How to Cope with Job Burnout

22 Comments

Even if you love your work, there will be times when it no longer fills you with passion and energy. You feel emotionally exhausted and cynical. Your health suffers as stress mounts. You wonder whether you have the resources, internal or external, to meet your responsibilities.

Web workers may be especially prone to burnout in a hyperconnected world. That damn laptop’s always around, waiting with email at the ready.

To see if you might be at risk of burnout, try this Burnout Self-Test. If you’re close to burnout, though, you probably already know it: you feel irritable, overworked, and underappreciated.

You could leave your job for another — and that might be exactly what you need to do — but that’s not always feasible or sensible. Before taking that drastic step, try these things first:

Find a new project. Especially if you work in a team of substantial size, there’s usually room for individual workers to move around to different tasks or projects. If you ask for changes too regularly and never finish any projects, this turns into a way of shirking rather than rejuvenating. But sometimes, it’s the ideal way of dealing with burnout without setting bridges or income on fire.

Offload some responsibilities. Certain parts of your job might be just fine. Talk to the person in charge about whether you might be able to offload the tasks that are burdensome in favor of focusing on what satisfies you. Most jobs do involve some tasks you don’t like to do, but if the balance has shifted so much towards unpleasantness that you are facing burnout, you need to make a change.

Get some help. Maybe all of your tasks are satisfying but there are just too many of them. Explore whether you can outsource some of them (if you work for yourself) or get another employee to help you (if you work for someone else). Perhaps outsourcing some of your personal chores would free enough time to allow you to get back on top of your work responsibilities.

Reach out of yourself. When you start to burn out, you may push people away with your grumpiness, but connecting with other people can be just what you need to to change your thinking around. If you feel comfortable with it, share your exhaustion and pessimism online with your friends. Instead of annoying people by using IM as your personal therapy provider, broadcast your angst on Twitter or Facebook or Jaiku. Then the people with some free emotional cycles can come to your aid.

Hibernate. Especially if you have a bursty sort of temperament, you may go through periods of massive achievement and accomplishment followed by sloth and torpor. If your job allows it, take it easy while you recover from big efforts — don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Your boss will put up with your lulls if you produce results during your energetic times.

Start a side job. What, work more? Yes. Sometimes enthusiasm for a second project can rekindle your energy for your other work. The web offers all sorts of ways to experiment with new ways of making money. Maybe you need a whole portfolio of jobs, not just one.

Take a sabbatical. If you have the financial wherewithal, take some paid or unpaid time off. Don’t think of it as a vacation. Use it to renew your zest for work. Take a class or volunteer for a cause you care about or teach yourself something new. Maybe you’ll come back refreshed; maybe you’ll decide you’re ready to quit that job and find something new.

What do you do when you feel burned out?

22 Comments

Pete

Thanks for the great post. Good advice! Work day to day can be extremely difficult. Is the answer to enjoy what you do or do what you enjoy? It’s tough. Thanks for you insight though.

I stumbled upon this blog like I did yours. Though their insight on work was very meaningful: http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/our-house/

Thanks for the post! I’d love to see more like it.

Dr. Beverly Potter

Stress and burnout are not the same. Burnout is a kind of job depression and is caused by feeling of powerlessness; it is not caused by stress – tho it is stressful. Stress is a taxing of the body.

Burnout is a motivational problem. A person struggling with burnout is demotivated, dispirited, depressed – down. Whereas a highly stressed person may be highly enthusiastic – tho driving their body.

Stress is the “fever” of burnout. As with pneumonia. A high fever must be reduced or there is a risk of brain damage – BUT once reduced the pneumonia is still there. Similarly with burnout – the stress must be reduced but reducing stress does not deal with the job situations rendering the person helpless. The person must develop a feeling of controllability.

Burnout is caused by feelings of uncontrollability. Powerlessness, damed-if-you-do damed-if-you-don’t situations. It is prevented by developing feelings of control over the job – which is an on-going process.

For considerable information on job burnout, the symptoms, burnout quizzes, and what to do to prevent it or turn it around – go to my site at docpotter.com

Ari Novick, Ph.D.

I recently did an onsite training teaching communication skills to web designers and programmers. I think this is an often overlooked field that is under a tremendous amount of stress and burnout.

Anne Zelenka

Andy: good point. I started a food blog and I’m also learning to paint. Sometimes you gotta’ get away from the technology grind.

Makes sense that you’d need a “mincer” to make sausages though I’d never heard of one before. My son makes balloon animals — mostly dogs, either normal or poodle. He’s always a big hit at my younger kids’ birthday parties.

Andy

Anybody who has worked in IT for a bunch of years knows that feeling – you’re stuck implementing the wrong design that was thrown together in response to the wrong requirements, trying to meet an unreasonable deadline.

Your suggestions are all great, but I’d like to add another. Do something new that’s completely unrelated to work – not just a different job, something completely left field.

Last year, my GF & I bought a mincer and learned to make sausages. This year, I want to try my hand at making balloon animals.

My rationale is this: I make a good wage and have a lively mind, so to relax I can forget about earning and simply try to give my poor, frustrated brain some entertainment. Works for me!

Swan

Great advice. Currently in throes of deciding if I should run for the hills. Maybe I won’t need to.
thanks

Michael

The burnout test says that I am at risk of burnout which sounds right to me because sometimes I feel like I am burned out. I’ll have to try some of the things on this list, especially to get some help, I think I’m going to hire someone to create a wordpress theme for me.

Jen

Great advice!

the sharpbrains blog includes some tips on how we can choose to react to tough work situations, like “Use a contemplative practice like yoga or meditation to calm your mind and body or try using a heart rate variability sensor to learn to relax and focus your mind and body” and “Ask yourself how important something truly is to you. Maybe you’re stressing over something that you are better off just letting go.”

http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2007/06/04/stress-and-short-term-memory/

JR Fent

I once felt so burned out that I took a second unrelated job. It was kind of menial and turned out to be demeaning too. I was having to answer to a dork who had no clue how to manage and could not have functioned in any roll tougher than what he was already doing. I’d watch him yell at and talk about his employees behind their backs. Within a few weeks I had a new zest for my work and got the hell out of there.

JR Fent
Recruiter
jrfent.com

Amie Gillingham

I think there’s no question I’m burnt out, and my co-founder is even more so. The biggest issue is that right now, there’s noone else to whom we can off-load or delegate anything, nor are we in a position to hire anyone for anything remotely resembling a living wage, let alone near industry standards. I’m personally well past the point of feeling like Sisyphus pushing that rock…

adesh sharma

Getting a second job works for me because it kicks me to be more productive since with a second job, your time for your first job becomes limited.

:)

Alfa

Getting a second job works for me because it kicks me to be more productive since with a second job, your time for your first job becomes limited.

jeremy

Wow, these suggestions are so much better than drinking myself into a coma.

Seriously though, I went through a massive burn-out about a year ago. My health suffered, and I ended up in the hospital. I was working at home at the time, and oddly enough, finding a desk job somewhere other than home seemed to get me out of my burnt out stage. There’s something to be said for the ability to leave work at work.

Raymond

sometimes the burnout exhausts me to a point where I dont even want to be infront of a computer if I dont have to. And then I feel guilty for not working on the numerous side projects in favour of just watching tv all night.

TextAdSearch

That’s exactly how I felt when I worked in an office. At least now I can go outside. Taking a 5 minute walk break in the sunshine works wonders.

Jonathan

Thanks for the article- I just had one of the most unproductive days ever at my “real job”, feeling so burnt out, still getting over last week… Very timely as usual! Thanks!

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