Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

84 per cent of workers at Canadian organizations with 100 or more employees are experiencing burnout, with 34 per cent of those workers reporting high or extreme levels.Kainat Ahmad/The Globe and Mail

When the alarm rings on a weekday morning, do you bound out of bed or bury yourself under the covers? Is your eye roll getting more action at work than your e-mail? Do you spend more time in your imaginary artisanal glass-blowing studio than you do meeting project deadlines?

You may be among the majority of Canadian workers suffering from career burnout.

A recent survey found 84 per cent of workers at Canadian organizations with 100 or more employees are feeling this way, with 34 per cent of those workers reporting high or extreme levels.

”I found that quite shocking,” says Steve Knox, vice-president of global talent acquisition for Ceridian, the global employee management software company that requisitioned the November survey.

It also found one in five employees were actively looking for a new job – but experts say quitting is not necessarily the cure for career burnout.

In today’s tight labour market, employers are increasingly open to working with employees to lessen work stress.

Mr. Knox says the three main factors in burnout are the strain of the ongoing pandemic, increased workload and the round-the-clock nature of the modern workplace.

”At this time when everybody seems to be struggling with work-home balance, advice to employers is really to lean into your employees and really look after them,” he says. “Employees want to know they’re being cared for.”

Canada so far has not experienced ‘The Great Resignation’ as seen in the U.S., he says. But the country is seeing this increase in burnout that can lead employees to look for new opportunities.

Forty-seven per cent of workers in Canada said they feel exhausted on a typical workday, according to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index. More than half feel stressed and 35 per cent are likely to consider changing employers.

Katharine Coons, the national workplace mental health specialist for the Canadian Mental Health Association, agrees that burnout is prevalent.

”People have a lot of responsibilities both inside and outside of the workplace,” she says. “And the pandemic has really added an extra level of stress that of course is carried through the workplace. We’re seeing that burnout is definitely on the rise.”

Symptoms can include low productivity, procrastination and loss of motivation. At the extreme end of the spectrum, it can contribute to a sense of hopelessness, she says.

Recently, in its International Classification of Diseases, the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress “that has not been successfully managed.”

Ms. Coons says people need to take time to check in with themselves to understand the root cause. That means disconnecting from work – “If you don’t need to be available 24/7, then don’t be” – and taking vacation days.

”It’s making sure we’re closing down and disconnecting from our workday, setting those work-life boundaries, and protecting our time and our space,” she says.

And it means making self-care – emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual, social and practical – something we do regularly, not just when crisis strikes, she adds.

When career burnout persists despite self-care, it’s time to address it at work, suggests Shirin Khamisa, a career coach and founder of Toronto-based Careers By Design.

On the severe end of the spectrum, she says employees can feel completely depleted and disengaged.

”They’ve left their job in a way already, in their mind,” she says.

She says the first step is to understand the extent of the challenge they’re facing by talking with their doctor, a mental health professional or even a trusted colleague or friend.

”Get a sense of what the facts are because when someone is going through burnout, it really can warp their perspective about the situation, especially now, with people working virtually,” Ms. Khamisa says.

”When you’re emotionally charged, you want to take some time to cool down and get some perspective on the issue.”

Then prepare for a conversation with your boss or supervisor, she says. Have a clear objective about what you want to accomplish and come into it with a solution, whether that is time off on the advice of a medical profession or addressing a workload issue or perhaps a change in the type of work you’re doing, she adds.”

Go into a conversation when you’re in a good place,” she says. “You don’t want to storm into your boss’s office and just use it as this opportunity to let off steam.”

The conversation should be a problem-solving session, she says.

”You’re being collaborative, and also making sure that you’ve also thought the problem through and are bringing some ideas to the table,” she says.

Awareness among employers that burnout can cost them is increasing, says Ms. Khamisa, and the pandemic has opened up conversations about workplace stress and burnout.

Career burnout often happens to high-performing professionals used to being the person people go to for help, she says. Those people in particular can find it difficult to be the ones asking for help.

”It can be really hard to speak up and it takes a lot of courage because approaching your boss about burnout is a vulnerable thing to do,” she says.

“Getting that clarity beforehand is really key to creating a solution that is going to minimize any damage that it does to your professional brand or your reputation and still get you the results that you’re looking for.”

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow topics related to this article:

Check Following for new articles

Interact with The Globe