Are you on the verge of job burn-out? You’re not alone. Millions of people struggle with unrealistic workloads: 33% of the American workforce say that they check in the office during vacations, and 36% work on weekends or bring home work at least once a day.
The recession has multiplied the pressure. Companies who have downsized have forced employees to handle the jobs of two or more people, and they dare not complain for fear of being fired themselves.
And workload isn’ t the only culprit. You can have decent hours but still feel powerless, frustrated or underappreciated, like when you hate your boss, or are in a career that you are no longer interested in. The emotional toll of these factors can be just as exhausting as 18-hour shifts. Here’s how to find out if you’re burnt out—and why.
1. You feel like you’re always chasing deadlines
Work-life balance experts emphasize the need to rest and develop hobbies and relationships outside of the office. A weekend with the family or a few hours playing a favorite sport can release tension so we return to work with a clear mind and high spirits.
But you may feel that you can’t take a break. ‘I’m so behind!’ or ‘my boss will kill me if I don’t submit this tomorrow.’ But this kind of dedication is counterproductive. You may become so exhausted that you make more mistakes or take longer to finish routine tasks. You’re unproductive, inefficient, and miserable.
2. No matter how much you do, it’s not enough.
People need to feel that their work is valued, and that they are good at what they do. If you have an overcritical boss, or your company culture pays more attention to failure than success, then you’ll start questioning your own competence and wondering, ‘Am I the right person for this job?’
This situation also breeds defensiveness and resentment. ‘Why should I work hard? They never appreciate what I do, anyway.’ Or, ‘I worked so hard on that project, and they shoot it down! Don’t those idiots realize that they’re expecting the impossible?’ In an ideal situation, job pressure can be a good thing because it pushes you to do better. But if you get all pressure and no praise, you can simply give up.
3. You feel emotionally drained all the time.
It’s normal to have a bad day at the office, but it’s a completely different matter if you wake up with a feeling of dread, mechanically plod through your tasks, and get depressed just thinking about how you have to do it all again tomorrow. In other words, every day is a bad day. Or it’s always been so bad you don’t even believe it can ever be good, and can’t remember the last time that it was.
4. You feel like you’re always backed into a corner.
Pressure is part of the job, but ‘healthy’ pressure is like the adrenalin rush before a big race: there’s a lot of competition, and a long road ahead, but you have a chance of winning.
It’s another thing if you’re given a task and absolutely no support or resources to succeed. Maybe management ignores your recommendations, and have forced you to take a strategy you know is doomed to fail. Maybe your sales quotas are so high that you’d have to sell an island and rob the National Treasury to meet them.
5. You feel isolated from your peers.
Many people will stick to a very difficult job for one reason alone: ‘I’m working with really great people.’ Just knowing you have friends to talk to, a team that you trust, or a mentor who believes in you and helps develop your skills can get you through a bad situation.
But what if you don’t get along with your co-workers, or have been victimized by back-biting and gossip? Or what if the corporate culture is cold and competitive, and there’s nobody there you can invite for a round of beers after work?
You’ll be stuck in the worst possible scenario: stress, with no support system. It may be bearable if you have a healthy social life outside of the office, but if you also struggle with work-life balance, burn out—and even clinical depression—can occur.
6. You experience conflicting demands.
You have two bosses who give you two different sets of instructions. Or, your boss changes her mind every day, or forgets what she told you three weeks ago and then gets angry at you even if you followed her instructions to the letter. Then there’s the infamous: ‘Do a really amazing job! Be an industry pioneer! Kill the competition and amaze the public! But do it on half the budget you had last year.’
7. You have inadequate compensation and little job security.
You go through all of the situations listed above, but what do you get in return? Your salary may be below industry standard, or you may be paid far less than the boss’ son-in-law who does nothing in his corner office but practice his golf swing. You are constantly told that you are ‘replaceable’ and the string of cutbacks makes you wonder if you’re next.
The uncertainty and unfairness of your situation can make you feel like a cornered animal on constant alert for danger. Your body feels it, too: your blood pressure goes up, you may have difficulty sleeping, your senses are hyper-alert making you jittery or nervous. It’s a recipe for burnout…or worse, a heart attack.
Take charge of your life!
If this is happening to you, ask yourself: why am I staying? If the only reason is ‘I need a job’ then by all means, have a job—somewhere else. Dust off your resume and look for other options. You work hard. Somewhere out there is a company that will reward you for that, and respect you for the dedication you give to it.
If quitting isn’t feasible, draw boundaries. You are giving too much of yourself—your time, your emotions, your energy—to a job that is clearly not rewarding. If you can’t leave, then at least strive for work-life balance by cutting back on your hours and enriching other aspects of your life. Spend more time with your family and friends. Take up a creative and fulfilling hobby. Focus on your health.
Think of it this way. If your boss doesn’t respect you, at least respect yourself. If your company doesn’t reward you, at least take care of yourself. As said in the beginning of the article, the biggest factor in burnout is feeling powerless. Take back your life, and the power is yours again.