Have you ever been at the doctor's office and they ask you to rate your pain level from 1 to 10?
That is such a strange question! What would I say? 2.349? Or do I round to the nearest tenth? And how does the doctor know that my 3 isn't someone else's 8 (or vice versa)? I assume the question must be important for medical professionals, but the comedian in my head is imagining a Monty Python-esque sketch set in an ER. A man comes in on a stretcher mangled and bleeding. The doctors ask him to rate his pain on a scale of 1 to 10, to which the man replies weakly, "Probably a 2... maybe 3." Pain is such a relative thing.
Job fatigue – or “burnout,” as it’s often called – is similar. Quite often, we can acclimate to the daily stresses while growing more and more fatigued, but we have convinced ourselves we are fine and so keep marching on. Sadly and predictably, this eventually catches up to us and too many people experience the very real pain of burnout.
There are signs along the way, however, and if we can read them before the burnout becomes an acute problem, we can most certainly save ourselves much unnecessary suffering.
With that in mind, I want to offer three signs that you are either on your way to becoming burned out, or possibly are already there.
3 Signs of Job Burnout:
Sign #1 – You find yourself being irrationally irritable. Yes, there are typical things that annoy us and each of us have our set pet peeves. But when we find ourselves in a mode that causes us to react disproportionately to a situation, we should slow down and pay attention. This can be blowing up at a colleague for something innocuous, or seething in anger over an e-mail. Now, if this is common for you, then you may have deeper issues, but often these are signs that we have pushed too hard for too long and are nearing or at the brink of burnout.
Sign #2 – You have lost some joy or passion for things that would normally fire you up. This sign is slightly easier to see than #1. We can often recollect the activities that have brought us joy in the past. But when those things have faded, we may need to look under the hood (as it were) and be willing to consider whether this is happening because of burnout. Did you used to enjoy finishing projects at work? Did you enjoy going to the movies, or hanging around with friends? If your enjoyment of those things has subsided, it may very well be tied to pressing too hard and too long on the job.
Sign #3 – You have slipped back into a bad habit. This one is fairly straightforward. We often resort back to old (and often destructive) patterns as a way to find some relief. When we're facing burnout, we have trouble pursuing things that would actually help; we just look for some escape. Is it overeating? Overdrinking? Gambling? Or some relationship pattern from the past? The return of old and bad habits is a third sign that your work may have gotten the best of you.
There are other signs that would tell you that you're heading for or suffering from burnout, but these are the common ones I've seen in working with people across industries. And across job titles and experience. This is an important point that can help start us on the path toward overcoming burnout: burnout can hit CEOs or interns, twenty-somethings or sixty-somethings, people with track records of success and people stuck in ruts.
In fact, successfully addressing burnout can be the catalyst for both maintaining that successful track record as well as getting out of that rut. So, if these signs are describing you, stay tuned! In our next post, we'll look at solutions and strategies for overcoming burnout.