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Work Burnout: How to Spot the Warning Signs

By RBC Insurance • Published August 31, 2023 • 7 Min Read

The signs of burnout can look and feel different, depending on the person. But imagine waking up to an alarm and feeling like you’ve run a marathon in your sleep.

You’re exhausted before your feet even touch the floor. Your mind is a whirlwind of tasks, deadlines, and expectations. You drag yourself to work, only to feel completely overwhelmed.

Even when you clock out, work follows you home, creeping into your thoughts and robbing you of any downtime. You’re not just physically tired, you’re emotionally and mentally drained. 

This is what burnout can feel like. It’s more than just a bad day or a tough week—it’s a persistent, debilitating state of being.

Key takeaways

  • Burnout is a state of exhaustion caused by chronic stress that can have significant emotional, mental, and physical effects.

  • The three main types of work burnout are: overload, underchallenged, and neglect.

  • Warning signs of burnout include emotional exhaustion, detachment, physical symptoms, and behavioural changes.

  • Your company benefits plan may offer coverage and services to help you recover from burnout.

  • An individual disability insurance plan may provide you with additional coverage if your company’s plan doesn’t fully suit your needs.

  • If you’re self-employed, look for an individual disability insurance plan designed to help protect you in the event of burnout.

What is burnout?

This state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion is known as “burnout,” a term gaining prominence in the discussion of mental health in the Canadian workplace.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout has become an all-too-common struggle among workers grappling with the overlapping of their professional and personal lives.

Burnout is often described as a state of chronic exhaustion caused by chronic stress that can have significant emotional, mental, and physical effects. According to both the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is not simply about feeling tired. It seeps deeper, manifesting as reduced productivity, low motivation, and, often, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

If you think you’re experiencing burnout, make an appointment with your health-care provider to discuss your options.

Different types of burnout

While burnout can present in various ways (including caregiver burnout and relationship burnout), medical research identifies three main types of work burnout.

1.   Overload burnout

You’re an ambitious go-getter, constantly pushing yourself to the max. You often juggle a million tasks, placing unrealistic expectations on yourself that cause excess stress. Eventually, you hit a wall and crash, feeling overwhelmed and drained.

2.    Underchallenged burnout

Think of being stuck in a monotonous routine, lacking excitement or purpose. You’re like a zombie just going through the motions, feeling bored and unfulfilled. It’s as if your energy is slowly seeping away.

3.   Neglect burnout

Also known as “worn-out burnout,” this is when prolonged stress and exhaustion drain you completely. You feel emotionally and physically spent, detached, and even hopeless. Neglect burnout can happen when you aren’t getting enough support at your place of work.


What are the signs of burnout at work?

Many people don’t recognize the signs of burnout at work, or they are held back by the stigma of seeking help for their mental health. Here’s a list of some common symptoms of burnout recognized by major medical and regulatory bodies:

Emotional exhaustion

Feeling drained, overwhelmed, and emotionally depleted.

Cynicism and detachment

Developing a negative and cynical attitude toward work, colleagues, or clients, and distancing yourself emotionally.

Reduced sense of accomplishment

Feeling unproductive, ineffective, and experiencing a loss of satisfaction or fulfillment in and/or at your work.

Physical symptoms

Frequently experiencing headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, and changes in appetite and/or sleep patterns.

Behavioural changes

Withdrawing from social interactions, isolating yourself, decreased motivation and productivity, and neglecting self-care.

Recognizing these symptoms is crucial for learning how to prevent and treat burnout.


What are the impacts of burnout?

Burnout can have major effects on multiple levels: personal, professional, and societal.

Personally, it can lead to anxiety, depression, and decreased overall well-being. In a professional context, work burnout can hinder job performance, creativity, and decision-making abilities. It may also strain relationships with colleagues and affect career growth. Societally, burnout can contribute to increased health-care costs, decreased productivity, and a higher turnover rate in organizations.

What if I’m disabled due to mental health issues?

When experiencing burnout, the possibility of needing disability insurance due to mental health issues may arise. Understanding your insurance coverage (or lack thereof) is crucial. 

Depending on your type of employment, you may have access to group plan benefits, such has:

Short-term group insurance: This offers financial support for a brief period—typically, a few weeks to a few months—and is designed to cover temporary disabilities or illnesses that prevent an employee from king.

Long-term group insurance: It kicks in after the short-term benefits have been exhausted and can provide coverage for several years. It’s designed for serious, long-term disabilities or chronic illnesses that render an employee unable to work for an extended period.

However, your group plan may not provide you with enough coverage if you have to go on disability insurance. It’s important to understand the terms of your policy, what it covers, and, more specifically, what it doesn’t cover, and when you might consider individual disability insurance to make sure you and your family are looked after.

Self-employed/no insurance: For those with no coverage, seeking help and taking time off work can seem even more daunting—financially, physically, emotionally. There are options out there, such as individual disability insurance policies that offer you and your family protection in the event you make a disability insurance claim related to burnout or other mental health issues.


What are the benefits of having an individual disability insurance policy?

Navigating the effect of burnout on your own can be overwhelming, but having an individual disability insurance policy can offer a lifeline with crucial benefits, such as:

Loss-of-income benefits: If you’re unable to work due to a disability, the policy will provide a certain percentage of your income, thereby cushioning the financial blow of not being able to earn a living.

Tax-free benefits: If you personally pay 100 per cent of your premiums, then any benefit you receive is tax-free. This gets you closer to your actual income and can help you maintain your lifestyle, even while dealing with health issues.

Help with getting back to work: Disability insurance plans, such as those offered through RBC Insurance, include services that assist you in returning to work. These could involve job training programs, rehabilitation services, or even help with starting your own business.

Portable, continuous coverage: Additionally, most employee-sponsored plans end when you leave your job, putting you in a bind if you face health issues afterwards. The beauty of an individual disability insurance plan is its portability—it follows you, ensuring you’re covered even if you change jobs.

Mental health support: Perhaps one of the most valuable benefits is the robust coverage related to mental health services. For instance, the insurance provider might offer help in finding a mental health-care provider based on your preferences of where and how you want to meet. They may also offer support with job retraining if that’s the best option for you.


It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone when dealing with your mental health. Supports and resources are available to help get you back on your feet. 

Speak with an RBC Insurance advisor to learn more about protecting yourself and your family with disability insurance.

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*Home and auto insurance products are distributed by RBC Insurance Agency Ltd. and underwritten by Aviva General Insurance Company. In Quebec, RBC Insurance Agency Ltd. Is registered as a damage insurance agency. As a result of government-run auto insurance plans, auto insurance is not available through RBC Insurance in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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