Avoiding Career Burnout

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What is burnout?

Burnout is a psychological issue that comes about in response to chronic exhaustion, stress, and/or boredom. Many people will experience burnout - often more than once - in their career. According to a recent survey by Monster, Inc, 81% of employed job seekers feel some kind of burnout due to their job. Millennials were the group that reported experiencing the most burnout. These numbers are staggering, but they capture the extent of the problem.

When I try to define burnout, I often think about this quote, from a book written by Randall B. Lindsey, Laraine M. Roberts, Franklin Campbell-Jones: “Burnout doesn’t occur because we’re solving problems; it occurs because we’ve been trying to solve the same problem over and over.”

What does this quote tell us? Burnout is about frustration. It’s about feeling unfulfilled and ineffective. It’s important that we speak frankly and honestly about these issues because they can have very serious effects on our health and our happiness. If you dread walking into work everyday, these feelings will inevitably spill over into your personal and family time. You’ll need more hours to recover after work, and you’ll probably have less energy and good cheer to share with your loved ones. 

The effects of burnout will inevitably rear their head at work, too. Common symptoms of burnout are fatigue and irritability, which can lead to a reduced reputation at work and may damage your relationship with your boss and colleagues.

Why does burnout occur? 

Burnout can occur for a few different reasons, but the two most common are stress and boredom. Knowing the cause of your burnout is the first step towards managing it —and reigniting excitement in your career. 

If you’re experiencing career burnout because of stress, you’re probably aware of it. That’s because stress comes with a whole bunch of physical symptoms, like chest tightness and trouble sleeping. When you’re stressed, the body let’s you know! This type of burnout occurs when stress becomes chronic. We’re not talking about the one-off bad day, but weeks and months of non-stop stress and tension. It can feel like you’re constantly on the edge of freaking out…meanwhile the number of tasks and responsibilities on your to-do list seem to only increase.

On the other hand, boredom-induced burnout occurs when you feel a chronic lack of excitement or challenge in your career. You may no longer feel emotionally invested in what happens at work, or you may have an unclear sense of your goals or career trajectory. It may be that you are not doing work that brings you joy or satisfaction. Overall, this leads to a feeling of disconnection and cynicism. 

How can you reignite excitement in your career?

There are many different antidotes to burnout. As I wrote above, it is important to understand the cause of your burnout so you can develop targeted solutions.

For example, if you are experiencing burnout because of stress, what might be most important is taking a step back from your work and giving yourself a break. This could mean using up some sick days or scheduling an overdue vacation. Or this could mean asking your partner to help with childcare or housework, so you can truly relax at home.  

If your burnout is due to boredom, the answer is not to take space from work but to “lean in” more deeply. Consider reevaluating your career goals with a trusted mentor or your boss. Let them know that you are looking for a challenge and that you need advice on reigniting inspiration in your work. The best managers I know would be delighted to help.

Here are some other strategies: 

- Think about your purpose. Why are you doing the work that you do? What made you choose ophthalmology (or whatever field you might be in)? Reconnecting with the why will help you get to the bottom of the problem.

- Improve your work-life balance. One major reason why people feel burnout is because work starts to take over their life. It can feel like work is all there is. On your ‘off hours,’ try to truly leave work behind. Setting boundaries is an important life skill in every respect, including in your career. 

- Along with setting boundaries, cultivate hobbies and activities outside of work that give your life meaning, or spend time with loved ones. 

- Get some sleep! This one is probably the simplest suggestion but it can have a huge impact on your well-being. Most of us don’t get enough sleep but simply allowing your body and mind to recharge will make a difference in how you feel day-to-day.

- Understand the warning signs of burnout so you can nip it in the bud before it occurs. These warning signs might be different depending on the person, but growing stress, decreased interest, irritability, dreading work, and even depression can all point to the beginnings of a burnout. Mindfulness can help you notice these patterns inside yourself and can help you bring awareness to your attitude. 

Above all, remember: you only have ONE LIFE! Taking control of these feelings will lead to a healthier, happier you.