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Tony Collen has been a software engineer for more than two decades, but he realized just last year he wasn't caring as much about his job anymore.

"I lost all passion and interest in doing anything computer-related," Collen said. "It was a little bit of a wake-up call for me."

Needing a break, Collen left his job in mid-January after feeling his work environment was burning him out. He said clients ramped up the pressure, making every project feel like an emergency.

"A big factor, I think, was constantly changing priorities and interruptions," he said. "It felt like an unsustainable way to stay productive and mentally healthy."

After leaving his job, Collen took a break and did not work for four months before becoming an independent consultant to build software for clients. During his time off, Collen focused on his mental and physical health through exercise and meditation.

A recent survey from staffing company Robert Half found Twin Cities employees are feeling 36% more burned out today than they were a year ago, with the biggest increases in burnout among tech workers, millennials and working parents. Major factors causing this burnout were heavy workloads (61%), lack of communication and support from management (36%) and a toxic organizational culture (20%).

Are you feeling the burn(out)? Or are you wondering how to help your employees avoid such a fate? Here's some advice for how to manage workplace woe:

What is it?

Burnout isn't a recognized medical condition, but there is more awareness now of the issue, which results from chronic workplace stress. The World Health Organization identifies three key components to burnout: energy depletion or exhaustion, feeling negative or cynical about your job and working less effectively.

The Mayo Clinic cited symptoms including irritability, trouble concentrating, headaches, changes in sleep habits and a higher risk of using drugs and alcohol.

Know the signs

It's important to pay attention to your body during times of high stress. Trouble sleeping, changes in eating habits, physical exhaustion, headaches, stomachaches, even frequently catching little bugs like common colds could all be signs that you're feeling burned out.

If you're experiencing physical symptoms that could indicate burnout, consider seeing your primary care doctor or a mental health professional to determine whether it's stress or an actual physical condition.

When burnout stems from job-related woes, it might help to request better working conditions, something you could present to your boss with your co-workers. Taking time off could also help.

If you don't have control of what your work life is like, turn to your personal life. Maybe you order takeout so you don't have the added pressure of cooking after work. Maybe your spouse helps more with child-care dropoffs or pickups. Maybe you need an hour of alone time at the end of the day to watch TV.

Social support, such as talking with friends or a therapist, and taking advantage of mental health or exercise benefits your employer offers can help.

Burnout, though, can't be "fixed" with better self-care, Christina Maslach, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, told the New York Times. This implication only worsens the problem, because it lays the blame and responsibility on those with burnout.

Lead the way

Experts say one of the most effective ways to deal with burnout is to not ignore it. Managers and employees need to frankly discuss the issue. Reluctance to talk about it can compound the problem.

The Robert Half survey found 34% of Twin Cities employees said they feel uneasy about telling their managers about burnout, while 25% said their managers have not taken any steps to address the burnout problem.

"They're afraid to tell their leader how they really feel," said Jennifer Carlson, Minneapolis-based region director for Robert Half.

Minneapolis-based CO2 Partners coaches business leaders on growing their companies, and part of that includes discussing company culture.

"People are just feeling exhausted," said Gary Cohen, managing partner of the firm. "I'm hearing many people talk about sabbaticals. I'm hearing many people say, 'It's not worth it anymore.'"

Cohen said managers should be direct in talking to staffers about burnout issues.

"Don't be afraid to lean in to understand whatever they're wrestling with," Cohen said.

Carlson said managers should encourage staff to take time off, support work-life balance and offer scheduling flexibility.

Mary Jo Kreitzer, founder and director of the University of Minnesota's Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, has worked with a range of organizations on burnout.

"One of the working conditions that's huge [in causing burnout] is poor management and poor leadership," she said. "Leaders have a huge role in setting the culture."

Cut the busy work

Dr. Mark Linzer, an internal medicine physician with Hennepin Healthcare who is the director of its Institute for Professional Worklife, started studying burnout among medical professionals in 1990. More than three decades later, he doesn't see much improving.

One key element of cutting burnout risk is cutting down or eliminating busy work, Linzer said. For doctors, for example, that means time spent documenting electronic records.

Linzer said financial pressures can be a factor in workplace burnout, but the two biggest issues are work overload and not feeling valued at your job.

Linzer helped develop the Mini Z burnout survey. It takes only two minutes to complete, and health care organizations — as well as other businesses — have widely used it. The survey results are meant to provide a roadmap for making changes and improvements to the workplace.

Tech recruiter Paul DeBettignies, principal with Minneapolis-based Minnesota Headhunter, said many companies started the year setting their staffing levels in expectation of a recession. Because that recession hasn't unfolded, those companies are now understaffed, which helps drive burnout.

Burnout played a major role in the mass exodus of employees in 2021 that became known as the Great Resignation. A staggering 47.4 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

DeBettignies said burnout could be a factor in a repeat of that phenomenon.

Find a new path

The latest numbers from Gallup show 26% of U.S. employees feel burned out at work very often or always. At the same time, 44% of workers said they experienced daily stress.

Only 25% strongly agreed their "organization cares about [their] overall wellbeing."

Employees can use strategies such as "time blocking" — designating specific windows of time for a certain task — to mitigate burnout, Carlson said. She added taking "micro breaks" during the day can also be helpful.

Employers are now taking more time to hire new employees, which translates into a heavier workload for the current staff. Another factor is the increase in companies requiring employees to work back in the office, which can be another burnout component for workers who grew accustomed to more flexibility.

"Coming out of the pandemic, the speed of business has been incredible," Carlson said. "Employees are starting to feel like they have unrealistic expectations set on them."

After three years of the stress, anxiety and intense work since the onset of the pandemic, Linzer said many workers are simply tired.

"It's not the time for business as usual," Linzer said. "It's time to slow down."

Jazz Hampton had been working as a corporate lawyer. Expectations included billing 34 hours a week to clients, but that usually meant working more like 50 to 60 hours per week.

The events of 2020 prompted Hampton to make some career changes. He saw many others making different professional choices during the pandemic. And after the police murder of George Floyd, he and two co-founders started Minneapolis-based TurnSignl, an app that can connect people with an attorney immediately if police detain them.

"It felt like the right time to jump ship and leave corporate America," Hampton said.

Hampton, who is Black, said TurnSignl is "creating social change," and he's passionate about the work.

"I don't stress going to work in the way that I used to," Hampton said. "I enjoy going to work."

The New York Times contributed to this report.

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