The Antidote to Burnout – It Isn’t What You Think It Is
“I’m burned out,” Mitch told me. “Work shouldn’t suck this much.”
“How much SHOULD it suck?” I asked him.
I suggested he check out this humorous video about careers and burnout . It would be funnier if you didn’t see yourself in it, right now.
Children dream about their futures, they imagine things they can do to effect change, to have fun. They don’t voluntarily choose tedium and stress. They know that work shouldn’t suck. And, by the way, before you think to yourself that work isn’t supposed to be fun, research has shown that the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression.
My client, Mitch, was convinced that if he switched firms and made more money he would feel happy and engaged again. Of course he would, for a little while. But the story would continue to be the same one he’d lived through three prior firms. Mitch’s stress was through the roof, he was sleeping less than 6 hours a night, felt frantic about finances and hadn’t had time for friends, let alone time for himself. He was constantly doing triage and felt like everyone else was driving the direction of his life, not him.
I broke the news to him that if he didn’t dive into what was driving his burnout, it would follow him to his new firm. Probably quicker than he even thought was possible.
“What do you mean ‘what’s driving my burnout”? It’s the crazy people I work with and the fact I’m under appreciated and underpaid doing it. That’s why I’ve gotta get out of here.”
“Perhaps,” I replied. “But what will YOU do differently in your new firm?”
“I hear you. But the first six months, I’ve gotta be head-down, really driving it hard to show them what I’ve got. It’s gonna be a lot of ‘in the weeds’ work and then I can settle in and look at the stuff you’re talking about. My family is cool with that.”
Work is where we can make ourselves,
work is also where we can break ourselves.” — David Whyte
I’ve seen it for decades, how a move to a new firm with an increase in compensation actually does make clients happy. Superficially happy. For a short period of time.
Until the voice of their heart rises up again and says, “Are you kidding me? We’re still doing this?” Then they think “If only …” they worked at another place, made more money, (you can fill in the blank) THEN they would be happy. And they are, for another short period of time, until the voice speaks again.
HOW BURNOUT SNEAKS UP ON US
The 12 Phases of the Burnout Process were mapped by Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North (and not necessarily in this sequential order):
- Compulsion to Prove Oneself (turns into compulsion to work harder)
- Working Harder (to prove yourself, irreplaceability, doing it all)
- Neglecting Their Needs (no time and energy for anything but work)
- Displacement of Conflicts (inability to see yourself as the source – 1st physical symptoms begin to arise)
- Revision of Values (your job becomes your new value system, hobbies & friends and needs get sidelined)
- Denial of Emerging Problems (intolerance, aggression, sarcasm, talk about time pressure & stress as “status”)
- Withdrawal (social contact becomes minimal, isolation, alcohol or drug use increases)
- Obvious Behavioral Changes (along with rebuffing anyone who points out these changes)
- Depersonalization (self and others lose value, focus only on present time and future success, increasingly blunt)
- Inner Emptiness (in an effort to overcome this, an increase in addictive activity & exaggerated importance of work)
- Depression (exhausted, hopeless, indifferent & a sense that life is meaningless)
- Burnout Syndrome (collapse physically and emotionally, may have suicidal ideation as the only escape from the situation)