Dealing with Work Burnout

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Sunday 10th October 2010
In this article
  • Recognizing the symptoms.
  • How to get yourself out of the rut.
  • Preventing burnout in the future.
Dealing with Work Burnout

You dread work. You go through your day feeling numb. You have no enthusiasm for your job and seem to constantly make mistakes — even in the simplest tasks. You do only the bare minimum, but still come home feeling tired, stressed and drained of energy.

If any of this sounds familiar, you could be suffering work burnout. What is it? A feeling of emotional exhaustion and disinterest in one’s career that often lasts for weeks, months and sometimes for years.

Years?

That’s right. Psychologists indicate that work burnout is not a short-term problem that starts on Monday morning and ends by lunchtime on Tuesday. Fatigue of this type is a gradual escalation of work-related problems that result in long-term feelings of helplessness and inadequacy, and frequently extends to all aspects of a SharpMan’s life. The key to beating burnout is learning to recognize the symptoms and treating them before the emotional disinterest spreads to other activities that you enjoy.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Work burnout doesn’t occur overnight. Left unheeded, symptoms progress gradually. Since anyone — in any career or at any level — can suffer burnout, it is essential for SharpMen to identify the symptoms of burnout before they get out of hand.

Loss of motivation. Remember when you drove yourself to achieve above and beyond what was required of you? Remember feeling motivated and ambitious at the beginning of your career or employment? Compare that with how you feel today. If you no longer care about doing an exemplary job, if your only aim is to get out of the office as early as possible, or if you find yourself doing only the minimum amount of work you can get away with — feeling no desire to advance yourself — you may have one of the symptoms of work burnout.

Intense dislike of your work situation. There are many ways in which your work situation can become intolerable. You may dislike your boss, feel overloaded with work, resent that you are unappreciated or think all your clients are difficult to deal with. Alternatively, you may feel that your job no longer presents you with a challenge and that your tasks have become mundane and repetitive. Feeling that you are stuck in a dead-end job can also be demoralizing and can easily lead a SharpMan to lose enthusiasm for his work. This feeling of dislike is also associated with work burnout.

Sense of alienation. Have you recently begun to feel isolated from your colleagues at work? Do you avoid social contact or conversation with them? Have you begun to resent their good humor or ambition? Mentally separating yourself from work colleagues and others only serves to create a sense of alienation. SharpMen in this situation often begin feeling "left out" (everyone else seems to like his or her job, why don’t I?). These feelings only exacerbate other frustrations.

Short temper. Do you find yourself losing your temper faster than ever before? Does everything seem to get on your nerves? SharpMen who experience symptoms of work burnout often find that they have no patience for what they perceive as incompetence of others. They often do or want to snap at work colleagues. All this, of course, only leads to further isolation in the workplace.

Health problems. Work burnout eventually manifests itself in some physical form. It is only at this stage that most people recognize or admit that something may be wrong. The most common health symptoms are tension headaches, backaches and other stress-related problems. SharpMen may also find that they cannot sleep. They may also gain or lose weight and find that they are indulging in alcoholic beverages more than usual. A feeling of self-pity or depression is also common.

Getting Out of the Rut

Now that you can recognize the symptoms of work burnout, it's time to start treating them. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all cure for burnout. The condition is treated in a number of ways, and you’ll need to find the remedy that works best for you:

Boost your ego. One of the most difficult results of work burnout is a loss of self-confidence. Take steps to get yours back. Begin by taking a pen and paper and writing down all the skills you have, the degrees you’ve obtained, your career achievements so far and anything else that is positive in your life. Go back and re-read that great report your boss praised you on — even if it was months or years ago — recall that meeting where you spoke particularly well or anything you’ve done that made you feel proud. It may seem obvious, but remember, a SharpMan suffering burnout may spend most of his time dwelling on the negative. The very act of thinking about your accomplishments will act as a small booster — the first step — to bringing you out of your burnout slump.

Set goals. Goal setting — and the feeling that you are attaining those goals — is essential to job satisfaction. Work burnout often makes SharpMen feel unmotivated — without a sense of achievement and purpose. Setting goals short-term and related long-term goals in the workplace will give you something to aim for and can motivate you to complete a task within a certain time limit. If you reach your goal, you will feel a sense of achievement and begin to feel good about yourself again. When you meet a goal, remember to reward yourself in some way.

