Job Burnout: Stay or Go?
Do you hate going to work every day? Do you hate your boss and dream of getting away for a long vacation? Do you feel like you will totally lose it if you’re asked to do one more thing?
You could be suffering from job burnout, something that is rising in epidemic proportions in our society, according to Geri A. Puleo, MA, MBA, SPHR, of G.A. Puleo & Associates. Speaking to a group of interested workers at a library in Pittsburgh, Geri offered advice on how to check for the signs of burnout and how to decide if you can stay in your present position or need to make a change.
If burnout seems to be on the rise -- as evidenced by never-ending conversations about problems at work -- there are some good reasons. “There’s no downtime anymore,” Geri says, thanks to our constant accessibility through email, voice mail, text messages and the Blackberry. The lines between professional and personal time have blurred and some people feel like they are “on call” 24/7. And with workplaces expecting more of employees all the time, it’s easy to see why job burnout is growing.
Signs of Job Burnout:
You feel angry and irritable all the time, but may not be able to determine what in particular is bothering you.
- It takes you longer to do the same things at work.
- You’ve lost your enthusiasm for your job and are also showing signs of being depressed. You have started taking “sanity days” off from work, something you would never have considered, or showing up late more often.
- Geri also warns of the “work-eat-sleep cycle,” a means to working faster and trying to get caught up. Stuck in the loop, you go to work, come home, eat a little something, vege out in front of the TV for a little while, go to bed, get up and repeat the cycle. There’s no place for relaxing, fun or for replenishing your energy in that cycle.
Causes of Job Burnout:
- Some employees are faced with too many challenges, but on the other hand, often we have too few new challenges because we are doing the same things over and over again. People put in 60 hour work weeks with no time to regroup. Employees are faced with unrealistic deadlines and pressure to get things done – imposed by the company and by themselves. There’s no extra time padding, no wiggle room with the deadlines in case something goes wrong – and it always does.
- Perfectionism is a powerful cause of job burnout. We have to learn what is “good enough,” Geri says, but when we do, we have to learn not to feel like we are settling.
- There are also the ongoing conflicts between work and family responsibilities to deal with.
Stay or Go?
You’ve given it some thought and have decided you are suffering from job burnout. Should you stay or should you go? Geri suggests asking yourself these three questions:
- What degree of control do I have over my situation? If you can’t change your boss, you might be able to learn to control your reaction or you may eventually have to consider leaving the position to exercise your control.
- Is the tense atmosphere at work a temporary or permanent situation? Will things ease up soon, say after the new merger or after tax season for accountants?
- What is my role in creating this stress? Is there anything I can change to help myself or am I content to be the victim?
If you decide to stay:
- Delegate tasks. Use technology to help.
Organize and streamline. Having one section of your desk organized may be all it takes to relax you. If you have a ton of clutter surrounding you, however, that may be one of the reasons your productivity has decreased and you need to address that stuff.
- Learn to say “no.” Again, learn to say “no.”
- Limit your hours by changing your work schedule if you can. Come in later so you can see the kids off to the bus and stay later to make up the time. Or work through lunch so you can leave earlier at the end of the day. Remember that you will have to convince your employers that you are still giving them what they need when you seek approval for schedule changes.
- Change your position within the company by making a lateral move. (The learning curve is shorter and companies respond positively to that, Geri says.)
If you decide to go:
- Discuss work changes with your supervisor first. Tell him or her how you are feeling – you have no balance in your life, you need a change, etc.
- Identify your burnout triggers: Are you a perfectionist? Are you working under unrealistic deadlines? Have you given up things you enjoy like hobbies or leisure activities because of work constraints? Are you having physical problems as a result of your stress?
- Determine your ideal work environment and then seek it out (or you will repeat the pattern again, according to Geri.) If you need a boss who gives a lot of feedback, search for one. Make time to conduct a job campaign to find what you want. Build a network of people to help you achieve your goal.
Ways to avoid burnout:
- Find a job you love (which relates to your strengths).
- Strive for balance between work and family. Take care of yourself first.
- Set up time boundaries (except in limited special situations only). Tell your boss that you won’t work Sundays unless there’s a crisis. Turn off the warning “ding” that alerts you to new email while working on a project that needs to get done.
- Set realistic goals and deadlines for projects you are asked to do.
- Find a hobby and excel in it. Also, find time to play. Geri suggests scheduling “planned spontaneity” at 4 pm. Saturdays, for an example, and sticking to it.
- Set aside a little quiet time every day. Be selfish with this time.
- When working, take time out for some human contact every four to six hours. Get up and walk around the office for a few minutes to see who’s about or grab a cup of coffee at the coffee bar.
Geri A Puleo is the principal and founder of G.A. Puleo & Associates, a training and consulting firm that provides customized strategies that create transformational performance improvements for individuals and organizations. She can be reached at email@example.com or www.gapuleo.com.
By Teresa K. Flatley