Two decades ago, burnout was a career-builders’ enemy. Today, it is a nightmare with potentially devastating repercussions.
It is exemplified by around-the-clock portable connectivity tools, which make working long hours seductive, easy and effortless. Before you know what’s happening, you’ve turned into a drone, and working is no longer fun.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary describes burnout as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” An even better definition says a red flag symptom indicating burnout is when usually satisfying tasks become drudgery.
A lack of energy, constantly feeling tired (even if you’ve had a good night’s sleep), anxiety and depression, lack of appetite, over-eating, alcoholism and drug abuse are all symptoms of burnout.
Hard-working career-builders have always been prime targets for burnout, but in this frenetic market where career security is a myth, burnout is even more prevalent. Fast-track techies are more likely to fall victim to its symptoms because of the uncertainty of the technology market, perilously long days and the pressure to do exemplary work. They know full well that if they slack off, dozens of qualified candidates are anxiously waiting to pounce on their jobs.
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But, ungodly hours and intolerable pressure are not the only causes of burnout. Many other reasons exist, although they are seldom dealt with, according to Jim Warner, author of Aspirations of Greatness. Here are a few:
Captive to money. Money is a seductive lure even if you’re bored with your job. Yet money can turn you into a prisoner unwilling to be free of its shackles. “It’s hard and scary ratcheting back,” says Warner. “Leaving a job for another that pays less than what you’re earning may mean walking away from golden handcuffs – retirement benefits, severance package, options kicking in.” In short, your lifestyle will be dramatically altered. Can you sell your second car, give up your membership in the fancy country club and cut back on your entertainment expenses?
Fear of crossing age barriers. It’s human nature to change as you cross the 45-, 50- and 60-year-old age barriers. The excitement you enjoyed about learning new technologies, developing new products and being first to market begins to wane. You’re no longer as enthusiastic or aggressive as you were when you were younger. But the fear of not keeping pace and becoming obsolete keeps you up at night. The long hours are now tortuous, and you long to have more time for yourself and your family.
Threatened marriage. The relentless demands of a fast-track tech career can cripple a marriage. The 60 to 70 hour work weeks and countless days travelling are straining your relationship with your spouse to the breaking point. You want your life back.
In short, you’ve had it. It’s time to alter your life. So what do you do?
There are options and you don’t have to spend the rest of your days in burned-out misery. The trick is finding out what’s feasible. Career change is a favourite alternative. It’s done every day, but often with great difficulty and sacrifice. It’s an all-consuming task, requiring time, energy and commitment (from your family as well). A career change can be a lot easier if you have the financial wherewithal to slide through the lengthy process. But, most of us are not that lucky.
The other option is changing your working conditions. Ask for what you want (e.g., 40-hour week or part-time hours). If you decide to stay with your employer but want to change working conditions, make peace with taking a pay cut. The same applies to changing jobs, which means turning your back on retirement benefits.
Dealing with burnout isn’t easy. There are no panacea solutions. However, awareness is a good first step because you understand that you’re unhappy but not trapped. You can change your life. It’s a question of how. “You can’t have it all; what do you choose to give up?” Warner asks.
Answer that loaded question, and you’re on your way to coping with burnout.
Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.
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