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More Than 20 Tips for Recent College Grads to Avoid Burnout in the Workplace

By HERWriter
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A big focus in the workplace now is to avoid burnout. No woman wants to get to the point where she hates her job because of a lack of excitement and the overall feeling of exhaustion. For recent college graduates, it could be useful to consider ways to avoid the dreaded burnout.

Chris Cunningham, a UC Foundation Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, associates burnout with stress.

** What is burnout? **

“Burnout in a work setting is typically defined as a serious psychological and physical strain reaction to stress,” Cunningham said in an email. “Workers experience stress as a result of exposure to stressors.”

Burnout can be caused not only by stress at work, but also at home.

“Although burnout is often seen as triggered primarily by work-related
stressor exposure, it is also likely that people with very stressful
nonwork lives (i.e., home, family, school, other roles) may also be at
a heightened risk for experiencing burnout.,” he said.

Fortunately for most recent graduates, burnout doesn’t happen right away.

“Burnout is often seen as a cumulative type of strain, meaning that it doesn't necessarily emerge just because of exposure to a single serious stressor or a relatively brief period of stress at work,” Cunningham said.

** Tips to prevent burnout **

More good news is that Cunningham said research suggests there are ways to minimize burnout symptoms by engaging in some of the following activities:

1) Physical exercise
2) Adequate sleep
3) Social interactions
4) Other forms of relaxation

Here are some more prevention tips from Cunningham:

1) “A big one is making sure that you have an established routine or strategy for recovering after stressful work days.”
2) “Active forms of recovery (e.g., exercise, hobbies, etc.) often are touted as perhaps the most beneficial of recovery options, but there are also times when more passive recovery efforts (reading, resting, even a little TV) are likely to be beneficial.”
3) “A major key here is moderation and variety. Perhaps an easy way to look at this is to try to make sure that you are multidimensional in what you do and
what interests you - putting all your eggs in a single basket has never been a sound strategy and this is likely to be true especially when it comes to your personal plan for maintaining resilience.”
4) “People need to understand their own resilience to stressful working conditions. If you don't do well under constant pressure or travel, for instance, then you might not want to pursue that traveling consultant job right out of college.”

Christina Maslach, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote a few books on job burnout. One, called “Burnout: The Cost of Caring,” includes some of the following prevention tips that Maslach included in an email:

1) “Working smarter instead of working harder (setting realistic goals; doing the same thing differently; taking more effective breaks; taking things less personally).”

2) Caring for oneself, as well as for others (accentuating the positive; knowing yourself better; rest and relaxation; making the transition from job to home; protecting and developing your life outside of work; changing jobs).”

She suggested that if these six areas are in place at work, then burnout can be prevented:

1) “Sustainable wokload.”
2) “The experience of choice and control.”
3) “Recognition and reward.”
4) “A sense of work community.”
5) “Fairness, respect and justice.”
6) “Meaningful work.”

One website, called www.online-education.net, suggested the following advice for nursing school graduate students. However, these tips can apply to anyone in the workplace really:
1) “Learn how to say ‘no’ … If you find that you are doing too much overtime, you must refuse the extra shifts. The facility will find a way to cope. As much as we like to feel irreplaceable, we’re not.”
2) “Don’t apologize or give excuses … When you are turning down an extra shift, do not apologize or say why you don’t want to work.”
3) “Focus on out-of-work activities.”

Another website, called www.helpguide.org, suggested the following tips to prevent burnout:

1) “Start the day with a relaxing ritual.”
2) “Adopt healthy eating, exercising and sleeping habits.”
3) “Set boundaries.”
4) “Take a daily break from technology.”
5) “Nourish your creative side.”
6) “Learn how to manage stress.”

The website also lists some ways to cope with job burnout and recover from it, for those who are already suffering. Click the link under sources for more information. And basically, remember the bare necessities to be healthy and recognize activities that could relieve your stress or at least give you some happiness.

A positive is that recent college graduates might have an advantage entering the workforce, especially if they don’t have as many family obligations.

“Young adults/recent graduates often have more time in their non-work lives to engage in other activities that may be recovery-enhancing than workers who are also balancing family demands or other community demands,” Cunningham said. “As such, I would not expect to see high levels of burnout among recent graduates who are female or male.”

** Burnout and women **

Yet females might be more likely to suffer from burnout later on in the workplace.

“It is reasonable to expect females to potentially be at greater risk for experiencing burnout down the road,” Cunningham said. “In relatively recent history, women have increasingly been taking working roles (i.e., paying jobs of the part or full-time variety) in addition to their already busy and demanding non-work roles (e.g., childcare, house maintaining, etc.).”

This can obviously be stressful for women to deal with house work, child care and a career.

“It is still the case that most women handle most of the home-related work, even when they are working part or full time jobs,” Cunningham said. “I have seen recent statistics … that suggest a possible shifting in this trend, at least within the U.S., in that men are starting to shoulder more of the home-work burden. Still, though, women carry a disproportionate amount of this load.”

With all of these responsibilities, there is no time left in the day to relax and have fun, leading to exhaustion.

“Consider the simple fact that there are only so many hours in a given day,” Cunningham said. “If we know that people should be aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep, and may have to work at least eight hours in a job, then this leaves a very limited amount of available non-work time for other things. If those other things also include the caring for of children or elder adults, and the general upkeep of a household, then it is easy to see why women may be more susceptible to developing burnout over time.”

Gender isn’t the only factor in burnout, and it should be considered on an individual basis.

“It is very important to remember that the research does show individual differences in burnout trajectories and more general resilience in the face of chronic stress,” Cunningham said. “This also means that for some individuals, being female is not the risk factor that explains their potential burnout - being a person who reacts more strongly to stress or someone who works in just the most unrelentingly stressful environment is likely to be a much bigger factor.”

Some work environments known for burnout are in the health care and education fields, he said.

What are some ways you avoid burnout in the workplace? Have you experienced burnout? Did you recover? Share your stories in the comments below.


Cunningham, Chris. Email interview. July 12, 2011.
Maslach, Christina. Email interview. July 13, 2011.

Reviewed July 14, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton

Add a Comment1 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

This was a good post.

I recently wrote a blog post about college burnout and mentioned the need for a new attitude and indicated: One method of creating a positive belief about yourself is to look for sources of inspiration and motivation, and recognize completion of short-term goals along the way, as you work towards your long-term goals. (http://bit.ly/KSFJ7F)

Do you ever find it is difficult to get students to talk about this issue?
Dr. J

June 1, 2012 - 6:30pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.