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Jennifer Newman: Why you should take workplace exhaustion seriously

Workplace psychologist says not asking for help when you're exhausted can be like drowning and not asking for a life buoy.

Workplace psychologist says not asking for help when you're exhausted is a mistake

If you find yourself exhausted at work, it might require taking some time off, according to workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman. (iStock)

Have you ever found yourself tired at work — all the time?

Well, aside from not getting enough sleep, you might actually be exhausted from taking on too many tasks, both at home and at work.

Exhaustion affects both a person's physical and mental state, and can have damaging affects on your personal and professional lives, according to workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman.

She joined stand-in host Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition to discuss how workers and employers can deal with exhaustion

Stephen Quinn: How can a worker tell they are exhausted and not just tired?

Jennifer Newman: It's a combination of physical fatigue and mental weariness.

Physically, workers feel like they are dragging themselves around. They go home at the end of the day and don't have energy. Some just flop on the couch and feel like they can't get up. If workers have children they find themselves skipping routines.

Mental weariness shows up as having difficulty processing information. Workers find instructions hard to remember and follow, they can't concentrate for very long — juggling more than one thing at a time becomes impossible.

They dread going into work.

What can cause workers to become exhausted?

A combination of physical, personal and workplace factors:

Managers who say one thing and do another, if the work seems pointless, if there's little recognition given to employees, if there is a lack of emotional support, and constant worry about work and no one to turn for help.

Another is not getting a break. This comes from working and not taking vacations, sometimes due to financial difficulties.

For example: I know a transport worker who didn't take any time off.  He was worried about making enough money to pay expenses, and had incurred debt and had young children. He drove himself hard without a break.

Other times workers get physically rundown — they don't fully recover from an illness and go back to work and hit a wall.

What can workers do if they find themselves becoming exhausted?

Get checked by your doctor to rule out medical reasons. Try taking a break of some sort. If you are sick, take time to fully recover. If you feel overwhelmed by tasks, start dealing with the volume by talking about what you can handle and when you can handle it.

So, you can tactfully say: "Yes, I can take that on and we'll need to talk about the timeline, when you get chance;" or, "Sure, I can get to that on Monday, how does that sound?;" or even, "Mmmm, I think we should bring this one back to the team."

Workers who can't say no, become exhausted.

What if a worker still can't keep going, they've reached a point of no return?

If you're unable to go on, you need to talk to your employer. Some workers are afraid to approach their team lead, boss, or HR — but a frank conversation is necessary. Your exhaustion is probably not a secret.

Tell your employer the facts. Let them know you can't keep up with things because you are exhausted.

How can managers handle exhausted workers? 

Accept their appraisal of the situation. It takes courage to tell the boss you can't handle things.

Take time to listen to what's going on and think about how to immediately reduce the workload, and, help the employee regain a sense of accomplishment by noticing their wins.

Give the worker time off — let them work from home, or change their hours to help get them more sleep.

Let them know you care, and when they stabilize have a discussion about how to prevent the same thing from happening again.

With files from CBC's The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Jennifer Newman: How to deal with exhaustion in the workplace