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Job Burnout: How to Cope With It

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on December 15, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo, what do you do if you think you are living the nightmare that is the Maslach Burnout Inventory? To avoid frying yourself to a crisp, you have to take charge of the situation. The sad truth is that people will work you as hard as you are willing to be worked (unless there’s a union that says exactly when people must stop working, but that’s a subject for another time and another blog). You are the only one who can take back your time, care for yourself and replenish your energy. Here’s how:

Re-evaluate your work day. If you’ve read this blog, you know that most of my recommendations for an improved work life involve some form of time management–preferably GTD. Using either a standard sheet of paper or an Excel spreadsheet, track how you spend each hour of your work day. Imagine that you are tracking your day in order to figure out how to bill a client. Try this exercise for a week, and look for the places where all your time goes. For example, if you discover that much of your time goes to meetings, which means you can’t get your work done, you need to figure out how to get out of a few meetings. If much of the day goes to finding lost items, you need to start a basic filing system.

More after the jump! Image by Tristan Nitot from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Start skipping meetings. Of course, you should tell your boss first. If it is not mission-critical for you to be at the meeting, then say you need to skip it so you can meet your other deadlines. I’ve done this. Some bosses don’t like it, while others completely understand. If you have a compelling reason to skip, then skip. Most bosses aren’t stupid. They know that they will look bad, too, if you don’t make your deadlines. In this case, standing up for yourself is a win-win.

Don’t work when you don’t have to work. Unless you are a cop or a doctor or someone whose job it is to be on call during unusual hours, don’t work. You are off the clock. Sometimes, you will need to work a few nights and weekends to meet your team goals, especially if you are understaffed, but you shouldn’t be doing it all the time. You need at least one weekend a month that belongs to you, preferably two. That is perfectly reasonable and it shows that you are willing to give up some of your time for the good of your company or university. But if you give up all of your time to your company or university, you are more likely to make mistakes, and that isn’t good for anyone.

Now, if your boss thinks he or she owns every second of your day …

Quit your job. I’m not joking. Coping with burnout is similar to coping with a bully. There’s something wrong with a workplace that devours the lives of its employees, and if you can’t negotiate a new work schedule, your only option is to flee.

I’ll conclude with a thought from the Simple Dollar’s Trent Hamm: “If the situation is truly untenable, work on preparing your resume to move on. Don’t sit around feeling miserable. If changes like these aren’t fixing the situation, it’s time to make a serious change. Sharpen up your resume and start applying for work elsewhere.”

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