Working Out Of Job Burnout

We are so worried about finding and keeping jobs lately that we have forgotten about another serious work-related challenge: burnout.  This is not simply having a few bad days at the office or dreading yet another deadly meeting with the HR department.  Job burnout is a very particular sort of stress – a state of complete exhaustion and self-doubt,  combined with an almost overwhelming sense of futility and worthlessness.  Burnout is an equal opportunity employer, if you will – job holders of all ages and backgrounds suffer its consequences.

We all define ourselves by our work.  This is not necessarily either good or bad, but in this country we are especially prone to thinking of ourselves almost exclusively in terms of what we do for a living. If what we do for a living is jeopardizing our health and happiness, we tend to deny it as long as possible until it becomes a very real threat to our mental and physical well-being.  We suffer.  Our friends and families and co-workers suffer.

But burnout is neither inevitable nor unconquerable.

So what does it look like?  Let’s have a look at some of the signs and symptoms of job burnout so we can both recognize it in ourselves and others and take steps to disarm it.

The Mayo Clinic has compiled a great list of question to ask yourself to see if you are indeed suffering from job burnout:

  • Are you dragging yourself to work every day, and finding it really hard to get started once you get there?
  • Are you becoming cynical at work?  Overly critical?  Impatient?
  • Are you snapping at customers?  Irritable with clients and co-workers?
  • Are you disillusioned with your job?
  • Are you finding it hard to be productive?  
  • Are you using food or drugs or alcohol to numb yourself or make yourself feel better?
  • Have you noticed that nothing you achieve at work gives you any sense of accomplishment or satisfaction?
  • Have you noticed a change in your sleeping habits?  How about changes in your appetite?
  • Are you experiencing more headaches or back aches or other unexplained physical discomfort?
So now what?  How many ‘yes’ answers did you find?  Actually, even one ‘yes’ could be a sign of job burnout.  Obviously there could be some other explanations – depression, for one.  But take it seriously.  It is important that you talk to your doctor about what you are experiencing, or to a mental health provider.   Your good health is a precious resource, something you must actively and carefully protect.
What brings on job burnout?  Contributing factors include:
  • Poor job fit.  This is especially true if your work does not suit your skills or fit your interests.  The stress can build and build until you are all but frantic.
  • Lack of control.  If you find you have no say in any of the decisions that affect your job – your hours or schedule, for example, or assignments or workload or partners – you are probably on your way to burnout.  Add to that a shortage of the resources you need to do your job and burnout is all but inevitable.
  • Mismatch in values.  If you and your employers do not have the same values – the way the business is run, the way clients are handled and so on – clashes and tension will take their toll.
  • Vague or unclear job expectations.  You will not feel secure or comfortable at work if you don’t know what’s expected of you, or if the expectations keep changing with no input from you.
  • Difficult workplace dynamics.  Your boss interferes with the way your store supplies in your own desk, but abandons you when it comes to handling client complaints and serious problems.  You are micro managed on one hand, then left on your own to cope with the office bully and malingering co-workers on the other.  Your co-workers are disloyal or endlessly negative – you get the picture.  A toxic workplace means lethal stress and tension.
  • Extremes of activity.  Whether your work is tedious and predictable to an extreme or absolutely out of control, you will drain all your energies just to keep your bearings – leading to fatigue, mental exhaustion and burnout.
Next, who’s at risk for burnout, some of the consequences and some coping mechanisms.

One response to “Working Out Of Job Burnout

  1. Pingback: Leadership Thought #234 – Are You Spread Too Thin? « Ed Robinson's Blog

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