and burnout expert Michael Leiter, there’s actually a pretty thin line between the two.

“The feelings and thoughts that go with burnout are fairly ordinary feelings and thoughts; the thing that makes them turn into burnout is frequency,” he told Yahoo Finance.

“Feeling tired before your day begins happens to everyone some occasionally, but when it feels like that most of the time—or all of the time—you’re getting into something like burnout.”

To be properly burnt out, not just chronic fatigue, the tiredness has to have another emotion attached to it: discouragement, Leiter added, and “losing whatever joy your work brings you in the good times”.

“Being tired, distant, and discouraged is the full misery of burnout.”

What are the signs of burnout? defines burnout as long-term stress that prevents you from doing things you normally find meaningful.

You’re burnt out if you’re experiencing the following, according to

  • feeling exhausted and unable to perform basic tasks

  • losing motivation in many aspects of your life, including your work and friendships

  • feeling unable to focus or concentrate on tasks

  • feeling empty or lacking in emotion

  • losing your passion and drive

  • experiencing conflict in your relationships with co-workers, friends and family

  • withdrawing emotionally from friends and family.

“Essentially, when you've reached the point of burnout, it can feel like you’ve had the life sucked out of you,” the website said.

“You no longer feel capable of caring about what’s important to you, to making any effort, or staying motivated.”

What to do about burnout

Short of jetting off for a holiday, what can we do about workplace burnout?

According to Psychology Today, the way to counter this phenomenon is by re-discovering purpose at work, having an impact on others, or feeling that one is making the world a better place.

“Often, meaningfulness can counteract negative aspects of a job. Other motivators include autonomy as well as a good, hard challenge,” Psychology Today said on its website.

Drawing boundaries is also important: while it may not be easy to say no, you need to recognise when you’ve been stretched too far.

“Getting priorities straight, and calmly communicating needs can be an empowering weapon against burnout.”

Leiter said coping with burnout at work is tough and echoed the importance of finding purpose at work.

“Try finding the parts of your job you do still enjoy and put more of your time into those,” he told Yahoo Finance.

“Put more movement into your day. Do different things; go out for a walk, especially if you can make it part of getting things done.”

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