Understanding the signs and dangers of burnout: Sparking your professional passion for the New Year

A balance scale with the words "work" and "life" on each side.

It’s that time of the year again: Holiday breaks are looming, end-of-year stress is pressing, you are running on fumes, and everything feels overwhelming. But for some, these feelings are year-round. The reality is 120,000 workers die a year from some aspect of workplace stress and/or depression. That may startle you, but it makes more sense when we look further.

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Reports over the past few years: 70% of all workers have lost passion for their job at some point during their career. 55% of those workers expect their bosses to provide motivation … but only 11% of bosses saw their jobs as being motivators. This equation will inevitably lower morale and can cause burnout among employees. Defined as a state of chronic stress and frustration by professionals engaged in care-oriented services, it leads to:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Feelings of cynicism and detachment
  • Sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

Burnout is the inability to successfully function on a personal and professional level. Employees suffering from burnout may lose empathy and compassion for their clients and coworkers. If burnout is not addressed, they may appear frazzled, impatient, and often make inappropriate comments that jeopardize work and professional relationships. In some cases, they self-medicate with substances, which can lead to addiction and other behavioral health issues. For a professional responsible for a client’s life, liberty, family, business, or estate, this condition is untenable.

First and foremost, if any of the above examples sound all too familiar, it’s important not to delay seeking support and get help from a professional as soon as possible.

Reignite Your Passion

Here are five steps you can take right now to start reigniting professional passion and improving your overall wellness.

  • Change what you can. Make a list of why you don’t enjoy your career anymore. Include specific aspects that are impacting you negatively. What items on your list can you change? What can’t you? Then, act. Nothing rash – a simple plan of attack for making the changes that are within your power. Start slowly with tangible, obtainable goals. The momentum will kick in.
  • Connect and enjoy. So much of our happiness at work comes from how we relate to and connect with our coworkers, customers, and clients. The worst strategy for handling burnout is to suffer in silence. I can’t stress this enough: DO NOT ISOLATE. I know this is counter-intuitive to our fear of asking for help, but it is imperative in order to resolve any behavioral health matters.
  • Break your routines. Even if people are miserable, sometimes they stay in their routine simply because it is what they know. When facing burnout, I encourage you to be open to change and to new experiences outside of your comfort zone both personally and professionally. For example, you could sign up for a professional conference on an area that interests you and where you may find inspiration from others. From a personal standpoint, consider taking a couple of hours a month to attend a workshop, cultural event, or volunteer in areas that attract you. Stepping away from your routine even in minor ways can help you prioritize and support work-life balance.
  • Invest in self-care. Focus on better exercise, sleep, eating habits, and spirituality practices. This sounds basic because it is. But we lose this balance when we burnout.
  • Unplug. The world of constant professional connectivity is perilous. Without recharging, we can’t continue working. But this doesn’t have to mean taking an extended break or sabbatical. It’s important to set clear boundaries. For example, commit to turning your phone off while eating dinner – whether this is with friends, loved ones or even by yourself. Not sleeping with your phone by your side to avoid the temptation to check/respond to emails if you wake up in the middle of the night. It can mean taking all your vacation time (real vacations) and your weekends to do the things you love with the people you love.
  • Help others and seek help. More companies are emphasizing wellness. For example, in the legal field, which is my area of expertise, the ABA has created the Working Group to Advance Well-being in the legal profession to examine and make recommendations regarding the current state of attorney mental health and substance use issues with an emphasis on helping legal employers support a healthy work environment. This group has initiated a campaign to recruit legal employers to commit to a pledge to recognize these problems in the profession and acknowledge more can be done to address them, including supporting a seven-point framework of suggested strategies.

Burnout is approaching the level of a national crisis. Taking steps to proactively address it will enable you to move forward and create a healthier, more productive approach to your time at work and at home. This can actually be an opportunity to identify your deepest passions and purpose. And in doing so, re-invent who you are and who you wish to be.

I hope these best practices serve you well into the future and wish you a healthy and happy holiday and a happy New Year.

A man and a woman leaning on each other

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