AFTER working for 30 years, Mr Michael Tan (not his real name) decided he'd had enough of corporate life and threw in the towel.

'Over a period of time, I couldn't get things moving so I got very frustrated. I told myself I had enough. I just wanted to get out and give myself a break.'

The sales director, who is in his 50s, says he had been experiencing increasing stress at work.

'When you burn out, you basically lose interest in what you do. You don't have any motivation to do your work and you get irritated easily. It affects your mood.

'It may take just one incident to trigger you to do something about it.'

Mr Tan took a break of nearly a year, during which he travelled to various places as well as signed up for a course to brush up his command of Chinese.

The break was rejuvenating; he was recharged and has since rejoined the workforce.

Mr Tan is a rarity in that he acknowledged his problem and took drastic measures to address it.

Many workers do not recognise they have job burnout, says Dr Elizabeth Nair, lead psychologist and chief executive of Work & Health Psychologists.

'They think this is how life is, and they just have to keep going to meet expectations - their own as well as their significant others' expectations of what they need to provide or achieve.'

Burnout is caused by prolonged stress. Those who suffer from it have reported being tired most of the time. They also feel overwhelmed and unproductive.

It's normal to feel this way sometimes but if the feeling persists, it may be a sign of something more serious.

Here are the symptoms of job burnout to look out for, according to Dr Nair. 

  • Being chronically fatigued;
  • Wondering about the meaning of life, specifically the meaning of your own life;
  • Difficulty in meeting work targets;
  • Difficulty in meeting expectations of family and friends in meaningful engagement;
  • Being preoccupied;
  • Difficulty in focusing;
  • Feeling of wanting to get away from your present life;
  • Having sleeping problems, either too little sleep or too much sleep;
  • Losing interest in the simple pleasures of life; and
  • Losing motivation to learn or achieve mastery in new skills.

Medication does not address the root of these problems, Dr Nair says. You may also find that you have become critical at work or troubled by unexplained headaches or other physical ailments.

The key symptom is when you feel like you do not have the urge to do anything at all.

That's when you know that you are at the tipping point, says Mr Paul Heng, founder/executive coach of NeXT Corporate Coaching Services.

So what exactly causes job burnout?

Experts say it could be the result of various things, including unclear or overly demanding job expectations, a lack of control at work or a poor job fit.

Also, you could be working with an office bully or have a boss who micromanages your work. Or you could just be in a monotonous job. Increased job stress may raise productivity but it's only up to a certain point, after which things can quickly deteriorate.

Mr Heng says he has seen many clients who were on the verge of burnout.

'If left unattended, or ignored, it could lead to serious mind problems, and depression is perhaps the beginning of more problems to come.'

If you find that you are at risk of burnout, it is crucial to address the issue head-on rather than simply accept status quo and refuse to acknowledge the problem, says Dr Nair.

Acknowledging the problem means giving yourself the chance of doing something about it.