There are few things more discouraging than to invest significant time and effort in your career, only to want to quit because you feel burnt out.
Burnout is a common yet preventable experience among hardworking professionals. It’s the feeling of discouragement that comes from thinking that your current efforts are meaningless, or that you cannot produce the positive impact you want through your work.
Burnout is a reaction to prolonged, negative stress that feels like a weighty burden and makes it difficult to maintain hope for the future. Symptoms of depression from burnout can include hopelessness, low energy, sadness, discouragement and lack of interest. The more you understand what contributes to burnout, the more you can do to prevent it.
Contrary to popular belief, burnout can occur in a relatively short amount of time. You need not work in an unrewarding job for years before burnout sets in. In fact, given the right combination of factors, one can experience burnout very early in a career.
Burnout can occur when you’re working in a stressful job for an extended period of time; the stress is consistent and seems to be resistant to your attempts at reducing it; the work you do feels meaningless or of little use; you have tried repeatedly to change your situation but have not found success in anything you have tried; and/or you feel like you have no options to acquire the type of meaningful job you desire.
Below are several contributing factors to burnout and recommendations for how to prevent or treat it.
• Avoid unrealistic expectations.
Our expectations set the parameters for how we react to events in our lives. If our expectations are unrealistic, we set ourselves up for disappointment, resentment and diminished resilience.
An expectation that our efforts at work will be rewarded with appreciation every day, while a nice idea, is an unrealistic expectation that will lead to feeling unappreciated within days.
A healthy or realistic expectation has more to do with you and what you have control over, and less about what others will do.
• Understanding the dynamics of the system.
When we lack understanding as to how the system we work in operates, frustration and feelings of powerlessness are soon to follow.
Learning to appreciate the system you’re in is not the same as simply “playing the game” and doing things the way they have always been done; instead, it’s a way to learn how most effectively to get your needs met.
The more you feel self-efficacy in meeting your needs, the greater sense of control you will feel.
• Identify what you control.
Much time and effort are wasted as we try to manipulate things outside of our control. Practicing acceptance of the things over which we have no control and focusing our efforts on those things we can actually influence is a powerful way to increase your sense of control in your work, and in your life in general.
For instance, you might not be able to choose the cases you are assigned — a common source of frustration for associates — but you can choose how you think about those cases, how you ask for help, how you look for something meaningful in the work, and how much time you choose to dedicate to thinking about the work once you leave the office.
• Avoid meaningless work.
There are certain tasks that might seem meaningless or dreadfully boring. Most people experience a certain amount of meaningless work in their day-to-day responsibilities.
The problems start to develop when the majority of your work feels meaningless or you lack compensatory experiences of meaningful work to balance it out. We all need meaning in our lives.
If the tasks you have to complete at work do not naturally satisfy your need for meaning, either seek out meaningful activities outside of work or explore ways that you can get involved in meaningful activities at work.
• Set reasonable boundaries.
Setting healthy boundaries is one example of exercising control in your life.
When work feels unrelenting, increase your sense of control by practicing saying “no” diplomatically, set boundaries on when you will stop working, schedule time for rest and self-care, and challenge the thought that you cannot set boundaries lest something terrible happen.
• Schedule breaks/time off.
Our calendars can quickly fill up and feel overwhelming. Use the power of your calendar to schedule breaks in your work and time off from work in order to recharge.
Studies have shown that taking regular breaks throughout the day improves work productivity and increases your ability to handle difficult tasks.
• Exercise control outside of work.
As you focus on areas within your work that you can influence, look also to increase your control outside of work to help ward off burnout.
• Adopt meaningful hobbies and activities.
It is extremely important to remember that your work is not your entire life. If you are able to do something that you love, that’s great. But even then, you need more. Having meaningful hobbies and activities helps to increase your sense of life satisfaction, gives you an opportunity to shift your perspective on things, and can increase creative thinking at work as you apply that new perspective to work situations.
• Talk to a professional.
Burnout is a complex issue that is influenced by both internal and external factors. Talking with a trained mental health professional (and perhaps a career coach) can help you break down the various elements that are contributing to the burnout.
Seek help sooner rather than later. The sooner that a significant issue is addressed, the easier it is to effect a positive change.