Career burnout is an experience that anyone can face whether you are a fast-track, job-hopping Millennial, a plateaued Gen-Xer weathering career stagnation, or a sandwiched Boomer caring for both your children and your parents.
Consider these questions:
- Do you find yourself becoming increasingly irritable or impatient with coworkers?
- Have you developed a cynical outlook toward life?
- Has your energy or motivation decreased?
- Do you find that your accomplishments no longer bring you real joy or satisfaction?
These may be signals that you are experiencing burnout and becoming increasingly disengaged from work. This can lead to depression and other health problems.
What causes burnout?
Christina Maslach, creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, and author of The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It
• Workload – Are you faced with unreasonable expectations of what is required of you? Are you continually sacrificing work-life balance?
• Control – Are you unable to influence any component of your job such as workload, resources, or schedule? Are there any role conflicts or role ambiguity that might be leading to conflicting demands or unrealistic expectations?
• Reward – Are your external rewards such as your pay and benefits lower than what is competitive in the market? Have you lost your internal motivation to complete assigned tasks? Have you experienced a decrease in new learning or growth?
• Community – Are the overall social interactions with your colleagues negative? Is your office environment dysfunctional and do you feel undermined or bullied by colleagues? Do you feel isolated?
• Fairness – Is your workload unfairly distributed? Are there perceived biases regarding procedures, processes, or people? Is there an overtone of disrespect?
• Values – Is there a mismatch between what you value and what your employer values?
If you are answering ‘yes’ to many of the questions, you may be experiencing a high degree of personal stress.
Drowning in the feeling of burnout can trigger a fight or flight stress response. Typically in a work situation, our knee-jerk reaction is to either quit or rebel by performing at a very low level. Ideally you want to recognize your signals of dissatisfaction, frustration, and exhaustion before you reach your saturation point so that you can proactively take control of your situation in a healthy and more productive way.
It’s critical to carve out time to reflect objectively on your situation. Sometimes an honest and open conversation with your supervisor about workload, schedule options, or securing new and more interesting projects can dramatically reduce your burnout and improve your work life. Also a reorganization might mitigate some of the stressors.
Whatever action you take, let it be driven by your values, your passions, and your vision of where you want to be next rather than by the emotional frenzy you are feeling.
Here some tools to get started:
1. Know your values, strengths, and career anchors.
a. Read some career books to uncover or rediscover a meaningful career.
b. Consider some online, low-cost assessments
VIA Character Strengths ( Free )
Clifton Strengths Finder ($15)
Career Anchors ($40)
2. Revisit and identify your top skills and values.
a. Skills – What are your favorite skills you enjoy using? ( Free handout )
b. Values – What is your true North? ( Free handout )
3. Evaluate the pros and cons of your current situation.
- What do you like about your current job: Money? Flexibility? Perks? Mission? Create a numerical rating of these on a 1 – 7 scale.
- How do these benefits align with your values?
- What tasks or projects would you like to increase?
- What would you like to decrease?
- What would you be willing to delegate to someone else?
- Can you request support or help during peak times?
- Who can you find to be a mentor?
4. Do want a job or a career?
There is a big difference between a job and a career. Sometimes a job, while unfulfilling, is meeting a higher value of providing the flexibility needed to attend to family obligations or to pursue a creative career. Your career is employment in an area in which you are developing expertise and are looking for success. Recognize the difference so that you have realistic expectations of what you hope to get out of your employment situation.
Knowing your values, your likes and dislikes, and your goals will provide you with a critical framework to better address the stress and burnout you feel. Many times there are creative solutions that can improve the situation without a dramatic departure. Often this requires honesty, vulnerability, and risk which you must be willing to take.
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