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Ask HR: What Does Burnout Look and Feel Like?

​SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 


I have played a central role in the launch of major projects for my company over the last couple of years. My work has been demanding and sometimes requires long hours. However, I've been feeling perpetually fatigued lately. I think I may be experiencing burnout. How can I tell if I have burnout? —Judy 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I am sorry to hear you are feeling exhausted. A demanding workload, coupled with long hours, plus the stress of living during a pandemic—and all that entails—can undoubtedly contribute to burnout. The World Health Organization defines burnout as emotional, physical and mental exhaustion brought on by excessive stress levels. 

If you're experiencing the following symptoms consistently, you may have burnout: 

  • Exhaustion, including emotional, physical and cognitive fatigue. 
  • Increased irritability. 
  • Not feeling as invested or motivated or feeling detached from either your personal or professional life.
  • Frequent mistakes or feeling incompetent. 

If you are concerned about burnout, making key lifestyle changes can help remedy your situation. To help with burnout, establish healthy habits like getting a good night's sleep, eating well and exercising regularly. You may feel like you don't have time to exercise during the week or must stay up late to get things done. But fight that feeling and make your health a priority!

Here are some other ways to help with burnout:

  • Take regular breaks throughout the day, or eat lunch away from your desk.
  • Set start and end times for your workday, and when the day is over, walk away.
  • Take time off when possible.
  • Declutter and organize your workspace or home.
  • Say no when you can.
  • Journal or meditate. 

Have a candid conversation with your boss about how you are feeling. They may be able to point you to resources designed to help alleviate burnout, like an employee assistance program. Or they can help you prioritize your workload, and together you can brainstorm ideas to help ease stress at work. You may not be the only one feeling this way; sometimes speaking to others can help reduce stress.   

Ultimately, burnout can lead to a myriad of health issues, so prioritize your physical and mental wellness. Being at your best allows you to do your best work and have a better life. I hope your condition improves and wish you the best!


Rumors are swirling that my company may be laying people off in the next quarter. Do you have any recommendations for what to do if I am laid off? Damon 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: For your sake, I hope the rumors aren't true and you avoid a layoff. Given our current economic reality, you should be ready for the possibility. There are several things you can do to prepare for and protect your livelihood and finances. 

Start by updating your resume. You can even do this now, well in advance of a potential layoff. It's always a good idea to have an updated resume on file, regardless of your circumstances. Add your most recent work experience and any recent degrees, training and certifications you have received. Don't forget to highlight your professional accomplishments and community involvement, if applicable.  

Review your budget to see how a layoff will impact your finances. Determine what items must remain in your budget and what you should trim, if necessary. 

For many, health care is the most significant threat to their financial standing. If you are laid off, you will likely be eligible to stay on your employer's health insurance plan through COBRA. Individuals who elect COBRA insurance are responsible for paying up to 100 percent of the cost of their monthly insurance premium, which can be a huge financial shock to the system. On average, individuals pay between $400 and $700 per person on their monthly health insurance plan.  

Losing your job to a layoff is considered a "qualifying event." It likely makes you eligible to enroll in health insurance through (the federal health insurance marketplace) or your state exchange outside the regular Open Enrollment window at the end of each year. 

If you have a partner or a spouse, they could also add you to their insurance plan should you lose your job. Explore all your health insurance options to determine what works best for you, and factor those costs into the "layoff budget." 

If you are laid off, I suggest you apply for unemployment benefits through your state. The eligibility rules vary for each state, but generally, individuals are eligible if they have lost their job through no fault of their own and earned sufficient wages during the past year and a half before applying. If you are eligible, you may receive unemployment compensation benefits to help cover living expenses while you search for new work. 

Lastly, if you're happy working for your current employer, stay connected with your team and the human resources department. Check in regularly to see if there are new positions to which you could apply.  

Tap into your network of family, friends and colleagues, and use your connections to find new work. Attend local networking events for your industry, and create a profile on LinkedIn if you haven't done so already. Add your updated resume to your profile and use that platform and others to search for new work. 

Hopefully, by taking these steps, you can weather a layoff well! Although, I sincerely hope it doesn't come to that. Take care, and I wish you all the best!


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.