How to deal with workplace burnout
Another comes flailing along. Same thing. Then five more. Ten more. You and dozens of other Good Samaritans are frantically rescuing them. They keep coming.
You’re losing your ability and your motivation now. You’re burning out on saving people. Suddenly somebody starts running upstream. “Where are you going?” you yell. He replies, “To see why all these people are falling in!”
That guy is not burning out.
Unless you go upstream and change the cause of the problem, you’ll just keep doing more and more and seeing fewer and fewer results until you finally can’t take it anymore. That’s when you, a champion swimmer, drown.
Right next to millions of other Americans. Nearly half of us say we’re often or always exhausted due to work (up from nearly 39 percent in 2006), according to the General Social Survey, a health poll that’s been monitoring trends since 1972.
While there’s no tidy clinical definition for burnout, most researchers say you’re in that overcooked state when you’re living in the trifecta of constant exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced effectiveness. “A lot of people who think they’re burned out are really just completely physically exhausted-they still like their jobs and could do them well again if they could just recharge,” says Michael Leiter, Ph.D., a professor of organizational psychology at Australia’s Deakin University. Genuine burnout, however, can’t be rested away-as most fried workers learn when they’re wiped by 11:00 a.m. after their first vacation in a decade.
While you probably won’t be able to fix every problem that’s leading to burnout, you can fix some of the root issues. Tackle these before you’re totally toast:
Check for depression
“Over the last decade, it has become increasingly clear that burnout is a euphemism for depression,” says Renzo Bianchi, Ph.D., a psychology researcher at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland who’s published reams on the burnout/depression entanglement. Many longtime burnout researchers hotly disagree with this (understandably). But whether burnout and depression are one condition or two, it’s smart to get screened. Depression has well-known, effective treatments (burnout doesn’t yet), and accessing those could give you a clear-cut framework to attack the problems that are making life gray and joyless-including what the hell to do about the work situation.
Stop using instagram as a window
It’s infuriatingly easy to constantly check out what everyone else is doing (working on a deck in Bermuda, retiring at 35)-and subconsciously calculate how you stack up-given that your peers now include 700 people on Instagram and LinkedIn you’ve met once or haven’t seen since 1995. Add to that the bumper-sticker notions of “follow your passion” and the like that are far more present in our peripheral consciousness now than they were in your dad’s working prime, and it all takes the sheen off your particleboard desk, making your 24/7 toiling seem meaningless and woefully inadequate.
The obvious but still helpful solution: Limit social-media dip-ins and create a mantra that gives you a psychic lift (e.g., At least I’m not a company drone/BS-talking consultant!).
Find a new ear
Most burned-out people feel isolated and alienated, and they are-strong relationships are the greatest buffer against, and remedy for, burnout. Seeking emotional support from a buddy and bending a sympathetic ear will make you feel better-for a while. “You get some catharsis, but it doesn’t solve any of your problems,” says Irvin Schonfeld, Ph.D., professor of psychology at CUNY in New York.
Of course, the ideal person to talk to is your manager. But assuming you’ve already tried working with them to set priorities (maybe something’s not urgent every once in a while?), and you’ve set limits on work (no checking emails on the weekends), find someone to talk to who can help. That’s no small feat, naturally, since you’re probably certain that every drop of help from every viable, non-shitty person has already been wrung. Possibly true, but prioritize spending precious social time with any breathing human who can help you fix a work problem to lasting effect. It’ll give you the double benefit of feeling less alone and less powerless.
“There’s a point of no return in burnout,” says Leiter. When the negative associations tied to your work become too strong, he says, “people reach a point where they just have to get out.” Recovering from burnout can take a painfully long time. “Research shows it takes about two and a half years if a person doesn’t get any professional help,” says Wilmar Schaufeli, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. By then, of course, you’ll have likely kissed your paycheck and professional momentum goodbye. So stomping out a flame before it torches you can be one of the best career-and personal-moves you ever make.
JOIN OUR PULSE COMMUNITY!
Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or: