woman staring at monitor

Are You Burnt Out (Or Do You Really Just Hate Your Job)?

The difference between the two and what to do about it

Your career may be a large part of your identity. It takes up many of your waking hours and might even feel like your life. This is especially true when it feels like work stress is creeping into your subconscious.

If you mention how drained your job is making you to a coworker or friend, chances are they’ll start nodding knowingly. They’ll probably ask if you’re burnt out. But not all symptoms of panic and dread about going to work in the morning are created equal. 

Many signs of burnout could just be signs you hate your job and are ready for a change. It’s a tricky distinction, and much of it relies on your intuition. 

Understanding burnout

Burnout is more than just a bad day. It’s a chronic state of stress leading to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. You might experience: 

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • A sense of detachment from your job
  • A feeling of ineptitude and a lack of achievement

Understanding job dissatisfaction

Job dissatisfaction is deeper than the occasional work annoyance – it’s persistent. It’s a fundamental mismatch between you and your job. Perhaps you relate to the following: 

  • Your job doesn’t align with your personal values or career goals
  • The environment has a toxic culture, lack of support, or poor management
  • Feeling stagnant with no scope for advancement or skill development

Differentiating burnout and job dissatisfaction 

Now, let’s get into the reflective questions that will help you determine whether you need a break from or a break up with your job. To differentiate between the two, consider these questions.

1. Are your symptoms physical?

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 you’re dealing with. It sounds trite to say, “If you think you might be experiencing burnout, ask your doctor!” However, it can be clarifying nonetheless.

2. Does your work monopolize too much time?

Are you expected to have your phone on and accessible at all times? Are you regularly working 60+ hour weeks? Is the ability to take time off limited? Burnout can be caused by plain old exhaustion. 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.

3. Can you see yourself being happy in another job?

Whether you’re burnt out or over it, writing a traditional pros and cons list likely isn’t too helpful. However, brainstorming what might make your work situation feel more palatable might give you helpful insight into what the cause of your distress is. Sometimes processing your thoughts on paper really helps come to a conclusion.

The level of ease with which you create this list (if you can create it at all) is 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 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.

Related: Leaders Share Tips to Build Career Resilience as a Woman in Tech 

4. Does a mini break help?

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 family. Put a little time into your passion project or a hobby. Turn off your phone. 

Check in with yourself on Monday morning and see if the dread of going in to work subsided at least a tiny bit. Three days isn’t enough to eradicate burnout, of course. However, if you haven’t gotten at least a slight amount of relief from a short period of recharging, it’s probably not burnout.

Dealing with burnout and job dissatisfaction 

Managing burnout requires a focus on self-care and possibly professional help:

  • Are you taking enough time for yourself outside of work?
  • Would speaking to a professional offer new perspectives and coping strategies?
  • Have you established healthy work-life boundaries?

Addressing job dissatisfaction involves more drastic changes:

  • Are there changes in your current job that could improve happiness?
  • Is it time to consider a change in career direction?
  • What skills can you develop to open new opportunities?

Related: Is It Time to Quit Your Job? How to Leave Without Burning Bridges 

Advice from a career coach on making a change

We asked Certified Career Coach, Resume Writer, and Interview Professional Christy Rosen, to weigh in on facing burnout and job dissatisfaction.

She says, “I believe job dissatisfaction largely stems from being in a job where you’re not using the skills innate to you. This relates to the Japanese philosophy of ikigai. It’s a concept referring to the reason for being. A lot of times, you’re not where you’re meant to be. This should lead to deeper reflection on thinking about and finding your purpose.

Examine the job as a whole and what you are and aren’t good at. Then, align. What does it look like to move in a different direction? Rather than fixating on grand or drastic shifts, explore self-discovery, reflect on your ideal daily life, and implement gradual habit modifications.”

As a starting activity, Christy suggests you rate yourself on a scale of one (not good) to five (great) in these categories:

  1. Self-actualization
  2. Self-worth
  3. Meaning
  4. Growth
  5. Freedom
  6. Life satisfaction
  7. Creativity and transformational experiences
  8. Purpose and gratitude
  9. Harmony and connection
  10. Values
  11. Roles and relationships
  12. Presence and hopefulness
  13. Work, hobbies, and interests

Interviewing while burnt out or dissatisfied

If you interview for new roles during this time, exercise caution. Be sure you’re in the right frame of mind to project the image you want. Your mental health is important and if you’re miserable, it will show. It’s not about “faking it,” but an attitude of “I’m ready for a role with more autonomy (or XYZ) is going to come across better than “I hate my job – get me out of here.”

Take some time for self-care through meditation, journaling, or anything that allows you to reset and find some joy. Then use that to launch yourself into a better place. 

Related: Phone Interview Tips: 19 Keys to Land a Second Interview 

When it comes to job dissatisfaction, finding a better one that brings you fulfillment and joy is worth working toward. It’s not just about enduring your job but about thriving in your career. However, if it’s burnout you’re dealing with, give yourself a much-needed recharge. 

Originally written by Lauren Hoffman in September 2016. Updated by the Hired Content Team in November 2023.