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Burnout or Rust-Out? What's The Difference and How Do You Navigate Them

Burnout or Rust-Out? What's The Difference and How Do You Navigate Them

The term “burnout” became a trend on social media in 2020. While most people saw it as just a part of stress, later, we understood how much burnout can impact our lives. Now we have another term called “rust-out”. It’s known as burnout’s cousin. While their roots come from unhappiness at work, rust-out is a feeling of being stuck in the mud and can’t get out. 

What is burnout?

It is a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion triggered by chronic stress. And this often happens at work. Why? Because the work is the primal focus we do as adults. Most hours of the day and most days of the week, the work occupies you mentally and physically. 

You have burnout if you notice these signs… 

  • Your sleep habits has changed.
  • You became critical at work.
  • You have trouble getting started at your work.
  • You became impatient and irritable with co-workers, clients, and customers.
  • You can’t be productive.
  • You have a hard time to focus.
  • You feel like you are not achieving enough.
  • You have constant headaches and stomach aches. 

The question of “What is burnout exactly?” brought many debates. Some say it’s a medical condition, and some say it’s not. Is it a psychological issue? Is it stress from working? In 2014, Dr Richard Gunderman stated in his article for the Atlantic,

“Professional burnout is the sum total of hundreds and thousands of tiny betrayals of purpose, each one so minute that it hardly attracts notice.”

It clarifies why burnout often happens at work. Because most of the time, your work doesn’t add up to your expectations, and it gives you an emotion of betrayal. Burnout is a symptom of hustle culture. 

What is rust-out

Whilst burnout occurs by pushing yourself to the edge to accomplish your goal, rust-out happens when the work becomes dull and uninspiring, leaving you feeling disinterested and indifferent. Rust-out became a lead cause of “quiet-quitting”, where you would put only the bare minimum effort into your tasks if you are unhappy with your job. 

Most of us spend 40 hours a week at the workspace with colleagues with whom we spend more time than our family or friends. It’s normal that we expect to be happy, excited and productive at work. 

The leading cause of rust-out is when you aren’t engaged enough in what you are working on. For example, you are assigned to a basic task that the junior level of other employees can manage. It makes you feel like your creative ideas and motivation are shut down, and you lose your work's sense of purpose/meaning.

Teena Clouston, the author of Challenging Stress, Burnout And Rust-Out, explained to Cosmopolitan, 

“Rust out is a lot deeper and more profound than boredom. It’s where people don’t feel they’re doing anything purposeful or being recognised. They often feel blocked – as if there’s nowhere for them to progress to, and it can be a much harder issue to address than burnout.”

How do you navigate burnout and rust-out?

Both burnout and rust-out happen at work, from over-pushing yourself in your career to being stuck in the unmotivated-to-work circle. It is essential to acknowledge that you are burnt out/rust-out. Use this realisation to encourage your motivation to help think out your next career stage.  

Ultimately, you could take some skill-learning courses to inspire your creativity and find what motivates you, or you can take a break from your work and leave your “good-enough” job that you don’t love.

Although not all of us can easily take a break or quit our jobs, we can still confront our stress and dissatisfaction. Redirect those energies to something better, ensuring we are stepping forward.

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