Are You Suffering From Job Burnout?

IMAGE Kelly James thought she wanted to be a lawyer, but after four different law jobs in five years, hoping each position would lessen her unhappiness, she was at a breaking point. "I lived for Friday. I'd count the hours until Friday at five o'clock," she recalls. After one particularly awful case, "I came home, and I cried for two or three hours straight," James says. Her boyfriend finally confronted her. She remembers, "He said, 'If this job is making you this miserable, why don't you quit?'" So, finally acknowledging that job burnout was jeopardizing her mental and physical health, she did.James is not alone. Many people feel concerned about work-related stress, which can directly impact job satisfaction and performance.

What Is Job Burnout?

"Burnout is the gradual process by which a person, in response to stress and physical, mental, and emotional strain, detaches from work and other meaningful relationships. The result is lower productivity, cynicism, confusion…a feeling of being drained, having nothing more to give," says Mark Gorkin, LICSW, a Washington, DC-based expert on stress.It is a rare employee who has not experienced some on-the-job pressure. Ups and downs are part of the natural cycle of work—and life—but when stress continues, unabated, for extended periods of time, burnout can result. "Burnout itself is a process. It develops through stages," explains California executive coach and psychologist Sandra Paulsen, PhD. She defines the stages as:
  • Physical exhaustion —having reduced energy to maintain activity level
  • Emotional exhaustion —feeling depressed , hopeless, and helpless
  • Changed perspective on the world —feeling cynical, negative, and irritable
  • Pervasive, global feelings of negativity —feeling that you are doing poorly in all areas of life or feeling that you are not a good person

What Causes Burnout?

Though unhappy employees like Kelly James are prime candidates for burnout, you do not have to hate your work to be at risk. Even people who enjoy their jobs can get worn out, says Bob Gardella, assistant director of alumni career services for Harvard Business School and author of The Harvard Business School Guide to Finding Your Next Job . Many employees find themselves constantly fighting to maintain a balance between their home and work lives. The combination of long hours, work and family pressures, increased job responsibilities, business travel, and a lack of boundaries between time on and off the job can all conspire to make even the most dedicated worker frazzled. And if you do not enjoy what you are doing, those factors can wreak even more havoc.

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