Overworked or Burned Out?

September 2, 2008

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Does workweek dread begin for you early Sunday? Do visions of the upcoming weekend help you make it through Monday? These could be signs that you're overworked and overstressed — or they could be signs of a bigger problem.

For most people, some stress is normal. Typically, this passes after a busy period's slowdown. For others, though, the feeling doesn't disappear, even after a good vacation. If you can relate, then you might be burned out on your job.

In a recent CareerBuilder.com survey, 78 percent of the 7,600 surveyed workers nationwide reported feeling burned-out at work.

Overwork and burnout are not the same thing. Burnout may be a consequence of unrelenting stress, but it isn't the same as too much stress. The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as "a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations."

"Stress from overworking, by and large, involves too much," according to nonprofit HelpGuide.org: "too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and psychologically.

"Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough," HelpGuide.org continues. "Being burned out means feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don't see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up."

Signs of burnout tend to be more mental than physical, according to HelpGuide.org. Stressed people can imagine that if they can just get everything under control, they'll feel better. More than half the time for burned-out workers, though, feel overwhelmed or completely bored, Joni Rose of Career Minded Consulting Services wrote at Suite101.

Moreover, "those who are happy at work are usually able to manage extra hours to meet deadlines, without enormous resentment," according to Monster.com. "Those who're truly burnt out will find this hard to bear," i.e., a feeling of uncontrollability or powerlessness.

Signs of burnout, broadly considered, may include the following:

  • The quality of your work isn't what it used to be;

  • Missing deadlines and tasks that need to be accomplished are left undone;

  • Punctuality and absenteeism are becoming issues;

  • Lunch breaks are becoming more frequent and longer;

  • Your professional relationships don't matter anymore;

  • Your contributions to group discussions and tasks are minimal or nonexistent;

  • You're no longer goal-oriented; and

  • Increased "self-medicating" with alcohol and drugs.

(Sources: Mayo Clinic and Suite101)

Simply put, fatigue and low energy levels, disengagement/boredom, bitterness/cynicism and a general "Why bother?" attitude are symptomatic of burnout. While "one symptom alone doesn't qualify as burnout," writes CC Holland at BNET, "two or more in an employee might be indicative of an on-the-verge worker."

According to the Mayo Clinic, employees who may be particularly prone to burnout are:

1) Those who identify so strongly with work that they lack a reasonable balance between a work life and a personal life; 2) Those who try to be everything to everyone; 3) Those whose jobs are monotonous; and 4) Those whose work is in the "helping" professions, such as health care, counseling, teaching or law enforcement.

Put the Spark Back in Your Work Employees and employers should be aware of the situations that promote burnout. If yours is illustrated by the aforementioned symptoms, it may be time to search for greener pastures in the form of "a new career path or a new opportunity to personal happiness," suggests CareerBuilder.com. "Get your résumé together and begin your search."

If, however, your professional "spark" is not yet extinguished but is "flickering faintly," here are a few considerations to rejuvenate your professional energy:

  • Look for a new position within your organization;
  • Identify a new responsibility/element in your current position that might refresh your focus;
  • Assess the aspects of the job you like and do well, and concentrate on expanding them;
  • Ensure you get meaningful feedback from your supervisor so you will have clear goals and accurate measurement;
  • Stay informed of the latest issues and trends in your profession and find ways to incorporate these into your job; and
  • Delegate or eliminate non-essential tasks to avoid losing sight of what you really need to be doing.

If all else fails, it may in fact be time to switch careers. If that is the case, after you've assessed your situation:

  • Review your strengths and dig in your heels;
  • Acquire new skills;
  • Explore your options, set goals and make plans to develop yourself to fit your new career path;
  • Consider opportunities to transfer to a new location, even to a new city, state or country, as completely new surroundings with different peers could get your professional juices flowing again; and
  • Do something you enjoy — consider making a career out of your hobby.

(Source: Yahoo! HotJobs)

Many of us have done our fair share of on-the-job clock watching. Knowing the difference between overwork/-stress and burnout enables us to get a jump on the solution — whether it's a renewed sense of your career or an entirely new one.

See also: Breaking Down the Door

Resources

Seventy-Eight Percent of Workers Say They Are Burned Out at Work... CareerBuilder.com, July 16, 2008

Job Burnout: Know the Signs and Symptoms The Mayo Clinic

Preventing Burnout: Signs, Symptoms, and Strategies to Avoid It by Melinda Smith, Ellen Jaffe-Gill, Jeanne Segal and Robert Segal HelpGuide.org, Oct. 26, 2007 (last updated)

Ten Signs of Burnout by Joni Rose Suite101.com, June 28, 2007

The Signs of Job Burnout by Caitlin Crawshaw Monster.ca

How to Combat Workplace Burnout by CC Holland BNET.com, Aug. 25, 2008

Quiz: Are You Burned Out on Your Job? by Kate Lorenz CareerBuilder.com, April 18, 2008 (last updated)

'I Hate My Job — Now What?!' by Dawn Papandrea Yahoo! HotJobs

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