Even If You Work Hard and Love What You Do, You're Still at Risk of Burning Out

And no, it can't be be resolved by blowing off some steam or meditating for 30 minutes.

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By Lydia Belanger • Feb 2, 2018 Originally published Feb 2, 2018

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When we're deeply immersed in our work, we're often committed to a goal and a quality standard and making progress accordingly. This is what people mean when they talk about "engagement." Is the person not only working hard, but truly invested in what they're doing?

Naturally, however, working hard can result in stress, which can lead to burnout, even if a person is extremely passionate about their work. A recent study from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence found that nearly one in five people are both highly engaged with their work and experiencing exhaustion and burnout.

The researchers conducted an online survey to suss out the conflicting emotions this group feels toward their jobs -- these individuals are interested in their work, but they're also frustrated and stressed out by it. They're stressed out to the extent that they think more about leaving their current jobs than people who aren't engaged with their work do.

Related: Why Some Employees Don't Like Having Freedom at Work

In other words, there's such a thing as too much engagement. So what can we do to make sure workers don't get too wrapped up in their work? The answer isn't workplace programs that involve nutrition or meditation, the researchers warn.

"While we know that chronic stress is not good for employees, company wellness initiatives are not the primary way to respond to that stress," study lead Julia Moeller writes in Harvard Business Review. "Our data suggests that while wellness initiatives can be helpful, a much bigger lever is the work itself."

The researchers break down the factors that determine a worker's experience into two categories: resources and demands. If a worker has tangible resources such as time, money and equipment at their disposal, as well as intangibles such as empathy or even friendship from their team, they'll be better off. They'll also benefit from rewards and recognition for the work they do.

But if all of this is coupled with an environment that doesn't demand that they work or think too hard -- one that fosters work-life balance and doesn't involve goals so lofty they're impossible to achieve -- most workers with this set of circumstances will thrive.

Related video: 9 Stress-Reducing Tips for Busy Professionals

Lydia Belanger
Lydia Belanger is a former associate editor at Entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaBelanger.

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