Know your job. You may feel that your job has lost direction or importance in the company. Take action to remedy this.

Talk to your boss. If your company has expanded or consolidated, has your role changed? Is there some better way that you can contribute to meeting the company’s goals?

Learn how your job contributes to the overall function of the business and see where you can add to your job description — this may make your job more challenging and interesting to you. Perhaps some other company functions — administrative or charitable — could use your assistance? You may find that becoming active in organizing various company functions or other goals utilizes entirely different skills than your "day job" — this can be rewarding and re-energizing.

Alternatively, consider enhancing your own resume by publishing an article in an industry-related trade magazine. Magazines of this type are always looking for contributions from professionals in the field. Moreover, publication is a great way to boost your professional standing at work.

Look to the future. The main problem for many SharpMen who suffer from work burnout is that they believe they are stuck in a dead-end job.

Before brushing off your resume, look at your present employer. Are you interested in moving to another department? Perhaps an entirely different field? It is easier to move from accounting to marketing at a present employer with an immediate need than it is to find a job at a new firm in a new field without any experience.

Consider the aspects of your job you do enjoy and research the types of jobs that focus on these skills. Look around your company to see if your current employer has a corresponding need for the position you seek.

Alternatively, maybe the job is great, but your manager isn’t? Often it is the boss, not the company, that causes employee frustration. Consider joining another manager’s team.

If your boss is fine but your current responsibilities are unsatisfying, speak to your boss about taking on more or different responsibilities. Chances are that your superior will be impressed by your willingness to learn the skills required to advance your career.

If you find that advancement is not possible with your current employer, revise your resume and take steps to research other job opportunities in your industry. If necessary, get a referral for a headhunter (see SharpMan’s Guide to Headhunters for more information).

If you’re looking for a new career, identify the skills required to make a move and start gaining the appropriate experience — even through volunteer or temporary work (see Part-time Jobs for Holiday Spending for information on how temporary work can help you transition to a new career). Consider taking an evening class to learn new required skills.

Take care of your health. Get plenty of exercise and rest. Spend some time outdoors every day — walking, running or just enjoying the fresh air. Join a gym. Get into a regular sleeping pattern (see SharpTips for Beating Insomnia) and visit your doctor, if needed. Become familiar with the exercises that help combat stress (see Feeling Stressed? Learn How to Control It for more information).

Get a life. Very often work-related malaise can cause SharpMen to spend their off hours "relaxing," or rather "stewing" over their dissatisfaction. Forget it. Don't let your work take over your life. Make the most of your free time by spending time with family and friends. Take up a hobby you've always had an interest in. Doing something new can re-ignite your interest in overall achievement.

Preventing Work Burnout in the Future

Getting over work burnout doesn’t mean it won’t return in the future. Continually guard against it:

Treat symptoms early. Now that you're familiar with the symptoms, the secret to combating future burnout is simple: treat symptoms before they escalate. If you find yourself getting disheartened about your job, set a new goal for yourself or take on extra responsibilities. If you start thinking that your job is unimportant, review how you personally contributed to a certain project. If you're feeling tired or stressed, restart your exercise routine and get enough rest. Treat a single symptom before another feeds off of the first.

Update your goal list. Continually keep and update a goal list. For example, one goal may have been to move to another department. Now that you've done that, set another goal to achieve recognition in your new role. Setting new goals will keep you interested and motivated — and moving in the right direction in your career.

Don't let achievements go unrecognized. It is easy for a boss to overlook employee achievements. Ensure that he or she is aware of your contributions — remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If one is not already in place, work out a monthly, quarterly or semi-annual review process with your superior. Make sure to continuously gather materials that document your achievements for these reviews. This will be your opportunity to show your worth, ask for additional work, recognition or pay. A review will also help you determine if you are fulfilling your job description and find out how you can continue to contribute.

Keep your job in perspective. When SharpMen suffer from work burnout, they typically think of nothing but the sacrifice involved in their jobs. This single-minded negativity ultimately spills over all other aspects of a SharpMan’s life. It is important to learn to separate work from your home life. Don't bring work home with you. Leave problems at the office. Realize that you can't solve them from your bed anyway.

Moreover, don't create problems before they even occur. Many workers impose the "what if?" torture on themselves. Try to think positively and address problems as they come up.

Most of all, recognize that work is just one part of an entire day that involves family, leisure and other interests, too.

This article last updated on Sunday 10th October 2010
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