It is 4am and you're pacing the house, having imaginary conversations with your boss, drafting an imaginary letter of resignation, fighting a sense of outrage and inadequacy and worrying about your lack of interest in your allotted task and lack of care for your clients.
You could be suffering from serious job burnout, and you need to take action before this ends in heart failure, a stroke or murder.
Say whether the following statements are true or false for you.
- I often feel inexplicably sad.
- I feel tired even when I have had my normal eight hours of sleep.
- I am bored with my work and have difficulty concentrating.
- I carry too much responsibility.
- I have got to a point where other peoples’ needs don’t concern me.
- I feel emotionally empty at the end of a normal working day.
- My workload is far too heavy to do properly.
- I do not feel as sensitive as I used to feel.
- I often worry about my ability to do my job after hours.
- My boss has completely unrealistic expectations of me.
- I often drink or eat too much.
- I am often ill.
- I wake up in the morning dreading the thought of going to work.
- I am no longer interested in sex or in social activities.
- I am often depressed on Sunday evenings.
- Life generally seems pointless to me.
- There is not much in life I look forward to.
- I take less care of my appearance than I used to.
- My family constantly complains about not seeing enough of me.
- I spend a lot of time watching TV when I am not at work.
If you have answered ‘true’ to five or more of these, you could be heading for burnout.
From awesome to awful: how good things turn bad
1. The honeymoon phase
During this phase, your new job seems perfect. You are extremely happy and fulfilled and your enthusiasm knows almost no bounds. No task is too demanding. You feel fulfilled and stimulated.
2. Reality check
The rose tint is wearing off your glasses and you've realised that your boss is not the Angel Gabriel. You also realise the secretary talks about you behind your back, and you are put out by the fact that the board has not agreed to pay you overtime.
You are beginning to experience disillusionment, as you realise that the long hours on the job are frustrating your social needs, and you're not being paid enough to justify that.
You work even harder, but this does not seem to be the answer and you often feel tired, disillusioned, dispirited and frustrated.
3. Disillusionment phase
You now no longer feel enthusiastic and energetic, but often exhausted and irritated. You may start either losing or gaining weight and your sleeping patterns may change. You may start exhibiting compulsive behaviour patterns with regards to sex, drinking or drugging, partying or shopping.
You could be feeling very angry, maybe blaming others for things that go wrong in your life. Your work is in danger of deteriorating and you may become openly critical of your superiors and colleagues. Anxiety and depression become a part of your everyday existence and you often are ill.
4. Red alert phase
This final stage is serious and unless someone intervenes or you take control of your life, it could end in serious illness, or even death.
At this stage, life may seem pretty pointless and you may feel constant despair. You are completely exhausted and feel as if your mental and physical reserves have been depleted. You experience an overwhelming sense of failure and a loss of self-esteem and confidence. You feel unable to take charge or make any changes.
What you can do to avoid burnout
- Don’t expect any job to fulfil all your needs.
- Avoid a career where you have to give to others constantly, unless you are also very good at receiving emotional input from others.
- Don’t let your job take over your life. Working overtime as a rule will impact negatively on your ability to do the job on the long run.
- Don’t overwork in an effort to avoid dealing with personal or relationship problems.
- Maintain an active social life and don’t give up your hobbies.
- Learn to say no before you become completely overloaded.
- Accept the fact that you cannot be everything to everybody and that you are not irreplaceable.
- If you work in the helping professions, remember that you cannot take responsibility for other peoples’ problems. They have to do so themselves. All you can do is point them in the right direction.
- Doing things for people that they should be doing for themselves says quite a lot about you and possible unresolved control issues. If you can't imagine getting on top of this, consider seeking counselling with a therapist.
- There is little point in taking anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants unless you also deal with the source of the stress. Get help if it is something within you that causes you to work to the point of burnout.
- If you can’t change jobs, at least change your attitude with regards to the existing one. Learn to set boundaries and to stick to them.