Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Job Burnout - Are You At Risk?

"Without work, all life goes rotten, 
But when work is soulless, life stifles and dies." - Albert Camus

Feeling stressed at work and unfulfilled by one's job is a familiar topic to most people.  But there is a difference between having a difficult set of days or weeks and actual job burnout.  Burnout is not an all or nothing phenomenon.  Fluctuations in motivation and enthusiasm are normal.  Job burnout occurs when enthusiasm and motivation have completely dried up while your job skills and knowledge remain intact - a very frustrating feeling.  Those hardest hit by job burnout are people in the helping and medical professions, those who make high stakes or life and death decisions, and those whose work is very detail oriented.

Burnout is a cumulative process and it is important to be in in tune with early warning signals:
- Loss of interest in work
- Emotional fatigue
- Increased moodiness and irritability in both personal and professional situations
- Increasing frustration with everyday responsibilities at work
- Inability to re-charge your internal batteries while not working
- Interpersonal problems marked by decreased tolerance and patience
- Social withdrawal - becoming aloof and inaccessible
- Indifference towards people and dehumanization of those you work with (eg, thinking of clients as objects not people)
- Health problems as a result of chronic tension or stress
- Substance abuse as a way to cope with difficult feelings
- Declining performance at work
- Being emotionally or physically absent from work
- Ceasing to find meaning in your work

Most people suffering from burnout share an experience of powerlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness.  They lose a sense of being able to control their work and self-confidence takes a major dwindling hit.  Re-establishing a sense of empowerment and confidence is key to addressing job burnout.  Before deciding whether or not to quit a job, it is important that you get yourself to a replenished and rational place first.

Here are some tips to help you reclaim a sense of personal control:
- Learn better ways to manage stress.  Healthy coping is key to replenish those dead batteries and get you to a place where you can clearly assess and evaluate what to do next about your job situation.
- Seek social support.  Even though the first instinct during burnout may be to withdraw from others, it is important to counteract this instinct.  Build a solid network made up of friends, family, and coworkers.
- Increase your knowledge base.  By continuing to build your marketable job skills set, you increase your personal and professional sense of empowerment.
- Manage negative thoughts.  See previous blog entry on Talking Back to Your Internal Chatterbox to learn how to manage types of thinking that can take control of your emotions.
- Develop detached concern.  This means learning to let go of attachment to how things could or ought to be - a skill that becomes immeasurable especially when you are working with serious or impossible situations.
- If all else fails, consider changing jobs.  However, it is paramount that you analyze the source of your job dissatisfaction first and explore what is needed to improve the situation.

Talking to a mental health professional who specializes in job burnout can be a powerful tool to regain a sense of control.  It can help to have a neutral person to process the above topic with.  I am a Houston psychologist and enjoy working with job burnout concerns.  Visit my webpage at for more information.