Professional burnout at work. Can you avoid it?

Sometimes we think that the work that we do is the most important thing in life. We work hard, and often forget why we do it. The work becomes the main focus of our lives, and if that happens, we might be on the way to professional burnout.

You may be at risk of professional burnout if one or more of the work areas below are affected:

  • You have excessive workload – you are given more and more responsibilities, but do not have access to more resources. For example, you are asked to do more in the same or a shorter period of time.
  • Lack of control – you don’t have control over important aspects of your work. Your employer does not allow you independent initiative or the opportunity for creative problem solving. You cannot fully utilise your knowledge and skills, and feel that you are prevented from making a meaningful contribution.
  • Lack of reward – you feel that your work is not appreciated, it does not bring you money, prestige or respect. Also, it no longer gives you happiness or job satisfaction.
  • Broken work community – there is no support or trust from your colleagues, the number of unresolved conflicts increase, and you no longer wish to fully engage with your colleagues. There is no cooperation, the atmosphere is hostile and competitive.
  • Lack of fairness – you don’t think that you are being treated fairly, and feel that the employer is taking advantage of you.
  • The conflict of values – this is where you notice that your own values are no longer in agreement with the values of your organisation. For example, there is a constant internal conflict between what you want to do, and what your employer wants you to do.

It sounds quite awful, doesn’t it? It may be that you have not yet fully identified what exactly is happening at work, but suddenly you feel tired, and experience occasional sleep problems. You suddenly are more prone to infections, and indigestion. These are the first warning signs. One very common warning sign that you are heading towards professional burn out, is the fact that you suddenly feel much better with the arrival of the weekend, but on Sunday evening you suddenly feel worse again. The next stage is the feeling of frustration with work. This may lead, for example, to the depersonalisation of your clients, and the tiredness is so great that a free weekend is no longer enough for you to recharge, and your effectiveness dramatically decreases. At this stage, you may want to decide to leave your job, or maybe even change career. Or you may find yourself carrying on, completing your work duties, while feeling helpless. The work will become either something you cannot stop talking (complaining!) about, or something you cannot bear to talk about at all. Your relationships with friends and family will suffer, and you may find that depression is slowly creeping into your life.

So is there any way to stop this from happening? It may be that the only solution for you is to leave. Sometimes, that is the best thing for you to do. If, however, you feel that your job is not ‘all that bad’, but it is becoming too much of a focus in your life, then the good news is there are many things that you can do, and psychotherapy can really help.

Please consider the following:

  • First of all, if you look at the above flash points, and realise that many, or even all of them, are present in your current work place, it might just be that your organisation is very toxic, and you may want to think about what makes you want to stay in that particular job. You may have a good reason or reasons, but just think about it.
  • Grow and look after your relationships outside of work – family and friends, with whom you can spend your free time.
  • Contact a counsellor – you don’t have to tackle this alone!
  • Work on improving your internal resources, learn new ways to react in difficult situations – again, therapy can really help!
  • Have a hobby or other activities outside of work that you feel passionate about – that will decrease your risk of professional burnout.
  • Look at what your workplace has to offer – for example, free workshops, coaching, confidential advice and support.
  • Use all your annual leave.
  • Look after your physical health. Do some physical activity at the level that you are comfortable with, but do something! Eat healthy and avoid alcohol. Get enough sleep and rest.
  • Look after your psyche – cultivate good relationships.
  • Accept that not everything is up to you. Be more realistic and allow yourself to let go from time to time.
  • Allow yourself to do nothing from time to time and don’t feel bad about it!
  • Take time to ‘switch off’ from work related devices (phones, email etc) during the weekend. Remember that less work makes us more productive. Overworked and tired people make more mistakes and head for burnout!
  • ‘Reclaim’ your weekend for yourself. Spend it well – seek contact with nature, open yourself to art, spend time with loved ones, do less and ‘be’ more.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Dartford, Kent, DA1
Written by Alexandra Kubit-Hope, MSc. MBACP (Accred) - Green Stairwell Counselling
Dartford, Kent, DA1

Alexandra Kubit-Hope is a qualified integrative counsellor who works in private practice in Kent. You can find more information about Alexandra and her work on her profile and website.

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