Are you suffering from job burnout?

If you’ve heard people complain about their jobs lately, chances are you’ve also heard the words “But I’m grateful to have a job” added as a guilty disclaimer. It wasn’t that long ago that a steady pay cheque was something a lot of people took for granted.

However, those that still have one aren’t immune to the added stress of the poor economy. In addition to feeling survivor guilt, many are wondering when their jobs will be the next to be cut. Even if coworkers aren’t disappearing, employees are faced with more work, tighter budgets and fewer resources. “Recession-proof your job” advice tells workers to take on more responsibilities and “go the extra mile” to make themselves indispensible. They’re encouraged to make sacrifices, and warned not to complain.

But at what cost? These factors can put employees at risk for something that will hamper their job performance, health and morale: job burnout .

What is burnout?

Essentially, burnout is a state of exhaustion — including physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It’s caused by long-term exposure to stress and demanding situations at work. It’s not an overnight occurrence but instead is the end result of cumulative stress. According to experts, these culprits could be to blame:

Lack of control. You can’t control your workload or don’t have a say in major decisions. In today’s recession, you can’t control the economy either — or how your employer will choose to respond. The feeling of being powerless in any situation causes stress.

Expectations aren’t clear. You’re not a mind-reader, but it feels like you have to be in today’s workplace. You aren’t sure what your boss or clients want, who has what degree of authority or if you can find the resources you need.

Dysfunctional dynamics. Unfortunately, not everyone gets along. Bullying, back-stabbing and micromanaging are realities some workers deal with even in the best of times. A lack of communication among coworkers can also cause tension — particularly if you can’t talk about your needs and concerns.

The job or company doesn’t fit. A job that doesn’t suit your interest or skills will inevitably wear you down. Or, worse yet, you may find yourself conflicted if your values don’t match your employer’s — like how your company does business or treats its employees and customers. Unfortunately, the reality is that many workers are forced to accept jobs that are less-than-ideal just to pay the bills.

Activity extremes. Perhaps you’re bored by repetitive work, or you’re dealing with constant chaos. Either way, you need extra energy and attention to stay on track — but your body doesn’t have a limitless supply.

Increased responsibility also increases stress in the in the workplace — especially if you don’t have the option to say no.

Lack of balance. Too much time and energy spent at work can be detrimental. Workers who are trying to please everyone all the time will inevitably find they can’t do it. However, people who have a healthy work-life balance are less likely to burn out.

In addition, people who are in certain careers like “helping professions” (teachers, nurses, counsellors and emergency workers) are at a higher risk.

Warning signs

How can you tell if you’re affected? According to the Mayo Clinic, be on the lookout for these symptoms:

Change in sleeping habits or appetite. Your weight changes, or you may have insomnia.

Lack of enthusiasm. You have a hard time getting started on tasks, and you’re counting the minutes until you can go home.

Feeling disillusioned with your job. You’re more critical or cynical than usual, and you feel that there are some barriers you just can’t get past.

Irritability . It’s harder to laugh at yourself, and you’re losing patience with coworkers, clients or your boss. People who are burnt out are more sarcastic, cynical and critical of others.

Fatigue . You feel you don’t have the energy to keep up with your job.

Loss of pleasure. You’ve lost the ability to experience joy, and you don’t feel a sense of accomplishment from your achievements.

Unexplained pain in the neck or lower back or headaches.

Self-medicating. You’re turning to food, alcohol or drugs to deal with the stress.

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it’s time to take action. The sustained stress will affect not just your job but other areas of your life as well. In addition, it can make you more susceptible to illnesses and put you at a higher risk for certain health conditions.

The solutions?

The turbulent economy adds additional stress, but it may also close off some potential solutions to burnout. Conventional advice like “learn to say no”, “cut back your hours” and “reduce your commitments” are steps many wary employees might shun. “Move to another position” or “find another job” is easier said than done if the opportunities aren’t there.

So what can you do if those options aren’t open?

Talk to your boss to mitigate some of those stress-causing factors like unclear expectations and problematic workplace dynamics. Take the initiative to help resolve communication issues by starting the conversation. Approach the situation from a “problem solving” perspective and focus on how to make things better rather than venting your frustrations.

Your boss can also provide feedback on how you’re doing and how you can improve. If you report to more than one manager, clarifying expectations and roles can help make sure you don’t get overloaded.

Talk to a professional. Talk to your doctor or take advantage of your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). You’ve probably noticed that many of the symptoms of burnout are also symptoms of other conditions like depression. A health care professional can help get to the root of the cause.

Manage stress. Find healthy ways to cope with the stress, like seeking support from friends and family, exercising, using relaxation techniques and working on the “life” part of the work-life balance. Turning to food, alcohol and drugs will only exacerbate the situation.

Tend to your needs. Ignoring the housework, skipping your exercise routine and cutting down on time with family and friends will also make the stress worse. A healthy diet and a good night’s sleep can help as well.

Set goals.. Experts recommend examining the causes and set short and long term goals to reduce workplace stress. A goal could be letting go of frustration over things you can’t control, learning to be more assertive or re-juggling your priorities.

Take a break. Vacations can provide a much needed respite, but if you can’t take time off look for other ways to disconnect from the office — even if it is just for a long weekend. (See How vacations reduce stress for more information).

Unfortunately, there are no quick-fixes for burnout or job-related stress. In a culture of self-sacrifice, it’s important for employees to understand that taking care of themselves is in everyone’s best interests.

What are you doing to deal with stress in the turndown? Tell us in the comments.

Sources: Five Signs of Job Burnout and What to Do About It Job Burnout
WebMD: Managing Job Stress

Photo © Otmar Winterleitner

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