There are all thousands of articles on how to cure burnout. They almost always recommend things like going on vacations, meditating, or stress management. But these advice givers are all missing one important point – what if your burnout is real? What if your burnout isn’t just a consequence of not learning the correct coping strategies but a legitimate response to your work? Sitting in your desk and meditating all day won’t do a thing to solve that problem. Understanding whether your job is sucking out your vitality or whether you are over-reacting will help you to deal with burnout better.
What kind of employer are you working for? Imagine we go to the future. There exists an evil empire bent on ruling the galaxy and their workers are currently on a round-the-clock schedule to build a death ball, but for some reason they call it a death star. The workers don’t believe in what they are doing; their boss is unrelenting, domineering, some would even say intimidating. There are terrible benefits and any complainers never returned to their cubicle the next day.
Would you tell these people, you need to find meaning in your work, use more of your vacation days, or use some other strategy to stave off burnout? Hell, no! We’d yell get out of there. I’m only partially joking because a lot of advice on burnout is about dealing with it before we even asked the questions, “is there a legitimate reason I’m burnt out?”
I’m not saying that that all advice on burnout is useless; it really can help, but we have to remember that the job itself (and not the person) is the best predictor of burnout. Consider a study of almost 1700 employees which found that excessive job demands and limit job resources to cope with those demands, was the strongest factor related to burnout.
The Essential Burnout Analysis List
The results of this study should lead you to ask yourself, “what about my job is stressing me out?” There could be a lot of factors at play in burnout but here are a few to consider:
- Unreasonable amount of work combined with high expectations
- Limited breaks, downtime, or vacation days
- Long work hours, especially without break or flexibility
- Unrelenting pace of work and an inability to control work flow
- Unrealistic deadlines
- Limited support to complete projects
- Lack of meaning in your work
- Lack of integrity, honesty, or trustworthiness of your employer or in your work
- Customers/clients/patients who are hostile, upset, angry, unrealistically demanding, especially in ways that you cannot fix or resolve
- Administrators/supervisors/bosses who are domineering, critical, or perfectionistic
- Coworkers who are selfish, jealous, or untrustworthy
- Frequent crises and emergencies which you feel are unnecessary or preventable
Should You Change Your Job?
If you look over this list and you start to think, “I take advantage of my clients and I don’t provide a service I belief in,” then you need to seriously consider changing your job. It may be that your type of job is fine but you don’t agree with the way the organization runs. Start thinking about making an exit to a new employer.
There are some reasons just to leave. Are you burnout out because of unrealistic, unsafe, or unhealthy working conditions. Is your job taking all your free time? Is your schedule so unpredictable you can’t have another life (and you see no opportunity for change in the future)? Are you working in dangerous conditions, which lack safety standards or that press people to the point where they make mistakes (e.g., physicians work 80 hours a week or truck drivers working 29 out 30 days every month). Are you being harassed, intimidated, or belittled by your boss or coworkers? Then don’t wait for the next job posting, get out of your job as soon as possible.
Before Quitting, Try This
Quitting is the extreme answer. Most of the time that isn’t necessary. There may be a middle ground that you haven’t tried yet. Barring an unsafe working environment, it is much easier to change your current job experience or transfer within a company than finding a new job. As I mentioned earlier, too much work and too few resources to manage it are the top causes of burnout.
What can do to make your workload more manageable?
- Can you offload some of your work? Delegate to others, respectfully decline assignments.
- Stop volunteering for extra duties. Put your damn hand down.
- Tell your boss you are already busy with other things and you can’t take on new responsibilities without compromising your current work.
- Get help on current and future projects.
- Reduce your schedule: start leaving work on time. Just leave even where there are things to do. Miraculously they will be there tomorrow. Refuse to answer the phone or emails toward the end of the day. Guess what? I’m not responding to you 5 minutes before I leave. People will soon get the idea that you don’t solve problems when you’re packing your purse and headed out the door.
- Make Less Money: Reduce your work hours, if you can afford it and it doesn’t affect your job stability or benefits. Go to 32 hours per week if possible. The lost pay is sometimes far cheaper than a heart attack at 50 and losing 10 years of life.
- Change Jobs Within Your Current Employer: transfer to a part of the company that is more sane.
- Change Your Schedule: negotiate a compressed schedule, e.g., you work four 10 hours days. This will save one day of commuting and keep you out of work one day.
- Negotiate a flex schedule.
- Ask for more resources: maybe there are tools and equipment that could help. Ask for them.
Before you consider all the “self-help” burnout strategies, like mindfulness and finding meaning in your work, consider if your burnout is due to negative working conditions and you just need to find a healthier place to work. If so, get out. If you still believe in your job or it makes sense to salvage what you have, then try to reduce your workload. Large workload (and limited job resources to manage it) is the number one cause of burnout. Take direct steps to try to reduce your workload first, rather than trying to manage your job stress. Stress management will help burnout but do it later. Also try to get more resources from your employer to manage your work, from additional staff to programs, tools, or equipment. Do something about burnout before it affects your job performance, your health, your family, or something else?