Dealing with Burnout

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“The world is too much with us, late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

– William Wordsworth,
“The World Is Too Much With Us” (1807)

When Wordsworth wrote those words about two centuries ago, he was denouncing the worldly, jaded cynicism that had come to dominate the outlook of the general population at that time. According to him, the frenetic pace and obsession with the material that characterized the era caused a disconnect between people and their own existence. The world Wordsworth criticized was dehumanizing, and it threatened to make peoples’ lives cold, barren and seemingly meaningless.

In 2006, we find the hectic circumstances censured by Wordsworth multiplied in spades. Life moves incredibly fast, and it seems that we can get overwhelmed with all the “getting and spending” we do on a daily basis. This is particularly true in the IT industry, a field distinguished by its incredibly large workload and rapidly shifting tools and techniques. This, of course, quickly can lead to burnout, not just because of the sheer amount of tasks being performed but also because a constant, tunnel-vision focus on your professional life can severely tax the brain and spirit. And if your brain and spirit fail you, it goes without saying that you’re not going to be a productive employee.

To keep your peace of mind, you need to be able to identify signs of burnout and take appropriate measures to prevent it. Here are a few things to consider as you cope with psychological exhaustion on the job.

What Brings on Burnout?
Burnout is produced by stress, obviously, but it’s not as simple as that. Many people thrive on stress, but they get burned out when that pressure turns negative because it is compounded by additional factors. Perhaps there is something going on outside the office that has reduced their ability to contribute a great deal, maybe the repetition of the job is wearing them down, or there could be a lack of positive feedback. Or, as is often the case, the workload is just unbearable.

Whatever the reason, the important thing is not to feel guilty when you feel burnout coming on. In our work-driven culture, a perceived inability to do a job can be a source of shame, as it often brings on feelings of inferiority. But don’t doubt yourself or get discouraged when faced with burnout. Let’s face it: If you’re exhausted and stressed out at the office, it’s probably not because you’re a slacker.

The Effects of Burnout
Signs that you’re burned out at work are easy enough to identify. If you are antisocial, irritable, stoic and/or dour (i.e. a “sour puss”) at the office, but you were once known as friendly, conversational, empathetic and humorous, then you are a good candidate for burnout. Ditto if you no longer derive great satisfaction from your accomplishments and are increasingly unwilling to perform current and new tasks.

People who find themselves in these situations usually react in one of two ways or a combination of both. The first is that they are plagued by feelings of hopelessness — they feel as if they’ll fail no matter how hard they work, so they’ll simply leave things undone. The second is that they’ll put in more hours and intensity when simply working harder might not be the solution. Typically, they’ll crack under the strain when they discover that they’re still coming up short in spite of their increased efforts. These results often lead to good employees quitting or getting dismissed.

How to Handle Burnout
There are a few things you can do to avoid burnout on the job. One includes taking a vacation for a few days. You don’t have to go anywhere or do anything extraordinary — just get a respite from your work routine. Also, if you aren’t getting something out of your job that you feel you need, whether it is a creative outlet, leadership responsibility or other experiences, you might want to seek out these opportunities in milieus outside of the office such as a professional association or charity organization.

These are simply stopgap solutions, however, if your working conditions aren’t conducive to sociability, open communication, a culture of rewards and recognition, and sound management of time and tasks. If the environment is such that burnout is feasible — or worse, a given — then you might want to get the ol’ resume together and start sending it to companies that value things such as work-life balance, flexible scheduling and positive reinforcement.

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