Ever get that sinking feeling on a Sunday night as you think about the workweek looming before you? Or maybe you feel a sense of dread overwhelm you when you walk into the workplace?
When feelings like these last week after week for months on end, you may be experiencing job burnout. Many people shrug off that endless exhaustion and despair as stress, but the problem may be more serious. How can you tell the difference?
Mark Gorkin, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Practice Safe Stress, describes job burnout as a “gradual process by which a person detaches from work and other significant roles and relationships. The result is lowered productivity, cynicism and confusion; a feeling of being drained, having nothing more to give.”
Interestingly enough, working 10 to 12 hour days isn’t a primary factor in burnout. In fact, the likeliest candidates for burnout are employees or caregivers who feel their work is unappreciated or who feel they have no control over daily tasks.
For example, Gorkin points out that postal workers are under constant pressure to cut costs and meet demands within a very strict structure.
“These men and women never get a sense that the work is finished … the mail never stops,” says Gorkin, who once consulted with the postal service.
All this makes burnout sound impossible to overcome, but that’s not the case. Once you recognize what’s going on, you can take steps to circumvent burnout:
- Ask your boss to clarify your job responsibilities and determine if they are realistic.
- Exercise regularly to reduce stress. At the very least, get up from your desk every hour and walk around or stretch for a few minutes.
- Start a support group of friends and colleagues to discuss common workplace challenges, accomplishments and to “pat each other on the back,’’ says stress management coach Elizabeth Scott. “It can make up for when your job doesn’t give you a lot of kudos and feedback.”
- Take up a new hobby that offers a challenge and an opportunity to use your skills.
In fact, a new creative outlet may be one of the most effective ways to get reinvigorated, says Scott. She recalls one client who she urged to enroll in art classes: “Once he started using those skills, he looked forward to his class. It gave him more energy, he felt less drained, and he met new people.”