For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

Combatting complacency and burnout

Posted on July 31, 2023
Woman of Asian descent looking frustrated as she stares at her laptop

If you spend any time on Linkedin, you will read many articles on how US workers are feeling complacent, overwhelmed, or burned out. There are two key structural elements to this issue. First, Americans get much less vacation than most of the world – we are tied for the second worst slot with Naura for an average of 10 days. Micronesia tops the list with nine. created a really cool map, showing the average number of vacation days across the globe, I encourage you to check it out. Those that are at the top of the list with the most vacation days are Iran at 53 days, followed by San Marino with 46, and Yemen with 45. Much of Europe has over 30 days, and as a reminder – the average number of vacation days in the United States is 10. The second structural issue is perception or corporate expectations. The higher you climb the ladder, the more one is expected to not use their allotted vacation time, which is a bit ironic since, often the more senior one becomes, the more vacation time they are allotted, but are expected not to use.

So, back to the topic at hand, fighting complacency or worse, feeling overwhelmed or burned out. Not all of the tips below will work for everyone, but take a look and see which might work for you:

  1. Begin by taking your allotted vacation time, unless you are saving your vacation time for a bigger trip or something like parental leave – and I won’t even dive down that rabbit hole. You have earned that time, so use it.
  2. Use your vacation time wisely. The point of vacation time is about restoration and relaxation. Conde Nast Traveler reported on a study out of Finland that looked at the “right” number of days for a vacation. They determined it is between 7 and 10 days. Taking a few days here and there or a series of long weekends is great, but it does not restore you. You need 7-10 straight days to unwind and restore your mind, body, and soul.
  3. Boundary your time, so when you are not at work, ensure you are not continuing to work. Of course, barring a deadline, when you close your computer, actually close it, and do not check emails, etc. after hours or over the weekend. Again, there may occasionally be exceptions. If you are working remotely, set up your space, so you can walk away and avoid the “I’ll just check my email quickly” trap.
  4. Find time to laugh and connect with colleagues. When we build relationships with our colleagues, those connections can boost team spirit and help prevent complacency. It can also provide an outlet, which can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and burned out.
  5. Stay organized. This seems obvious, but the more chaos there is at work, the more important it is to stay organized. Taking extra time to find a file or looking for meeting notes can eat into your day and take away from time to get things done, which causes frustration and amps up anxiety, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed or burned out.
  6. Say No. It can be hard to say no, especially if you are working toward a promotion, but saying no to meetings and projects that do not align with your goals or elevate you, is important. We all attend meetings where at the end we think, “I really did not need to attend that meeting.” Try thinking that way before the meeting and opt out of meetings where you can work from a report out.
  7. Block time on your calendar. For many of us, we start off the day on the right foot and then by noon, we find we are behind because, as we call it in our office, we’ve spent a good part of the morning chasing squirrels. When you block time off in your calendar and dedicate it to a specific task, you are more likely to complete that task, as long as you stay off your email during that time period. This will allow you to get critical tasks completed and thus reduce anxiety.
  8. Take little breaks, this may mean taking a 5-minute walk or closing your eyes and meditating for a few minutes. Regardless of what you do, these little breaks can reduce anxiety, which may lead to better productivity, which reduces burnout and feeling overwhelmed.
  9. If you are feeling indifferent, find yourself not putting in what you did last year, or even a few months ago, OR you are feeling like work is piling up and there is no end in sight, then it might be time to evaluate your current situation. Is it time to make a move?

Complacency can take hold before or after one feels overwhelmed and burned out. The body and mind give up or give in, surrender. Of course, it can happen for a variety of reasons, but once it gets hold, it can be challenging to get back to a balanced position. Feeling overwhelmed and burned out can suck the life out of you and impact your life outside of work. If the tips above are not working, then it might be time to have a heart to heart with your manager. If that is not an option, then consult with someone in HR or a trusted colleague or mentor. If the issue is deep enough, you may want to consider engaging a career coach.

What you can’t do is continue on a path of complacency because not only will you get overlooked, you could lose your job. Make a move before that happens.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Associate Dean, Graduate College
Associate Teaching Professor, Dept. of Communication, College of Arts & Sciences
Drexel University
Posted in professional-development-career-tips, interpersonal-communications