How To Avoid Burnout And Stay Productive: 8 Ways for Engineers

The Engineer's Perspective
The Engineer's Perspective

Table of Contents

In engineering, burnout can be associated with combustion — a spontaneous chemical reaction that ignites the fuel to ash. Fitting as it is, burnout became a common term in the industry and academe pertaining to a condition of physical and/or mental collapse due to repetitive stress, pressure, and overwork, resulting in a sense of alienation, helplessness, and less productivity.

Originally coined by American Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, burnout describes the consequences of severe stress and high professionalism in “service” professions (e.g. doctors, nurses, hospitality) who sacrifice themselves for others, making them listless, exhausted, and unable to cope with the requirements of the profession. 

Nowadays, however, the term not only pertains to those whose profession provides “service”, but to career-driven people and overworked employees and students.

The Engineer's Perspective

Great Resignation and a culture of Silent Quitting

The wake of the Pandemic gave rise to the Great Resignation and a culture of Silent Quitting, where people only gave the bare minimum requirements for their jobs whilst looking for better professional opportunities.

Key Takeaways

  • Burnout is a result of chronic and repetitive stress and pressure experienced by an individual most often in a workplace. 
  • The most common causes of burnout are: unrealistic expectations, micromanagement, lack of communication and support, and monotonous work. If you manifest symptoms like exhaustion, alienation or non-belongingness, and reduced performance, know that you can take manageable steps to make your situation better.
  • Burnout prevention requires combined and harmonious efforts of both the employer and the employees. If you are unsure of how to deal with the symptoms or your struggles, don’t hesitate to seek help from your trusted circle or health professionals.

What Does Burnout Feel Like?

The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” (2019)

While there are numerous indications for the phenomenon, the most common symptoms of burnout include:

  • Exhaustion – psychological manifestations of exhaustion include being emotionally drained, lack of motivation, feeling tired and down, inattentiveness, and confusion. Physical symptoms include body pains, insufficient sleep, changes (generally loss) in appetite and gastrointestinal concerns, weak immune system, and shortness of breath.
  • Alienation / Non-belongingness – this manifests as a sense of hopelessness for improvement, professionals distancing themselves emotionally, apathetic response to work, and procrastination.
  • Reduced Performance – less productivity, difficulty concentrating, listlessness, lack of creativity, and negative/hostile attitude toward their tasks which usually results in accidents.
Burnout Stages How To Avoid Engineering Burnout?

Common Causes Of Burnout

Most common causes of burnout are interconnected and share a cause-and-effect relationship. Thus, it should be treated not as a single cause, but in relation to the other underlying causes of burnout. 

More often than not, here are the typical scenarios in workplace environments or academic programs that eventually lead to burnout:

Unrealistic Expectations

The unmanageable workload an employee is expected to complete, along with the inability of the employer to provide reasonable deadlines, both contribute to unrealistic expectations. Setting very high unattainable standards will cultivate crippling perfectionism, expecting employees to perform intensely for sustained periods.


Although, giving hands-on instructions and interactions with subordinates is a good quality of a manager, overdoing this can put unnecessary stress on the employee. It creates a feeling of helplessness and cultivates doubt over one’s capability. 

Lack of Communication

Vague and incomplete instructions often lead to miscommunication or confusion between employers/managers and employees. Employees who are subjected to unnecessary iterations of work tasks create feelings of anxiety and exhaustion, leading to poorly made decisions, and decreased productivity. 

Lack of Support / Unfair Treatment

When employees feel misguided or treated unfairly, a higher risk of dissatisfaction, distrust, and burnout can be expected. This includes insufficient rewards and appreciation, unjust punishments, and other effort-reward imbalances.

As digital platforms continue to grow together with social distancing, the lack of interaction with peers could also result in feeling isolated. A support group or social community at work and school contributes greatly to the stress-coping mechanism of an individual. 

Monotonous Work

Repeated routine performed daily can lead to less creativity, challenge, and interest in work. Often, employees feel they’re stuck, bored, or unfulfilled in their career journey. 

