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Three Strategies to Help You Feel Less Emotionally Exhausted

If you are among the half of employees feeling burned out, these steps may help.

Key points

  • The majority of employees are feeling emotionally exhausted and burned out, which has negative consequences for them and their employers.
  • Here are three strategies that employees might find useful if they're struggling to remain motivated at work due to burnout.
Christian Erfurt/Unsplash
Source: Christian Erfurt/Unsplash

Do you find yourself feeling tired before you have even responded to your first email of the day? Do you feel like a robot, mechanically progressing through the day’s tasks? Are you lacking energy to do anything other than dissolve into the couch upon finishing your last meeting?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may be among the 52 percent of the population who are feeling emotionally exhausted and burned out in 2021. This exhaustion has real consequences for you and your employer. For example, my team’s research into emotional exhaustion found the things that normally make us feel empowered at work are no longer effective once we are exhausted. Feeling drained and burned out keeps us from being fully engaged at work and from learning from those around us. Our findings also demonstrated that the drawbacks of emotional exhaustion can have a serious impact, such as limiting an employee’s performance in their current role and impairing their potential for success in the future.

Some companies are currently trying to help employees manage emotional exhaustion. However the collective effort is not enough, as rates of burnout are rising, rather than declining, across the United States. A couple of progressive countries such as Sweden have begun recognizing emotional exhaustion and burnout as something that should earn employees sick leave, though this is unlikely to be a policy that’s universally adopted everywhere anytime soon.

To remain successful and protect ourselves from burnout, we have to start adopting strategies to help proactively manage our own emotional exhaustion and keep ourselves mentally and physically healthy. Below are three strategies that you might find useful if you’re struggling to remain motivated in the workplace. While these strategies won’t solve everything, they can help put you on the path to feeling better.

1. Tempt Yourself Into “Should Do”s

It’s hard to feel engaged and overcome exhaustion when you have to do a task that you are dreading. One strategy to get more excited to work on even the most mundane tasks is temptation bundling, pairing something that you should do with something that you want to do. For example, when researchers gave people access to exciting audiobooks (the “want-to-do” activity) only at the gym, these individuals visited the gym (the “should-do” activity) more often.

You can similarly use the idea of temptation bundling to help you feel more excited about the “should do”s at work. For example:

  • If you dread a certain tedious activity at work (for me, it is mindlessly typing up references for my research papers), you could consider only listening to your favorite podcasts while you do that activity.
  • If there is a daily status meeting that you are never excited to attend, you could consider planning to pick up your favorite coffee right before the meeting, making that part of your day a little more enjoyable.
  • You can even use this strategy at home. For example, pairing the chore of folding laundry with your favorite guilty-pleasure TV show.

2. Get More Movement During the Workday

Work-family conflict is one of the leading causes of emotional exhaustion. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done that we want to do. One simple step to help you in achieving a better work-life balance is to start moving more during the workday. Researchers found that any exercise that you get during the workday will help you to feel that you have more balance between work and home. To begin getting more exercise while at work, consider the following:

  • Do you and a coworker need to chat about a project? Suggest a walking meeting, which is where you have your conversation while walking instead of sitting at a desk. As a bonus, sometimes the change in scenery sparks creativity.
  • Is there a phone call that you just need to listen to rather than actively participate? Put headphones on and listen while strolling around the neighborhood.
  • Find yourself attached to your desk with no option to get outside? Consider spending less than a month’s worth of gym dues on an under-the-desk pedal exerciser, which allows you to mimic a bike workout while typing on your computer.

3. Refill Your Energy Tank at the End of the Day

My recent research has found that employees who are stressed from collaboration overload at work need to give themselves the opportunity to recover before taking on more work and stress. Think of this recovery as refilling your personal energy tank: if you are nearing empty at the end of the day, you need to fill up before the next workday rather than continuing to drain the tank until there is nothing left.

To figure out ways to refill your energy tank, it is important to focus on what makes you feel refreshed and re-energized, recognizing that it may be different from those around you. For example, whereas an extroverted individual might feel revitalized after treating themselves to a dinner out with friends, an introvert may feel even more drained after a similar experience, preferring to recuperate through cuddling up with a great book. Researchers have suggested multiple ways to begin developing your own effective recovery strategies, such as:

  • Look for impactful ways to take a break from thinking about work once you are home. For example, you could follow President Biden’s lead through making dinners phone-free.
  • Find ways to relax and build leisure time into your week. This can be as simple as taking a deep breath, soaking in a long bath, or going for a quiet nature walk.
  • Seek out opportunities to challenge yourself in new and exciting ways that are unrelated to work. For example, you might consider taking a painting class, volunteering for a local food bank, or picking up a new hobby.

Although the majority of us are feeling emotionally exhausted and burned out from this past year, that doesn’t mean that we can’t turn things around. Recovering from burnout and exhaustion is no easy task, but these strategies will hopefully help to put you on the right path to feeling more engaged and excited about work.