Avoid Burnout When Burning Rubber
There is a fine line between being uber engaged at work and suffering burnout. For many of us, burnout is a natural progression and we re-live it on a regular basis. Certain jobs predispose employees to burnout (teaching, law enforcement) as well as particular personality traits (neurotics, external locus of control). Based on this formula, if you are a neurotic law enforcement instructor with an external locus of control, you should probably find another job post haste.
It is interesting how some people experience burnout within months of starting a new job while others enjoy 40 years doing the same job and working for the same company without any negative repercussions. Seeing two people on opposite sides of the spectrum always makes me wonder about the cause.
I just finished reading an article in the International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health that supports the idea that burnout leads to physiological disturbances like heart disease and musculoskeletal disorders as well as psychological distress and depression. Most of us can see how burnout can hurt us but why do we do it to ourselves? In my highly un-scientific survey of two people who are Type A personalities, the main reason for risking burnout is a desire to prove to oneself that you can do almost anything thrown at you. Wow! Did anyone guess I was one of the survey respondents? If my anxiety levels aren’t high enough, I lack the motivation to achieve my best so I am constantly pushing the envelope of burnout in order to maintain my standing in the company.
I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons which don’t include megalomania. Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, of the Savvy Psychologist, produced a couple of podcasts about the 3 signs of burnout (episode #78) and 9 tips for avoiding and healing from burnout (episode #79). Burnout isn’t relegated to a particular career field or experienced only by senior employees. Anyone is at risk of burnout especially if you feel as though you are the only one who can do a particular job. While it feels good to be needed, feeling like everyone is pulling you in different directions sets the stage for burnout. Dr. Hendriksen encourages you to accept help, delegate, and reframe your priorities as ways to avoid and cope burnout.
I know the smartest thing to do when I begin to feel burnout creeping up is take a step back, refocus on the activities that really matter, and simply breath. This is much easier said than done but it is something that is important if I want to continue to be productive and stave off illness.
Before you poo-poo on the blog and begin railing against ‘all this psycho-babble’, we should remember that people on the verge of true burnout actually feel like they are super productive. They aren’t necessarily in denial because their balance between anxiety and focus is … well … balanced. However, it isn’t hard to tip the scale too far toward anxiousness which begins the downward spiral into burnout.
If you still aren’t convinced that burnout is a bad thing, remember that burnout is accompanied by negative job attitudes and self-concepts. Optimal innovation and creativity cannot exist if you hate your job and yourself. You can’t be a Rock Star if you are wallowing in burnout.
So … maybe you are a well-balanced person who is perfectly motivated without letting life overwhelm you. “I don’t let stress harm my health,” you think to yourself. That’s great but don’t forget to look out for the people closest to us. Research supports the concept that a close family member or friend experiencing burnout can transfer the harmful effects of stress to those around them. That’s right! You could get sick because your partner’s boss has created an atmosphere that breeds burnout.
Work smarter, stress less, and be more productive.
How do you avoid or cope with burnout?
Mojsa-Kaja, J., Golonka, K., Marek, T., (January 2015). Job Burnout and Engagement Among Teachers – Worklife Areas and Personality Traits as Predictors of Relationships with Work. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 28(1),102-119.
The Savvy Psychologist podcast