Job Burnout: What is it and what to do about it?
I recently attended a meeting where one of the presenters was describing the problem of “burnout” among health care providers. A large percentage of health care workers are struggling with work-life balance, enthusiasm for their jobs, and feeling connected to their patients and colleagues. The same might be said about workers in other fields as well. Despite all of our technological advances, employees in the 21st century feel that they are working harder, longer hours, with less satisfaction from their jobs. Human service providers and educators seem to be particularly impacted by these stressors.
What are the symptoms of burnout? They include physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness. Physical and emotional symptoms may include fatigue, insomnia, poor concentration, increased illness, anxiety, depression, and irritability. Symptoms of detachment may comprise loss of enjoyment, pessimism, isolation, and a loss of empathy for others. Lack of accomplishment may consist of apathy and poor performance.
Symptoms of burnout develop slowly, one inch at a time, rather than all of a sudden. But fully formed, it can take the joy out of work and life. It’s important to recognize these symptoms before they take root. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
So what are some antidotes to burnout?
Nurture realistic expectations about work. I find that many employees have unrealistic beliefs about work. No, your supervisor is not supposed to take care of you—that’s your job. Your company won’t guarantee you a permanent job. There are many factors that have nothing to do with you when it comes to job security. You were already paid for your accomplishments last year. No one owes you anything. Don’t expect conditions, tools, or processes to stay the same. They won’t. Forget about the “good old days”--take my word for it, they weren’t all good! If your boss wants your opinion, she will ask you. There is a long list of unrealistic expectations that result in disappointment in your job or your company. Chronic disappointment can lead to burnout.
Cultivate balance. Putting everything into work is a mistake. Save time and energy for love and friendship. Develop hobbies and interests that form a balance to your work. If you have a people job, develop hobbies that use your hands or give you time alone. If you have a solitary occupation, join a club or activity group after hours. These contrasts create balance and harmony—all important for maintaining a good attitude.
Focus on the positive. Instead of thinking about the long hours I put in some days, I consider how fortunate I am to have a job where I can make a difference in people’s lives! I think about the great colleagues I work with! Concentrating my attention on these positives helps keep my attitude in check. While I don’t have influence over the changes in the work place, I can control my outlook
Stay emotionally healthy. Find positive ways of discharging negative feelings. Don’t harbor resentment. Vent your negative feelings to a close friend or family member, and then let them go. Don’t hold on to them.
Cultivate exercise, relaxation, and spirituality in your everyday life. My best friend is a “Fitbit” maniac! He competes with friends and family for weekly steps. It motivates him to walk more. Start a walking group at work. Get up a little earlier, grab your umbrella, and hit the road—rain or shine. Find a way to celebrate spirit—either through church, synagogue, prayer, reading inspirational books, or by communing with nature. Learn how to meditate. Yoga is great exercise and relaxing. It’s often easier to take a class than do something on your own.
It may be time for a change. After many years of doing the same job, it may be time to shake up your life—either by working for a new company or doing something partially or entirely different. With greater longevity, a worker may be able to pursue two or three different careers. Be creative. Don’t let fear guide your choices.
It’s your life. Take control of it.