Six Ways to Beat Job Burnout

The thrill is gone at the office? Try these tips to get your work groove going again.

tired_womanThe symptoms of job burnout are clear. The snooze alarm, once your staunchest morning ally, no longer seems to be cooperating. You leave the house 20 minutes later than you should, juggling a cup of coffee. You bark at the neighbor’s dog, then realize it should be the other way around. As you get into your car, a trail of papers falls from your briefcase. Arriving at the office, you snatch a file from your administrative assistant’s hand. Settling into your office chair, you already know you will miss dinner tonight (again) and your daughter’s first dance recital. This will disappoint your whole family. Frustrated, you feel as though you’re on an automatic treadmill, quickly spinning out of control.

Most of us have a day or two when we feel drained, overstressed and under-appreciated, when nothing goes right despite our hard work. But when these feelings last for days or even weeks, they can indicate a much larger problem: job burnout.

No matter the circumstances, job burnout can wreak havoc on your career, family and health. What’s more, burnout can also hurt your employer. They’re the ones who have to rectify your burnt-out mistakes and, if you leave, find your replacement.

Job burnout is a response to work stress that leaves you feeling hopeless, powerless, despondent and overwhelmed. But none of this happens overnight. Instead, there is a gradual erosion that eventually leads to exhaustion and ineffectiveness.

The symptoms of burnout are as diverse as its sufferers. Some people become angry and resort to blaming tactics. Others become quiet, isolated and withdrawn, which may be the beginning of clinical depression. Still others abuse mood-altering substances, experience a range of physical symptoms and become habitually tardy. If you can identify with any of these symptoms, you may be on the cusp of a burnout — or you may have already arrived.

These six suggestions can take you from burnout back to a hot, steady flame.

Watch your language. Catch yourself saying “I hate this job” and “I just can’t stand it anymore,” and eliminate these phrases from your workday vocabulary. Replace them with more uplifting alternatives, such as: “If I get down to business, I’ll have this done in no time,” or “I will break this project into small, manageable steps.” Remember, to change the way you feel about a stressful event, first alter the way you think about it.

Have more fun at work. That’s not to say you need to throw a party and swing from the chandelier. But more fun can help prevent burnout. Share funny stories with a co-worker, or listen to music. Buy flowers once a week, and keep them in plain view. Get some small toys for your desk. You’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll feel after playing for a few minutes with your Silly Putty, Slinky or snow globe.

family_riding_bikesHave fun outside work, too. To guard against burnout, have a satisfying and rewarding life outside of the workplace. Organize a backyard cookout, plan an outing to a local museum, or take in a movie with your family and friends. Enjoy a mini-vacation in your own mind, and simply go where you want to go – even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. What’s important is having something to look forward to when the workday ends.

Shake things up. Consider anything and everything that can break up the monotony of the same old routine. Enter the office through a different door, ask about changing your start time, or decorate your workspace. Whenever possible, take on new assignments you might enjoy. Cast a creative eye toward the work you’re doing, and think about ways to modify or improve it. Share these ideas with your boss, and ask for permission to implement them – even if only on a trial basis.

Seek autonomy. One of the leading causes of burnout is the belief that you have little or no command over the processes and outcomes you’re being held accountable for. The cure is more autonomy. Ask your employer if you can serve as “your own boss” for a week or so. Then, if your production increases, gradually request more control over your work until you have as much as you want.

Set — and maintain — boundaries. To avoid or ease burnout, protect your downtime. Set firm boundaries between your work and your private life. Periodically park the cell phone, BlackBerry or iPhone. Give yourself full weekends. Take your lunch hour and breaks — and don’t use these times to catch up on work. Surround yourself with people who appreciate you for who you are, not just what you do for a living.

Finally, ask yourself: Are your feelings of burnout sending you a message? Could it be they are guiding you in a new and different direction? Might these feelings be a signal that something new, exciting, beneficial and rewarding is just around the bend? Just asking.

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Joe Wegmann is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical pharmacist with over 30 years of experience in counseling and medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Joe’s new book, Psychopharmacology: Straight Talk on Mental Health Medications is available at www.pesi.com. To learn more about Joe’s programs or to contribute a question for Joe to answer in a future article, visit his website at www.thepharmatherapist.com, or e-mail him at joe@thepharmatherapist.com.