Career Burnout: Heed the warning signs

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Before you run headfirst into a brick wall, wouldn’t it make sense to know where that wall is and how to get around it? You might tell that to the next person you see headed toward career burnout.

When it comes to our careers, too many of us fail to see it coming. Even with warning signs flashing all around us, we sprint into the wall, fall down and then wonder why it hurts so much. It hurts because careers are important to us. Whether we have jobs that we happened into, or whether we spent years getting training for specific tasks, work is one of the key components of our life. It consumes a lot of time and energy if we want to do well in those jobs. Like it or not, our work spills over into every aspect of our lives and can often spell the difference between happiness and a daily dose of misery. And, unfortunately, too many of us still leave our happiness to the luck of a good job.

Janice Real Ellig and William J. Morin, authors of the new book Driving the Career Highway (Nelson Business, May 2007), put the burden of career management on each of us. “Today’s companies are too busy merging, acquiring, reverse acquiring, going bankrupt and downsizing to pay attention to employees’ career plans. Individual career development is being defrauded by constantly changing expectations, sabotaged by ‘other’ priorities or simply ignored,” they say. Instead of letting circumstances create burnout or career fatigue, they recommend some basic assessments by everyone.

First, they ask that you look at the organization that employs you. Do you dread the day ahead at work? At the end of the day, do you feel your accomplishments are in line with what others around you are doing? Do you find those around you supportive and do you feel that your work is valued? And do you ever feel the need to take a “mental health day” to escape your frustration or fatigue?

Second, look specifically at your current job. Are you doing work that you truly enjoy? Do you feel invigorated by your work at the end of the day? When you talk about your work with others, do you feel proud of what you do? Is your work an accurate reflection of who you are? And, when you are alone, do you think you are doing exactly the kind of work you should be doing?

Third, take a close look at yourself. Do you know what to focus on at work as well as in your personal life? Do you feel physically well? Do you feel down? Do you take time to think, meditate and exercise?

Ellig and Morin don’t expect these assessments to solve all your career issues. But they do think this introspection will give you a sense of where you are, how fulfilled you feel and give you an indication of how healthy your work life is for you.    

A Sense of Humor

Exercising your funny bone appropriately can help move you up the corporate ladder, according to 91 percent of the executives surveyed by the global staffing firm Robert Half International. Displaying levity on the job also can help you build a rapport with colleagues, facilitate open communication, make the work environment a positive one and relieve tension on even the most stressful days, the survey shows. Remember, however, not to go overboard, or be inappropriate or mean-spirited at the expense of others. Here are some tips:

• Say no to sarcasm. Being sarcastic is not the same as being facetious. Sarcasm aims to belittle; facetious remarks are jocular.

• Be the butt of you own joke. Poking fun at your own foibles can put others at ease. For example, if you trip while making a presentation, you may simply say, “I hope you’re as head over heels about this idea as I am.”

• Keep your comments light. You don’t want co-workers to think of your attempt at humor as a cry for help.

• Laugh with others. Share in the fun when others make clever jokes.

• Create a funny file. Include workplace cartoons, anecdotes, amusing newspaper articles.

• Capture the moment. Keep disposable cameras on hand for the good (a birthday party) and the bad (everyone in the office came to work wearing the same color shirt) and post these on a community bulletin board.

—Maggie Reed