I have a friend who was experiencing burnout at work, and although his initial response was to try to overcome the issues associated with burnout – and there are many strategies – it gradually got to the point where the best advice I could give him was to look for another job. He had all the symptoms: anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness and an inability to sleep. He had a crushing workload and an unsympathetic boss who gave him unclear and undefined tasks to perform – basically he was responsible for whatever came up, whenever he found out about it, which was usually too late.
I sympathized. Whenever we got together, he was often late, because he had been kept at the office to deal with some emergency or wanted to try to clear his desk of the day’s work so he could relieve some of the anxiety. He often arrived irritable and exhausted. I encouraged him to talk about it and get it off his chest. Little did I know I was exacerbating the problem. I realize now that staying positive and avoiding talking about negative work experiences after hours is part of the daily recovery time we all need between work hours. The problem with my friend was that he had no time for recovery. He didn’t have time for a LIFE. And he resented it.
I also tried to give him some advice about how to handle his issues at work. He exercised whenever he could, building up endorphins to dull the frustration and anxiety. He watched his diet, making sure he didn’t eat his way out of the problem. And he tried to get help at work. He asked his manager repeatedly if they could work together to solve some of the workload issues and streamline the process. The answer was always the same: there would be no changes made to the job, and the implication was that if he couldn’t handle it, he knew where to find the door. Their relationship grew worse until it became a pattern of destructive mutual interaction.
Problem-focused coping mechanisms – trying to change the job or aspects of a job – depend almost entirely on effective control of the potential stressors in the environment. When there are few possibilities of controlling or changing things, the problem of burnout will not easily go away.
After a while, I stopped encouraging my friend to attempt to solve the problems and told him I thought it might be time to look for another job. I don’t think giving up is always the best solution (please visit www.healthy-worker.ca/work for more tips on coping with burnout). But I also think it’s important to be realistic about a situation that may never change. Job stress and chronic burnout were affecting my friend’s health, and it was time to leave a bad situation.
Here are a few signs it might be time to leave your job:
- You hate going to work.
- You are taking work home with you or staying late every night, with no end in site to the heavy workload.
- Your concerns are ignored.
- There are no new challenges, and there is no chance of advancement.
- The work environment is toxic, with animosity, disrespect or bullying.
- Your health is suffering.
- Your family life is suffering and personal relationships are strained.