You’re in back-to-back meetings all day, talking with your team about the exciting projects you’ll work on over the coming days and weeks. But by the time you get around to actually doing the work, it’s late in the evening, you’ve managed to scarf down some leftovers, and have successfully avoided exercising for the fifth week in a row.
You’re burning the candle at both ends. Heck, your candle is barely a flicker of light. And all those exciting projects? You don’t feel the fire like you used to when you started your job.
Unfortunately, my friend, you are experiencing job burnout.
What Is Job Burnout? How Do You Prevent It?
It’s true that we have an obsession with the hustle, especially in the United States. If you’re not working more than 40 hours per week, you’re apparently not working hard enough. The willingness to work long hours in the hopes of rapid career growth has a name, and it’s not spelled B-O-S-S.
You may hang your hat on an “I can do it all” attitude to feel accomplished and secure in your job. But what this attitude doesn’t consider is reality. When you try to do everything all the time, you’ll most likely only achieve one thing: workplace exhaustion.
And burnout is more than job stress—it’s emotional exhaustion. It’s a syndrome that results from extreme workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, according to the World Health Organization.
Burnout can lead to serious physical, mental, and social consequences, but it doesn’t happen overnight. The Harvard Business Review aptly describes burnout as a slow fizzle—something that builds over time before imploding.
In particular, burnout is common among high-level executives, who usually reach their positions since they are typically chronic achievers. Success for many of them has come at a price—there are cautionary tales from leaders that serve as a lesson in what not to do. After all, the golden ticket to success doesn’t have to include wearing yourself too thin.
In this blog post, you’ll learn from their experiences and will learn a few strategies so you can recognize and hopefully prevent job burnout in your own career.
Take Small Breaks To Avoid A Total Career Meltdown
When a person tends to always be “on,” they increase their likelihood of the classic ‘crash and burn’. The onset of COVID-19 has only made matters harder for those battling burnout.
According to a study by FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA), 37% report working longer hours since the start of the pandemic. More than 75% agree that work-related stress has an effect on their mental health, causing conditions such as depression, anxiety, and other health problems.
Many executives, managers, and employees push themselves to the point of depression, exhaustion, and helplessness by putting in infinite hours to grow their companies or in their role. Since they don’t have the strategies to cope, the only option they believe could cure their burnout is to take flight and leave their position. Here are a few stories of this exact situation:
James Green, the former CEO of Giant Realm, an online advertising firm, began dreading his commute through New York’s Penn Station each morning. His role as a “turnaround specialist” meant often selling off companies and firing hundreds of people. Though emotionally drained, he never hinted at his condition because leaders cannot be “emotionally erratic.” Instead, the stress led him to sell off his company so he could sail around the world with his family before returning to New York as the CEO of another internet advertising business.
Similar to Green, Dustin Snell, is the story of founder and CEO of Network Automation Inc. Equating the feeling of “running in place” to burnout, he took a year and a half off to spend time with his newborn daughter. He eventually returned to his company as CEO with a new perspective.
At Lloyds Banking Group, PLC chief Antonio Horta-Osorio left his role of less than a year for a two-month rest. His business was hurt and an interim leader was put in place in case he did not make it back to the company at all. But he returned, well-rested, and began the burned-out battle all over again.
Some leaders, however, don’t have the opportunity to take years off only to reclaim their jobs and titles. Plus, the average non-CEO often can’t afford to take several months or years off, but there are mechanisms in place for employees and leaders alike to take time for their mental well-being.
In the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants employees of 12 months or more 12 weeks of unpaid leave, while their job and health benefits remain intact. While this leave is most often used for parental leave, it’s available for anyone who has a qualifying condition, such as depression or anxiety.
Don’t be afraid to use that paid-time-off or request a mental health day when you’re feeling symptoms of burnout starting to creep in. When searching for a new position, ask about these benefits so you can enjoy a full work-life balance without having to quit your job and start the search all over again.
Set Boundaries To Avoid Job Burnout
Burnout doesn’t just exhaust a person’s mind and body. For some, it’s their spirit that suffers the most. Employees who spend long hours at a job can begin to lose their passion for the job they once loved. Two of the most common symptoms of job burnout are cynicism or lost enthusiasm in day-to-day responsibilities, and a lack of self-confidence and capacity to perform these responsibilities.
A former Yelp employee wrote a manifesto under the pen name “Eevee,” claiming they would never return to the tech world again. After working excruciatingly long hours, they found they could not manage to have any sort of personal life in their downtime. Eevee wrote:
“The breaking point actually came during a two-week vacation at the end of May. The first week was relaxing, productive, glorious. Then I passed the midpoint and saw the end of my freedom looming on the horizon. Gloom descended once more. The difference was striking, and I knew I had to stop.”
This turning point was freeing for Eevee, noting they no longer cared about the work they were contributing and that they couldn’t wait to start the rest of their life.
Glynnis Macinol also found that her work life was consuming her life. In an essay for Elle, she wrote:
“I was resentful of anything that caused me to miss work, including, but not limited to, people who expected me to hold uninterrupted conversations over dinner.”
Eventually, she ditched her dream job and smartphone and took great pleasure in answering the “What do you do?” question at cocktail parties with one word: nothing.
