Career Burnout: Is Stress Playing a Part?

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Burnout is the result of prolonged stressors on the job that create emotional and physical exhaustion. It makes going to work more difficult and can even undermine feelings of competence and worth. Other characteristics of burnout include feelings of anxiety and/or depression, a cynical outlook, increased use of alcohol or drugs, and somatic ailments, such as headaches and stomach problems.

Burnout not only causes emotional and physical problems, but can also lead to increased absenteeism, decreased commitment to work, and impaired work performance. These issues continue to exist outside of the workplace and can negatively affect relationships at home and with friends.

Avoiding burnout is not only a concern to employees, but to employers as well. Happy employees are more productive, take less sick leave, and are less likely to incur a workplace injury.

Causes of Burnout

Burnout is greatest when workers don't feel competent to meet work expectations, are unable to exert any choice or control, or when they don't receive support. Other stressors that lead to burnout include:

  • Unmanageable work load
  • Excessive demands
  • Unsatisfactory work conditions
  • Monotonous tasks
  • Inflexible work schedules
  • Long hours
  • Lack of input on decisions
  • Job insecurity
  • Under paid
  • Unclear work performance evaluation methods
  • Lack of recognition
  • Difficult work colleagues
  • Inadequate or unsupportive supervisors
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Isolation
  • No system for dealing with workplace issues
  • Poor leadership
  • Poor communication
  • Conflict with managers or coworkers

Strategies to Prevent Burnout

Avoiding career burnout starts by determining the source of the stress. While not all stressors can be eliminated, many can be addressed in ways that improve job satisfaction. One of the first ways an employee can make changes is to adjust his or her attitude at the workplace. This can include paying attention to enjoyable aspects of the job, or offering support or recognition to difficult coworkers. Taking breaks during the day and improving time management can help manage mental energy and productivity.

Participating in workshops or seminars expands knowledge of the job and industry. Workers can stay on top of current trends by reading books and trade magazines related to their specific field and occupation. This improves feelings of competence, as well as increasing value to the employer.

Workers don't have to suffer burnout alone. Many coworkers, friends, and family can offer support and encouragement. Sometimes talking about the issues is enough to reduce stress. Friends and family can also provide ideas and suggestions to cope with or improve the situation.

Employees should seek out enjoyable hobbies and nurture personal relationships to rejuvenate themselves outside of work. Eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep can improve health and mood. Workers should take advantage of job-allowed vacations to re-energize.

If the situation continues, burnout victims can evaluate their options. One option is to research ways to impart change at the office, such as developing flexible work options or employee support programs. Another option is to inventory one's skills, experiences, and interests as preparation for finding a new job. This might be the best solution for employees who enjoy their work, but have an unsupportive or toxic office environment.

If none of the above tactics work, professional counseling can provide coping strategies, stress reduction tips and other mental health or job support options.

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