8 Strategies Engineers Could Use To Prevent Burnout

Manifestation of burnout and dealing with it varies differently per individual. With the right knowledge and strategies, you can find a suitable and healthy approach to take care of yourself and overcome. Here are some steps to help you in dealing with burnout. 

8 Strategies Engineers for Burnout How To Avoid Engineering Burnout?

1. Acknowledge the feelings associated with burnout.

Addressing the concern starts with the awareness of the symptoms and causes of burnout. 

2. Manage workload and expectations.

When your workload and capacity are balanced, professional growth and development, rest, and work recovery are possible while getting your task done. 

  • Plan your work. If a task is too big, dissect it into smaller steps and create little milestones of success to keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Delegate tasks. Accept the fact that you can’t do everything by yourself all the time, and that delegating tasks to achieve a common goal is beneficial for you and the team.
  • Let go of perfectionism. You don’t need to produce perfect results. Most of the time, “good enough” and “conforming to a standard” is all that is needed. 

3. Let go of things you can’t control. 

Though it is true that in engineering, controls are necessary, there are still several factors in place that are way beyond us. Without a doubt, you are capable of great things. However, understand that things may go unexpectedly that’s out of your responsibility. Whenever that happens, accept that some things are not in your control. This will take unnecessary pressure off your shoulders.

4. Take a break.

There are plenty of reasons why some people are reluctant to take a day off. Some examples are: not getting paid leaves, working hard for a promotion, and feeling guilty when delegating responsibilities. However, if you neglect your body’s need for rest, you may have to take a sick leave or unpaid time off later on. 

Be it a week-long vacation or just leaving the workplace on time, taking breaks allow you to relax and fill you with much inspiration, new perspectives, and productivity when you return.

5. Set boundaries.

How many times have you entertained work-related calls and emails during your time off because the team “needs you” or “only you can do this”? You should affirm to yourself that you will not always be around and others must step up. While you may subconsciously think of work during your break, being aware that this particular time is dedicated to yourself is a critical step to setting up boundaries between life and work.

6. Assert yourself (respectfully).

During times when your boundaries may be challenged by your managers/employers and your assertiveness falls on deaf ears, you may:

  • Make sure that all communications are clear and documented (email, screenshots, etc.)
  • Seek help from someone who can advocate for you (can be HR or legal advice)
  • Seek other job opportunities.

Standing firm on the boundaries that you set will establish an atmosphere of respect between you and your employer.

7. Make yourself the first priority.

Management will always have the best interests of the company, and your colleagues are more likely to watch out for themselves. Know your strengths and keep upskilling. Don’t hesitate to leave if your growth is compromised, despite how long you’ve been with an organization. You’ll be surprised at the opportunities you are qualified for when you take the chance.

8. Revisit your goals and purpose.

You can easily lose sight of your goals and purpose when you are repeatedly exposed to stressful conditions. Re-evaluating your goals and the purpose behind them will provide a sense of direction from how far you’ve come and how much more you need to improve. Whenever you feel stuck or reached a plateau in your career, go back to your why’s.

The Engineer's Perspective

Work-Life Balance

In the wake of the Pandemic, work setups have become hybrid and Work-Life Balance is no longer viable for the majority. Work-Life Integration is now the prevailing trend in such work setups where the fulfillment of duties for one’s work can be integrated with one’s personal routine as long as the objectives of both the company and the employee are satisfied.

Physical, mental, and emotional stress are inevitable, may it be at work or in our personal lives. When things feel way too heavy, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Although burnout may feel like you’ve reached a standstill in your career, know that this may be a phase that you encounter now for you to grow and be a better version of yourself.

Physical, mental, and emotional stress are inevitable, How To Avoid Engineering Burnout?


Is it OK to quit a job because of burnout?

Before deciding to quit, try and work it out first with your direct supervisors or HR. Usually, a good HR will conduct multiple counseling sessions to mitigate the situation such as offering incentives or modifying work schedules to raise employee morale. However, if all efforts have been exhausted and there’s no improvement, looking for better opportunities elsewhere may be the solution.

How do you fix burnout without quitting?

Other ways of dealing with burnout apart from those discussed above would be taking on a different role/function and stepping down from unreasonable responsibilities.

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