If you’re someone who’s constantly feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and frustrated by your job, you may be suffering from career burnout. While it’s easy to chalk up these emotions to a particularly busy time at work or view them as a necessary consequence of putting in the work to land your dream job, if you’re experiencing stress and frustration consistently and it’s negatively affecting your mental and physical health, you’re most likely experiencing some type of career burnout. This seems to be particularly the case for overworked millennials whose constantly-on work ethic is causing them to experience career burnout at an alarming rate. To learn more about career burnout, we chatted with Erin Falconer — author of How to Get Sh*t Done — to get the low-down on what career burnout is, why millennials are suffering from it the most, and how we can treat (or ideally avoid) it in our own careers.
Brit + Co: Let’s start with the basics. What is career burnout?
Erin Falconer: For me, burnout is when at the end of each work week your level of frustration outweighs your level of enthusiasm for a sustained period of time.
B+C: Why are millennial women, in particular, experiencing job burnout at a higher rate than their coworkers?
EF: I find millennials in general work hard, but a lot of their time is distracted. For example, if you’ve set aside an hour to get an assignment done, but during that hour you’ve responded to a couple of emails and texts and scrolled through your Instagram or Facebook a couple of times, you haven’t put in an hour of actual work. So at the end of the day, you feel like you haven’t accomplished all that you could have — and you’d be right. To remedy this, the idea is to take calculated, isolated time to do work, and then calculated, isolated time to take breaks or relax.
Furthermore, women, in particular, are far more likely to want to constantly go back and make things better, whereas men are better at compartmentalizing — i.e., when they’re done with something, they’re done done and can move on. So over time, women are carrying around not just their current projects, but are also hanging onto many past projects mentally. Cumulatively, it’s exhausting.
B+C: How can you tell that you’re experiencing burnout? Are there any telltale symptoms?
EF: The biggest emotional guide that burnout is happening or imminent is frustration or a growing sense that you’re losing control over your situation at work. You’re more overwhelmed and emotional than calm and objective. At the end of every week, you aren’t just tired… you’re totally energy-depleted.
B+C: What can millennials do to avoid burnout?
EF: The first thing you need to do is sit down and assess where you are and where you thought you wanted to go, and see if you still feel the same. Many times we choose where we want to go because it’s what we think we should be doing, or what others think we should be doing, and not really where we want to go. So the first thing I would do is stop and ask yourself: Am I doing what I really want to be doing? If the answer is no, burnout is inevitable, and you need to change course. If the answer is yes, then you need to go to the next step and really do a thorough evaluation of how you are spending your time — not generally, but very specifically. In the book, I discuss the idea of doing a seven-day time challenge, where you literally write down how you’re spending every hour of every day for a week. At the end of that week, you will probably be shocked to find how much time you are really wasting or giving away. If you can find a better use for that time (for instance, using it to focus on things you love to do, bring you energy, and move you closer to your goals in a meaningful way), you can easily keep burnout at bay.
B+C: Is career burnout something we should be discussing with our boss/HR representatives? Is it something we should be discussing with our doctor?
EF: Though every company is different, nowadays most companies have provisions for employees to take personal days. But I see it time and time again — we often don’t use them (myself included) because we’re saving them up for something or we’re afraid to take them because we might appear weak.
It is your responsibility, however, to use the tools given to you to build back up your energy and keep your focus. If you use the days provided but they still aren’t sufficient, then it might make sense to chat with [your boss or HR] and make the case for a slightly altered setup. However, this is only after you’ve taken the time to ask yourself if you’re doing a job that can really take you where you want to go. Oftentimes, when you’re experiencing burnout at an epic level, it might just be that the career as a whole is not for you.
B+C: What inspired you to write your new book How to Get Sh*t Done?
EF: A literary agent in New York discovered me through my self-improvement blog, PickTheBrain. She called me up and asked if I had any interest in writing a book. I was super excited — I’d always wanted to be a writer — and so, of course, I immediately responded yes! When I asked what she thought the book should be about, she said, “Well, it should be about you, of course.” And I was literally shocked. I think I said something like, “But who would want to read that book?”
She rattled off a dozen of my accomplishments, and after I got off the phone, I really started to think about what I had achieved over the past decade. I was in shock! I had accomplished a lot, but I hadn’t stopped to acknowledge or appreciate any of it — to the point of thinking I really hadn’t accomplished anything at all — and this really struck me. I was just going, going, going… on to the next, collecting trophies, but not really living. Then I started to think, what’s the point of all of this? When I went into work the next day and looked at all of the strong, intelligent, creative women I was working with, I noticed we all seemed to be suffering from the same disease of doing more to do more to do more. That’s when I realized that there was a book here.
B+C: How can we support peers who are experiencing job burnout?
EF: I think that if you can get someone to remember the why of what they’re doing, it’s incredibly motivating. When someone is feeling really overwhelmed and they’re talking to you about it (I wouldn’t just step into the middle of something uninvited), it’s easy to lose the focus of why you’re doing what you’re doing, in the larger sense. This is when, in the face of frustrating circumstances, you can start drowning. So if you can help them remember the why, you can defuse some of that frustration and help them get back on track. Or if they are really, really overwhelmed, you might suggest taking a couple of personal days so that they can relax and try and rediscover their why.
How are you avoiding or recovering from career burnout? Tweet us by mentioning @BritandCo.
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(Photos via Getty)