A jury is still out on what is and isn’t burnout and how to diagnose it (Source) Yet you hear more and more people talking about feeling this way. So I thought it makes a perfect sense to discuss burnout here, on Joyful Career as well.
A little disclaimer to start with. This is not a post about clinical level burnout that requires pharmacology treatment. In this post I talk about burnout in the most widely used meaning: losing interest in your job, feeling unsatisfied, unmotivated, disengaged.
This seems to be the phase that almost everybody goes through at some point of their professional life. Let’s discuss how you can recognize it, tackle it and if changing jobs is the only answer.
How do I know that I am burnt out?
The most common symptom is losing the interest in your job. You get up in the morning and move around as on an autopilot, leaving for work without any excitement. You go about your tasks in a mechanical way, feeling disengaged. You treat your colleagues and clients in a depersonalized way. At some point, you start dreading getting to work. You are less attentive, you miss deadlines, you forget discussed issues. As if your mind was somewhere else.
This is not the same as being majorly stressed. Being stressed means that once you remove the stress factor (e.g. looming deadline, bullying boss) you start to enjoy your work again. No, when burnout you are not stressed, you are bored with your work to the point where your body starts reacting in a biological way.
In my headhunter’s job I’ve heard colleagues describing it for example as feeling sick when they have to pick up a phone and call yet another candidate.
What’s the difference between being burnt out and being tired?
I hear often people asking if being burnt out is the same as being tired. It seems (source) that the burnout will make you feel very tired. But even after the period of rest, you will not be able to come back to work with the same interest and engagement.
If you are not sure if this is burnout or tiredness you are experiencing, take a few days off. Or spend the entire weekend just relaxing – no matters to attend to, no cleaning, meeting with friends, chasing errands. Just stay in bed, sleeping, reading, watching easy movies. Give your body a break and chance to recover.
If afterwards, you feel better, i.e. start to be at least a bit interested in what you are doing professionally – great! You may be just massively tired and need a longer vacation to recharge.
However, if after the break you still move on an autopilot and can’t relate to any goals you have at work – you may need to implement some other tactics to cope.
I feel burnt out and want to quit my job. Is this a good idea?
Burnout feeling is work-related, so you will need to change something about your work in order to feel better. Before you quit your job though, try to consider all the options. (side note: it will be easier if you do it while being on vacation, detached from the everyday routine).
Are you in the position to quit job straight away? Do you have the plan B financially or is your partner able to support you during the transition? What are other potential employers in your area? Will you be able to find a different kind of job?
If you work in a bigger organisation, quitting doesn’t have to be your only option. Maybe you can move to a different department, start working in a new project group. Try reaching out to HR and/or your boss to discuss how you feel and investigate the options. Chances are they have already noticed a drop in your performance, so it won’t come as a surprise.
Does it make sense to find the same job in the new place?
Finding the same kind of work in a new company can be a great way to deal with workplace stress, but not with burnout. Burnout comes from losing interest in the essence of your work. Doing the same in a different place won’t usually bring the interest back.
It may be a better idea to change the remit of the job. Is there anything related to your current work, but what has a different focus? Something that might help you feel fresh? Or is there anything you always wanted to try? Maybe now is a time to give it a go.
I can’t leave the company. Is there any way I can cope with the burnout?
There are three tactics that I’ve seen working for people who feel on the brink of a burnout.
- One is to find another area of interest. A woman I used to work with started volunteering in an area that wasn’t related to her job. It made her look forward to the volunteering activities which started to be a source of energy to go through the day. She didn’t immediately get back to being fully engaged in her work, but instead of seeing daily job as a massive chore that she has to face every day, she started perceiving it as a tool allowing her (by earning money and experience) to get deeply involved in the volunteering cause that was important to her. She told me she felt better within a month of starting volunteering.
- The second is to take a break. Visit a doctor and discussed with them how you are feeling. They might give you a sick leave to recharge. If that’s not possible, consider taking a longer break. Use your paid leave and discuss with your employer the option of unpaid leave. Give yourself a break for longer than two weeks when you don’t work, just rest and get comfortable with yourself again.
- Explore the options of moving to a different role within your firm (as discussed in the paragraph above). Chat to HR, your mentor (if you have one), your boss, your colleagues. There might be a position in the company that will benefit from your skillset and at the same time give you a refreshing feel.