She equated her very real burnout to being tired, stressed, bored, and in need of a vacation and a lobotomy. Her new life of nothing was scary, but totally liberating.
While it’s common not to want to return to work right after a vacation or long weekend, the daily struggle to get out of bed may mean you’ve pushed too hard at one job, as Eevee did. Or perhaps you’re feeling like Glynnis, who couldn’t sit down for dinner without the urge to respond to an email.
It’s crucial to notice this internal struggle when it comes up and make a conscious effort to schedule free time each day to check-in with yourself. How are you feeling? What are your stress levels throughout the day? Have you taken a break today? Are you feeling exhausted at the end and beginning of each workday?
It’s also helpful to have a conversation with your manager about what work-life balance means to you and to explain that you really appreciate “offline” hours in which you’re unavailable for work issues. Confront these warning signs before it comes to ditching your entire career for good, as finding a new job and new passion can be even more daunting.
How Did You Reach Destination Burnout?
Still not sure if you’re experiencing burnout? These are the most common symptoms of employee burnout according to Mayo Clinic:
- Feeling cynical and critical at work
- Feeling irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients
- A lack of energy to be consistently productive
- Extreme difficulty concentrating on tasks
- Lack of satisfaction in job-related achievements
- Difficulty sleeping at night
- Experiencing uncomfortable physical symptoms such as headaches, neck pain, or stomach aches
Leaders often have good intentions to focus on self-care regularly, but that resolution can easily slip away with time. Often, those whose free time is replaced with work are telling themselves it is because their job is the newest passion.
For Angela Benton, keeping up the level of passion and intensity with her company NewME became a challenge. She was exhausted and, despite the hours she worked, felt totally disconnected from her purpose. Her answer was to become “more deliberate with her time,” carving out a few minutes or hours to reconnect with herself through meditation.
Warning: This next story isn’t for the easily-queasy. For Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and unabashed proponent of sleep, she literally didn’t know how she got there. “There” being the floor of her home office after waking up in a pool of blood.
Seriously freaked out, Huffington asked her doctors to run several tests but nothing was clinically wrong. She was just burnt out, which led to passing out, hitting the corner of her desk, and cutting her eye open. Since her fall, she’s been more mindful of the way she works and it’s clear that reevaluating her schedule has done wonders, as she’s even more successful than she was pre-2007 burnout.
While passion for your work is a powerful and motivating force, it can’t be your only reason for existence. Just look at the companies that are changing the way we look at job perks and benefits, including things like meditation classes, gym memberships, stress management coaching, and wellness programs, along with medical and PTO benefits.
How To Avoid Job Burnout While Still Growing In Your Job
Just like a pot of boiling water, job burnout can take a while to hit. But when it does, it can boil over, cause a few burns, and a big mess in the process.
Feeling the signs before they happen, such as not caring, not sleeping, running on adrenaline, and/or feeling like you’re mentally drowning probably means it’s time to sit down with your manager and Human Resources team to acknowledge that working longer hours is not leading to your most productive and happiest self. You might just be surprised at the results.
Staying in tune with yourself and adopting the following strategies can help you prevent from reaching a point of no return.
1. Set And Stick To Your Boundaries
You can avoid burnout by setting boundaries and priorities within your job—and making sure these practices align with those of your organization. It’s common for people to have misconceptions of what their boss expects of them.
In one poll, managers were asked how many of them expected employees to answer emails in the evening hours and 20% answered yes. When posed the same question, 80% of employees assumed their bosses wanted after-hours emails answered promptly. See the expectation imbalance?
It’s also key for leaders and managers to mimic the expectations they have of their teams. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, took years to not feel guilty leaving work at 5:30 pm daily in order to eat dinner with her children. If a successful and talented leader of a multi-billion dollar company struggles with leaving work on time, what is the average worker to do?
2. Schedule Regular Wellness Check-Ins with Your Manager And Team
During your team meetings or 1:1’s with your manager, add in a few minutes to discuss how everyone is feeling and if anyone is at capacity on projects on tasks. Typically, if you or someone on your team has a full to-do list, then someone can step in to assist. By openly communicating needs and availability, the team can keep a pulse on its overall wellness.
3. Seek Professional Help
If you are experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety, or high stress, don’t hesitate to seek help from a trained professional. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with your manager or team, or don’t have the opportunity to talk transparently about your symptoms, professional help can support you on your path toward emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness.
4. Build Strong Routines That Protect Your Work-Life Balance
Strong morning and nighttime routines are proven to increase your productivity levels, ability to focus, and improve your overall mental and physical health. These routines are like bookends to your day. Your morning and nighttime routines can include a healthy meal, exercise, reading, a favorite hobby, or enjoying time with your family and friends. However you build it, your routines should be full of activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. Your self-care is essential to keeping job burnout at bay.
From Job Burnout To Balanced
Feeling and identifying the signs of job burnout is a powerful way to arm yourself with the strategies and resources needed to prevent it from bringing you down into the trenches of despair. So if it’s time to sit down with your manager or HR team, set up that meeting. Raise your hand and explain that working longer hours is not leading to your most productive and happiest self. Your future self will thank you!