How to Recognize and Overcome Job Burnout

By Kevin Waldbillig.

Work is busy. Life is busy. But, I find that summer does offer a bit of relief from the hectic pace of both. Why not take advantage of the season by doing a bit of self-reflection and self-care? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I feeling more cynical at work towards clients and colleagues?
  • Do I feel disillusioned and lack the satisfaction and sense of purpose I once had?
  • Is my own self-care taking a backseat through not eating right, not sleeping well, or using alcohol or drugs to feel better?

If you answer yes to any or all of these questions, the first step is always to speak with your doctor or mental health provider. Have a conversation. Keep an open mind. You may realize that you are experiencing  job burnout. Left untreated, this condition can lead to serious health issues like chronic anxiety, depression, or increased vulnerability to other illness. We all need to be vigilant in recognizing burnout and proactive in managing it.

The Mayo Clinic characterizes job burnout as physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Accompanying this may be doubts about the quality of the work you’re delivering and the direction of your career. It’s a perfect storm!

Career professionals are not immune to this phenomenon. In fact, job burnout tends to occur more frequently in people who tightly wrap themselves up in the work they do, and who have difficulty setting and adhering to personal and professional boundaries. Those who are most at risk of job burnout are those in the helping professions like teaching, healthcare, and social work. Anyone not finding the balance between their personal life and their work life is at risk. If you feel you have lost control of your work life to some degree, it may be a good time to consider some changes.

So, what can you do? As a registered psychotherapist and career professional, I offer the following suggestions for actions you can take to combat job burnout and reduce the chance of recurrence:

Start a conversation. It might begin by sharing with a co-worker, a friend, or someone you trust. Odds are that if you’re feeling the negative effects of work, someone else is as well. If you have psychological services included in your workplace benefits package, use them. If not, negotiate the consultation fee with a mental health professional and use the invoice as a tax-deductible health care expense.

Get a professional assessment. In order to help our clients, career professionals often rely on different forms of data gathered through assessment tools. Let’s consider using those assessments for ourselves to focus in on our own values, interests, and personality. The data can help to pinpoint our need for change and provide the motivation needed to look at our work-life balance a little closer.

Learn to manage stress. Identify the source(s) of your stress and make plans to combat it. The Canadian Mental Health Association tells us that that some stress is helpful – it helps us get our tasks done and stay motivated. Unhelpful stress brings feelings of dread and being overwhelmed. As a result, a natural reaction is to avoid situations and tasks altogether, often making the problem worse. Stress impacts decision-making and concentration. Sleep difficulties and headaches become common occurrences for many people. If we are overwhelmed, are we being the best possible source of support for our clients? And think about the impact on friends and family, too.

Brainstorm your own work options. If applicable, are you able to involve your supervisor in helping you? Are there solutions that could help alleviate your stress? Could you consider job sharing, telecommuting, or flex-time? Do you need a mentor, more education, or professional development to help you reach your goals? Career Professionals of Canada has numerous courses and networking opportunities to connect with like-minded practitioners. Feeling validated by others can really help.

Consider a new way. Think about ways to improve your vision of work. Reframe. Negotiate to do more of the tasks at work that you enjoy. Perhaps you truly enjoy assessment work. For others, it may be career counselling, résumé writing, or client interview coaching. Recognize your colleagues. Practice gratitude. Chunk your work up into manageable units of time and then relax by taking short breaks between chunks.

Practice self-care. Finally, make sure you get back to basics with your self-care. Good sleep hygiene can help you restore and protect your health. Rethink the food items you currently consume. Follow Canada’s Food Guide by eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and proteins. In addition, regular physical activity is proven to help you to better deal with stress. It takes the mind off work so you can focus on other satisfying areas of your life. Think about the frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise you are doing and have a friend join you for motivation. Try to gain more control by taking an inventory of different aspects of your life: finances, important relationships, family, and leisure. Develop a self-care plan for yourself or find a trusted person who can help put it together for you.

The work we career professionals do in the service of others is important. It’s our responsibility to take care of both our mental and physical health so that we’re equipped to meet our professional responsibilities in the best way possible. When it comes to job burnout, we may have more control than we think we do. We can continue on the path towards it, take positive steps to get off the path, or re-evaluate our career direction completely – the choice is ours to make!

Kevin Waldbillig is a Registered Psychotherapist and Career Development Professional. He started Change Works Interactive in Oakville, Ontario, in 2012. Kevin enjoys being a part-time professor, author, and workshop presenter on topics related to career development, change, and psychological health and well-being.

Image by Jack Moreh on Freerange

Comments

  1. Giselle Mazurat

    This is an excellent article. Thank you for sharing Kevin.

    Self care is so important because if you don’t take care of yourself properly, you cannot take care of others. Stepping back from stressful situations is so important, not only to ourselves but to others around us as well.

    • I totally agree Giselle. If we are over stressed there are other areas to start to slip as well: relationships, family, personal growth and activities we enjoy because either our physical or mental health are affected. Thank you for your comments!
      Kevin

  2. Kevin, this is a wonderful article with lots of ‘food for thought’. I can relate to getting so entrenched in my work of helping others that I forget to help myself.

    Something that has worked well for me when I start to get overwhelmed is to return to my WHY. Why am I doing what I do and am I sticking to that WHY with my work? If not – and I am digressing into other ‘busywork’ or items not aligned with my core WHY – I need to cut back on those items or starting say ‘no’.

    • Hi Adrienne…This really speaks to the professional boundaries that you choose to make part of your life. I like hearing from people like you who make this choice-its chaotic sometimes in our lives and we have to need to say WHY?
      Thanks Adrienne!
      Kevin

  3. Great advice, Kevin. We have so many options for taking care of ourselves. Why, then, do we not do it more often? I’ve learned, like Adrienne, to politely say “no” to the things I don’t have the energy for or the interest in. I’m working with someone right now who is facing a dreadful work situation–16-hour days and he’s in such a terrible state. He literally has no control over his work schedule and I worry that he’s going to become ill. If you had any advice I could pass along to him, that would be wonderful.

    • Hi Maureen
      You touch on something that I think is really important-control. Ask him what he feels he is in control of in his life? Does he have a choice? Is he in a no win situation. Try to assess his motivation for staying. I’m putting together some modules on my website currently that look at some of these issues- please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or through my website and I would be happy to forward it to you.

      Thanks for your comments Maureen!

      Kevin

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