If you mention how drained your job is making you to a coworker or friend, chances are they’ll start nodding knowingly, and ask whether you’re burned out. But not all symptoms of panic and dread about going in to work in the morning are created equal; in fact, many signs of burnout (cynicism, depression, low energy, and more) might just be signs that you hate your job and are ready for a change. It’s a tricky distinction, and much of it relies on your own intuition. But here are four questions to ask yourself whether you need a break or if you’re in need of a more substantial change, like a new job or working environment.
Yes, doing something you hate every day can take a toll on your body, but a dislike of your job is less likely to manifest itself in your body the same way true burnout would. If symptoms like headaches, backaches, panic attacks, or stomach issues are weighing you down, it’s likely burnout that you’re dealing with. It sounds trite to say, “If you think you might be experiencing burnout, ask your doctor!” but it can be clarifying nonetheless.
Are you expected to have your smartphone on and accessible at all times? Are you regularly working 60+ hour weeks? Is ability to take time off — personal days, sick days, and otherwise — limited? Burnout can be caused by plain old exhaustion, and it’s easy to feel fatigued when your job demands more time from you than is healthy. Of course, it’s possible to be burned out on any job, even if you’re just working part-time. But if the time constraints of your work are low and your dread of doing it is still high, you might just hate your job.
Whether you’re burnt out or over it, writing a traditional pros and cons list likely isn’t that helpful. (Is it ever?) But brainstorming what might make your work situation feel more palatable can give you some helpful insight into what the cause of your current distress is. The level of ease with which you can create this list (if you can create it at all) can be a good clue as to whether your distress comes down to dislike or burnout. The apathy and fatigue uniquely associated with burnout make coming up with ideas (even vague ones) about how to improve your situation a supremely difficult task, so if you’re struggling to create even a basic list, you’re likely burned out.
Don’t take a vacation; everyone is miserable returning to work after a fun getaway. But taking a tiny break should give you a clue as to whether your feelings toward work boil down to burnout. Take a three-day weekend. Sleep in. Hang out with your kids. Put a little time into your passion project or a hobby. (Do people still have hobbies?) Turn off your phone. Check in with yourself on Monday morning, and see if the dread of going in to work has subsided at least a tiny bit. Three days isn’t enough to eradicate burnout, of course, but if you haven’t gotten at least a slight amount of relief from a short period of recharging, it’s probably not burnout you’re dealing with.