When you’re burning out (but not copping out)

8 guilt-free strategies for team-players

Job burnout is the cardiac arrest of the corporate world. Its early symptoms are easily ignored — fatigue, breathlessness, and dizziness. It can strike suddenly, and without immediate intervention, chances of (job) survival are slim to none.

While we’re on that heart analogy, it is sad to see that many who suffer from burnout are often the ones who started with a great passion for their work.

It’s good to love your job — just don’t marry it.

Burnout begins when, despite our best efforts, what we’re getting out of the job is more negative than positive. Positives are typically seen to be more important — a salary in our bank account every month, a business card that masquerades as our self-identity, or a big desk in a nice office.

The danger stems from how easily negatives can be dismissed as necessary evils, a part of the deal to be successful and swept under the rug.

There’s always a convenient, corporate way to explain away the symptoms of an impending, full-blown burnout.

Losing your motivation? Wake up, honeymoon’s over.

Taking your work home again? Now that’s dedication.

Always tired and stressed? What you need is a coffee.

Slipping performance at work? Work harder.

A growing dependency on alcohol, smoking, or junk food? Hey, whatever’s your fuel.

Now your relationships are falling apart? They don’t understand your work.

Always feeling frustrated, negative and depressed? What you need is a coffee!

Being able to discern the real toll your job is inflicting on your mental and emotional well-being is the key to averting burnout.

This may be harder for those who work with pride and passion. They can take on stress with the flawed resolve of a heavyweight boxer who doesn’t know when to throw the towel, even when he’s taking a complete beatdown.

To these highly driven individuals, admitting to burning out not only shows they’re weak, it shows they are the weak link.

Timely intervention is critical to divert a collision course with a job-killing burnout. The team-player in you may resist the idea of slowing down or taking a timeout if it can adversely affect your team. But remember, burning out doesn’t mean copping out.

Here are eight guilt-free strategies to manage burnout.

  1. Tune out

The “always-on” corporate mindset can prevent you from resting and recharging. Start by unplugging from the matrix. Remove yourself electronically from emails and instant messages. Detach yourself mentally from thoughts of deadlines.

If it’s unrealistic to disconnect for the evening or over the weekend, allocate specific check-in times that allow you to respond to emails and messages. This allows you to be fully present in your non-work life while being available on your terms.

You could let other team members know your tune-out times, and encourage them to set up theirs too. Everyone will appreciate this.

2. Block out

When we’re disorganized, we’re not only less productive, we’re also more stressed by the chaos around us. We worry more about our uncompleted tasks and feel the anxiety of not being in control of our situation.

Write down a list of things to do every day. Block out 45-minute slots to do each high-priority task without interruption. Take a mandatory break for the next 15 minutes before starting on a new task. You’ll be more focused and productive, so you’ll always be on top of things.

3. Sieve out

We feel overwhelmed when we try to do too much with too little. Filter out the unnecessary and give your time and energy to the truly important.

Do you need to reply to every group email just to “be heard”? Should you be at every meeting, including the one to select the wackiest photos from the Christmas party? Instead of trying to be omnipresent, choose to be fully present and engaged on the things that add the most value to your team and organization.

4. Chill out

Work on having a life outside of work.

Get back to spending time on your favorite hobbies. They take your mind off work stress while refreshing and energizing it. Your passions remind you of the person you are and can help restore balance.

Invite your colleagues to a backyard barbecue. Set up Wednesday yoga classes or Friday night bowling. These are some great ways to calm frayed nerves and connect with the team.

5. Step out

The office is often the physical epicenter of work stress. Whenever possible, step outside without compromising your productivity.

Forget the takeaway sandwich at the desk. Make lunch time a designated timeout by exploring new places to grab a bite with co-workers. Have the less formal meetings at a nearby café. Take your laptop to the open breakout area if your office has one.

If your work culture permits, arrange to work from home on certain days. Be there for your team without being there.

6. Cut out and Work out

Like your mind, your body takes a beating from burnout. Listen to what it’s trying to tell you, from headaches to numbing sensations. Loading up on junk food and caffeine puts more stress on your beleaguered body and can only exacerbate the burnout.

Exercise can do wonders to help the brain manage stress. Hit a nearby gym during lunchtime. Organize team runs with your co-workers. Get your body moving and your mind moves better too!

7. Speak out

Before you’re completely burnt out, talk to someone — don’t suffer in silence.

Speak with your manager about your unsustainable work situation. This is not a sign of weakness but a show of accountability.

Clearly express what you need in terms of resources and ask for the necessary support to achieve your targets.

This is also the time to count on your support network of family and friends. Talk to them and lean on them. If you need professional help, it’s always better to seek out an executive coach or mentor before a meltdown.

8. Bug out

Sometimes, you may have to ask yourself if your job is right for you. This may be hard, but you may not want to wait for your partner, boss or doctor to tell you the answer.

Being burnt out and losing your self-confidence, important relationships, or health — all irreplaceable assets — can only add insult to injury. If you’ve done all that you can, hold your head up high and move on.

That takes courage. It demands awareness. It shows self-respect. And that’s what makes you a true professional.

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Do you have a personal experience with job burnout? How did you cope with it? Leave a comment so we can learn from it.

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