Burnout is something that we all face in our lives whether on a personal level or in the workplace. In my career field, working with social workers and child intervention – the burnout rate is extremely high and concerning. There was actually a shortage of social workers who were available and well enough to do their jobs to help protect children and families in the system.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a mental health issue. While it’s not considered a mental health illness, the feeling of burnout can impact our overall well-being. Diagnosing a mental health illness is never an easy task. It may take several sessions with a doctor or psychologist.
The following is a list of common symptoms associated with burnout:
- Chronic fatigue or loss of energy levels
- Loss of motivation or the ability to follow through with a project
- Increased number of errors, a lack of focus and confusion or “brain fog”
- Increased amount of headaches or migraines
- Lack of patience with increasing signs of frustration (lashing out at others)
- Hypervigilance (becoming more suspicious or thoughts of being in danger)
What causes burnout?
A lot of things can cause burnout. A busy single mom trying to work full time, pay the bills and clean the house may burnout faster than a mom who has the support of a family. Or burnout can happen when someone takes on too much like trying to clean out and sell their family home, or taking on sole responsibility for caring for a loved one. But what causes burnout from work? These are just a few examples that my research brought up and what I know from personal experience.
- When people put too much pressure on themselves
- When you are an overachiever who takes on too much responsibility
- When you’re unable to ask for help because you are a people pleaser
- When you feel unappreciated or are being taken advantage of
- When you have unreasonable demands and timelines that are doomed to make you fail
- When you work with unreasonable people who create a toxic work environment
- Employee discrimination (being passed over promotions, over and over again)
- Working in a hostile work environment where bullying and humiliation is a daily part of life
How burnout can affect your life?
Burnout is something that can last a few weeks, or even a few years. The psychological damage from burnout can leave lasting impressions that you may never fully recover from. You often see this happen when someone has been in a career for a long-time. Burnout is common among health providers, educators, police enforcement, and even in the public sector. Especially this year given the toxic political climate that we are living in.
- Decline in physical health – weight gain or weight loss, increase in migraines or headaches
- Mood swings – irritability, easily frustrated, sudden bursts of anger, crying for no reason, or the feeling of being helpless or overwhelmed, sarcasm or negative thoughts, self doubt
- Relationships – resulting in withdrawing from social circles or activities you once were passionate about. You may need more downtime to sleep, or just to be on your own. This can impact your personal relationships on a negative level.
- Communication breakdowns – you might go for days without talking to people or even weeks when you aren’t working or you might struggle with the ability to even form a sentence or have a conversation
In my field, I was often met with unrealistic timelines. But it was my own fault. I worked quickly and produced work faster than the average employee. Instead of rewarding me with a pay raise or a higher position, I was just rewarded with, you guessed it, more work.
The lies we tell ourselves
“But it is a promotion, you’re supporting more people!”
Oh, the lies we tell ourselves to get through the working day.
The caveat to being a good worker is that people will expect more from you. I always wanted to keep busy and produce a good product. I also had a hard time asking for help when needed. Sometimes I would put in overtime just to meet deadlines – even though I knew I wouldn’t get paid for the overtime.
But I don’t want more work, can I have a cookie instead?
I used to joke with my supervisor who I had a good relationship with at the time – why can’t we go back to receiving gold stars or cookies when we do a good job? I never understood the mentality of “Let’s bury her because she’s the only one who can do the work” attitude. More often than not, this will result in a higher rate of absenteeism and more health problems – which always ends in performance issues.
The employee will start to resent the employer because as the workload increases, it will start to feel like more of a punishment than a reward. In the end, wouldn’t it be better just to reward the employee with a promotion or higher salary? Or even a bonus, depending on which industry you are in?
So the real question becomes – how can we avoid burnout at work? Do we work slower? Do we ask for more help? Or do we just simply say, “no, I can’t do all that” and risk retaliation in the workplace?
If you’re stuck in a job you hate because of the economy, this might seem like an impossible situation. But it doesn’t have to be. One of the most important things you can do for yourself is learning the art of self-care.
Related articles – the art of self care
How much of you should you give at work?
I came across a recent discussion in Reddit that asked how much of yourself should you give to your employers. The answers were surprising.
“Never give 100% of yourself. If you give 100% of yourself all the time, you’ll burnout fast. If you are a fast worker, give 80% of yourself. Then you have some wiggle room.”
Of course there is the other end of the spectrum for those who don’t do anything while on the job and just browse Facebook or Reddit. I admit, I’ve had those days before too. We all do from time to time.
It’s not up to me to tell you how much of yourself you can give at work, instead, I’ll offer some constructive advice I’ve been given over the years to help combat burnout.
Use your vacation time – and use it well
I once worked with someone who had over 500 hours of vacation hours in her bank because she never took time off. She wound up taking half a year off because you can only carry your vacation balances for so long. I never had this issue. Between my sick days and family stuff, I had the opposite issue.
Make sure to take annual vacation days. If you are in Alberta and you are a union employee, you are entitled to personal leave as well. Use it wisely. Even if you can’t afford to go on vacation, give yourself a treat. Take a mental health day every once and a while. The longer you go without a vacation, the faster the burnout will hit you. Leave your work cell phone at home or turned off. Don’t check your emails. Fully unplug from the work world. Otherwise, it beats the point of a vacation.
Find passion and harmony in your life
Finding balance in extraordinary times can be difficult. If you aren’t passionate about your work, maybe it’s time to find something you can be passionate about. Whether it’s a new hobby, or creative outlet – or you want to learn a new skill. Try something new and have fun. I’m not going to tell you to quit your job and start new in this market. But if you want change – it’s never too late. Look into courses or colleges that can offer hands on training in areas that interest you.
Know your limits
This is important. This is a work in progress for me. It you are feeling overwhelmed – tell someone at work. Your supervisor or a manager. Let them know that you have too much on your plate. Ask for help. Don’t send an angry email or text. Ask for an in person meeting or virtual meeting (given the pandemic). Write a list of your concerns. Show examples of how much work you are doing. It’s possible that your managers aren’t aware of how much work you are doing for everyone on your team.
It’s important for you to stick up for yourself – but in a constructive way. Offer possible solutions. Ask for flexible deadlines. Or ask if you can recruit others for help. By showing that you are willing to find a solution, your boss will be more apt to help you.
And if not, then you know that you are working in a toxic work environment, and it’s time to start thinking about an exit strategy.
This is just one of many posts in my new Personal Development series. I’ll be sharing tips and information I’ve learned in my career as a public servant. I worked for nearly fifteen years for our provincial government in various roles and positions. This blog is my passion and I’m working on making it a full time career. I can’t wait to share what I have learned with you.