You may have heard this word before, or going through it now. After experiencing it first hand, these are the lessons I learned on how to avoid burnout, even in a demanding job.
The first step to know what it is. Burnout is when you become so mentally drained from working that no small breaks can help you recover. It affects your physical state as well. If work itself hasn’t changed, but you find yourself not caring or feeling negative about going to work, you may be burnt out. This is not the same as dreading work because you hate your job in general. The feeling often occurs after you are extremely driven to do well and that leads to overexertion.
Another symptom of burnout is not taking care of yourself and isolating yourself from friends and family. Work has now consumed you and you start to skip meals. And, when you’re doing your work, you feel absent and not you – you’re just a zombie.
It may seem impossible, but for some people it is possible to recover from burnout or avoid it altogether without quitting your job.
Rediscover your purpose
Once you realize you are burnt out, rethink why you’re working. Yes, everyone needs a paycheck, but why are you working at this specific job at this specific company? Are you here because this job will help you get somewhere else? Because it is the best way to provide for your family? Because once this was your passion? Think about this and figure out your purpose of being there.
For me, I stumbled into my job but ended up enjoying a lot of things about it. The hours can be grueling but there’s also flexibility if I really need it. I’m drowning in deadlines, but I have the power to adjust some deadlines at times. The people are great, and the work itself is something that keeps me thinking and practicing my problem solving skills. Even through the hard days, I remember that I have a stable career and job security. It allows me to have the money to enjoy good food, buy gifts for others, and see family & friends. Which leads me to the next step…
You come first, even if you are supporting others in your life. Don’t be a martyr and destroy your mental and physical health to the point that you can no longer do your job effectively.
I came across this Forbes article that argues breaks are good for employee productivity. According to the survey they summarize, 38% of employees don’t feel encouraged to take a lunch break, and 22% of bosses say employees taking a regular lunch break are less hardworking. Regardless of what your boss might think, stepping away from work leaves you refreshed when you come back. No matter how busy you are, eat your lunch. Your body needs rest and nutrition, and you’ll be able to do your work better with the break.
On top of lunch, eat dinner when you need to as well. In the long run, your physical health is worth more than the work you are doing now. Try to also leave work when you get physically exhausted. If you really need to, come in earlier the next morning, but listen to your body and rest. Sometimes these things aren’t possible without saying “no.” Don’t volunteer to take on more than you can handle, and be honest and upfront about your workload. Reassess what’s on your desk, and judge which deadlines have consequences and ignore the smaller things for another day. If email is also bogging you down, figure out how you should be prioritizing your emails.
A lot of people who are burnt out are overworking partly due to pushing themselves too hard. I feel like most people are viciously trying to climb the corporate ladder as quickly as possible, trying to make as much money as possible, and going through extreme lengths despite making good money. Stop and ask yourself, why do you have to do this? Why do you need a promotion this year? Is it because you feel it’s about time? Maybe bragging rights? Do you want the extra money now? Would it be devastating to your life if you got the promotion next year instead of this year? Think about why you’re overworking, because a lot of times, you don’t have to. Just because you’re on a roll, doesn’t mean you should keep rolling until you get tired.
Take a vacation
Not a day off to make a long weekend, not a couple days of being on your phone – actually make it feel like a vacation even if you’re staying at home. Have time to reset your brain and disconnect from work. Some things you could do is have a mini party for yourself (movie night with popcorn and fun decorations in the living room!) or practice a hobby. You can only work well if you’re mentally ready.
I know that there are a lot of you out there that can’t speak out against your terrible boss, or are working a job rather than a career because of conditions outside your control. But there are always choices. Choices may not be obvious or appear before you right away, but changing jobs is a choice you can make. It is your choice to not continue applying to a new job, and it is your choice to not take a risk and speak out about your workload. And if you’re feeling stuck, keep trying to look for a new job. With continued effort, something will appear.
I’ve seen people lament the fact that they are extremely unhappy at work and have no time for their family, and yet turn down job offers that are not more than the 6 figure salary they have now. At that point, are you not choosing to be burnt out? I’m not saying take a much lower paying job and struggle to support your family, but think about how much your time and health is worth to you. Remember that company loyalty will not get you job security or good health. You are an employee your work can try to replace, but for people around you, you are irreplaceable.