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9 Ways to Handle Job Stress and Burnout

Last week on the podcast, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen covered the three signs of burnout. This week, by request from listener Liz L. from Boston, we’ll get your fire burning brightly again with nine ways to cope.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
Episode #079

In case you missed last week’s episode, we’ll do a quick review: burnout is a state that can affect anyone, but is most prevalent in idealists, strivers, and those who face what’s called effort reward imbalance, which is working your butt off with no appreciation or reward. But it’s not just Comcast customer service reps, meter maids, and air traffic controllers getting burned out; any profession, given a brutal workload and unsupportive environment, can breed burnout.

The three big signs of burnout are emotional exhaustion, reduced accomplishment, and something called depersonalization, which is basically growing bitter and cynical about the people you’re supposed to care enough about to serve.

So what to do about burnout? Before you fantasize about getting arrested just to get some time off work, here are nine ways to rekindle after a bout of burnout.

Tip #1: Start with your body. This is cliché, but take care of yourself.  How much wine are you drinking after work?  When was the last time you exercised?  When was the last time you ate lunch without staring at your computer? Make a decision to skip fast food, get back into exercising, and trade your smartphone for some shuteye.

Tip #2: Identify which of six areas are causing your problems. Decades of burnout research have boiled work problems down to six things:

  1. Workload: you’re drowning in work and can never catch up; it keeps coming at you like that I Love Lucy episode with the chocolates on the conveyor belt.
  2. Control: or rather, lack thereof.  You feel like you have no agency or choice in your duties, process, or deadlines.
  3. Rewards: You feel like you’re being exploited. There is little reward to your work, whether in terms of finances, prestige, or positive feedback.
  4. Fairness: Your work environment is hostile or unjust.
  5. Community: There’s a lack of support and camaraderie from co-workers and a surplus of backstabbing and mean-spiritedness.
  6. Values: You work against your conscience or morals, like evicting old ladies or harpooning baby whales.

Once you’ve pinpointed what’s snuffing your fire, try Tip #3: Look to the future. The opposite of job burnout is something called job engagement. So imagine what it would take for you to be engaged.  Where would you like to be?  What do you envision in a great place to work? How can you feel like you make choices about your work, rather than having them made for you?

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