Are you suffering job burnout and you’d love to give notice today and do something else? Quitting might be the right answer, but as hiring has slowed in most states across the U.S., employees are realizing that finding a new job is not a sure bet and it might take longer than desired. Workers who are feeling fed up with their current job are increasingly needing to cope with their current situation long enough to find a new job or new career, but many people are unsure how to grapple with job burnout and recover well from it.
What is job burnout? The Mayo Clinic defines it as “a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations.” They add that job burnout is the cumulative result of stress. Because of all the downsizing and rampant unemployment, most work situations today are stressful! Does that mean that job burnout is inevitable? No, because if it were, we would ALL be burned out! Here are some of my favorite career advice strategies to recover and thrive if you are exhausted and fed up with your situation at work:
1. Be careful with how you talk to yourself about any situation. Cognitive psychologists have overwhelmingly found that your perception of a situation is very predictive of how stressed out you will become by it. Suppose there are two people, Amanda and Adam, working in a company that has just announced a hiring freeze, cancellation of annual bonuses, and expectations for increased work output even though no new staff will be brought on board to help with the workload. Amanda thinks, “Hmmmm…this is not a good situation. But hopefully the economy will improve soon and the company will reward loyal performance then. And if they don’t, I have good connections in my field and I’ll be moving on.” Adam thinks, “I hate this company. It is totally unfair that they expect this of us and I’m furious. But I’m stuck here because I’ll never get a new job and I’m going to be miserable forever.” Who do you think is more likely to become stressed to the point of burnout?
2. Keep a work energy log and notice when you feel the most joyful and vital and when you feel unhappy and drained. Then evaluate if it is possible to shift more of your work responsibilities toward the former and away from the latter. Since we all have different strengths and preferences, your answers won’t be the same as other people’s answers. It will be a win-win if you want to focus on the exact same tasks that someone else is hoping to avoid, and vice versa.
3. Evaluate your life responsibilities and outsource whatever you can. If you are working really long hours at your job, don’t come home to a bunch of unpleasant chores that you dislike that someone else could easily do for you. Hire some help! Clients love to fight with me about this suggestion because many people think it is self-indulgent to hire household help, but I honestly believe that the long-term cost to your emotional well-being and physical health is unacceptably high if you try to do everything yourself and you are gradually breaking down from the strain. And for stressed out couples, marriage and family therapists tell me that they prescribe the hiring of a housecleaner more often than any other strategy when they are trying to reduce relationship conflict!
4. Do volunteer work if it makes you happy and stop doing it if you resent the time and energy it takes. This is especially true for parents if you feel obligated to spend a lot of time stepping up every time your child’s school asks for help. It doesn’t mean you are a bad parent if you have a limited amount of time to give to the school. Perhaps you can afford to buy some extra stuff in the next fundraiser or even if you can’t, you won’t be doing your children any favors if you commit to school functions because you feel guilty if you don’t. Your children need you to be a good role model for balancing obligations in a way that is effective and sustainable.
5. Protect blocks of time for self-care. Time management experts advise that you schedule high priority activities to ensure those activities get done. Decide exactly when you are going to exercise or read for pleasure or spend time with friends. Then put it on your calendar. If someone asks you to do something during the same time as your previously scheduled engagement, smile nicely and say, “I already have a commitment for that time.”
6. Participate more fully in a community of like minds and values. When people are burned out, the tendency is to disengage and become isolated. This is the worst thing you can do! The more you deprive yourself of the support of a professional community, the worse the downward spiral of burnout becomes. If you are feeling burned out, consider attending a conference, taking a class, or joining a support group like the Success Teams invented by career counselor Barbara Sher or the Life Makeover Groups organized by life coach Cheryl Richardson.
7. Take up a hobby that nurtures you. Hobbies with restorative power include yoga, meditation or prayer, music, dance, martial arts, reading, writing, creating art, mountain climbing, running, cooking, woodwork, or dozens of other choices. You won’t know which hobby will enrich your life until you find the right one for you.
8. For more information and resources, this HelpGuide.org article, “Preventing Burnout,” is excellent. After learning more about job burnout, you may decide that it would be beneficial to you to hire a therapist or coach who specializes in stress management and/or overcoming job burnout. I do this type of consulting, and professional associations for counselors and psychologists are also good resources for referrals in your area.
Thankfully, job burnout is not a permanent condition. Many people have recovered from it and if you tackle it head on, you can, too.
Read about Four People Who Recovered From Job Burnout.
Read my book review of Reclaiming the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout.”