Categorized | Workplace

Signs and Symptoms of Job Burnout and How to Preventing Them

Posted on 23 January 2011

It’s problematic and pervasive. You enter a career as an excited new worker. After a short while, you feel like just another brick in the wall. You have it: job burnout.

From Reaffirming to Depressing

“Job burnout is essentially job depression,” says author and workplace expert Dr. Beverly Potter. “And how do you differentiate that from the rest of your life? You don’t.”

Everything is affected when you are unhappy at work. “Having a job can be a positive, reaffirming experience, getting you through all kinds of life’s traumas–death, divorces, etc.,” she says. “But as soon as your job goes bad, your life gets rotten. It poisons your relationships. Everything.”

As soon as your job goes bad, your life gets rotten. It poisons your relationships.

Potter says burnout is most obvious in the people who used to be the go-getters but who now exhibit a cynical, “why bother?” attitude. You’ve seen them. Worse, you’ve been one of them. Corporations can take the fire out of an employee, particularly if you’re burning the candle at both ends and receiving little appreciation or advancement. Non-profits and service organizations are notorious for extinguishing an individual’s fervor.

“Traditionally, many businesses are structured on the pyramid model or the bureaucratic model,” Potter says, “which is specifically designed to ensure no one person has too much power.” But while human beings need to feel in control to be mentally healthy, “when you go into corporations, one is frequently placed in a situation where it is dis-empowering,” Potter says. “There’s a contradiction between the individual and the corporation. So when you go into such a place, it’s literally a crazy-making experience.”

The Hairball of Corporate Life
Gordon MacKenzie spent 30 years working at Hallmark Cards, Inc. In Orbiting the Giant Hairball, his enlightening (and highly entertaining) book about the entrapments of corporate culture, he writes, “When you come into an organization, you bring with you an arcane potency, which stems in part from your uniqueness. That, in turn, is rooted in a complex mosaic of personal history that is original, unfathomable, inimitable. There is a power in your uniqueness, an inexplicable power  a magic.

“But if you are hypnotized by an organization’s culture,” he continues, “you become separated from your personal magic and cannot tap it to help achieve the goals of the organization. In losing connection with your one-of-a-kind magic, you are reduced to nothing more than part of the headcount. Deep inside the Hairball.”

That loss of self, Potter concurs, is in part why many suffer burnout. It all has to do with personal power. “Personal power is a feeling of I-can-do,” she states. “A belief that you can act to control your work.”

A Question of Life Balance

“One of the problems of job burnout is not only does it impact an individual’s livelihood, but their entire psyche, their entire psychological well-being, if it is connected only to that job,” says Baraz Samiian, a project manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. “So if their job goes bad, there’s nothing left.”

Samiian, who holds a doctorate in leadership and a dual master’s in human relations and management, suggests creating a more balanced lifestyle beforehand. “Having other factors in one’s life that provide satisfaction–family, recreation, meaningful volunteer work, pursuing hobbies, whatever–then you get different interests and satisfaction, a feeling of accomplishment.”

Nowadays, Samiian notes, you start a career “and by the end of your life you may go through two or three if you’ve been in touch with the reality of the change of the world.” So it’s a good idea–for both those new to the workforce and experienced professionals–to keep options open by continuing to educate oneself, she advises. “And the enjoyment of that process, actually taking thrill and pleasure by learning something new, something different–that helps tremendously,” Samiian says. These are the workers who “have the power. They can make new choices.”

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