Everybody knows that you have to work hard if you want to be successful—but even hard work has its limits. You can push yourself too far—or take too few breaks—and end up with a bad case of burnout; then, all your hard work may actually wind up counterproductive.

I talk to a lot of business owners who are eager to do what they can to achieve some balance in their lives, and to prevent burnout as best they can. It seems to me that the first step toward preventing burnout is understanding what really causes it. So let’s take a quick look at some of the science behind burning out.

The Real Cause of Burnout

Psych Central just published a new report that’s illuminating. All of us have unconscious needs—physical, mental, and emotional ones—and we also have demands within our professional lives. According to the Psych Central article, burnout comes when there is a mismatch between the needs and the demands.

“For example, burnout may happen to an outgoing accountant who seeks to make new friendships but whose job offers little opportunity to do so, or perhaps to a manager who does not enjoy taking center-stage or being in a leadership role,” Psych Central says. “In both of these examples, there is a mismatch between the employees’ individual needs and the requirements on the job.”

Practical Implications of Burnout

So what does this really tell us about burnout? On one level, it’s pretty simple: You have certain needs in order to be truly motivated and energized, and you’re going to resist burnout so long as your daily responsibilities meet those needs.

Maybe a good place to start is with a self-inventory. Admittedly, this is where things get a little more complicated, but it’s still worthwhile to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What motivates you? Think through the tasks or responsibilities that leave you feeling the most pumped up—the most energized.
  • Which daily activities or responsibilities seem to drain you the most? These are likely going to be the things you dread the most.
  • How emotionally satisfied does your job really leave you? Do you think a change of position is needed to have a truly satisfying work life?
  • Think also of your employees. How well are their personality types and internal motivations paired with their responsibilities? If your team is generally low on motivation or on energy, it could be because you’ve given everyone ill-fitting roles.

According to the article, “interventions that prevent or repair such mismatches could increase well-being at work and reduce the risk of burnout.” So even if your needs and your daily demands are not well-matched, there’s still time for you to take action and be proactive against burnout!