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3 Reasons You May Be Suffering from Career Burnout

Overextending yourself on the job almost always leads to burnout. Take these steps to stop it.
Image: Businessman buried under crumpled pile of papers holds up a help sign
Businessman buried under crumpled pile of papers with a help signBrianAJackson / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Have you ever felt like your career is a dead-end, or have you simply lost passion for the field that once seemed so exciting?

You aren’t alone. Stress and anxiety are on the rise in society, due in large part to increasing job dissatisfaction, pressure, and eventually burnout. The trend is especially prevalent among certain demographics; an increasing number of millennial women, for example, feel “burned out” by the time they turn 30. And of course, high-pressure jobs like journalism or investment banking also see high turnover rates due to burnout.

Overextension almost always leads to burnout.

So what’s causing this increased trend, and what can we do about it?

Defining Burnout

Burnout isn’t a diagnosable condition. Instead, it’s a subjective feeling that’s associated with a number of psychological, and sometimes physiological issues. As a general term, burnout refers to people who feel disinterested, unmotivated or unable to continue in their line of work, and is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Tiredness and sleep deprivation
  • Excessive stress and anxiety, especially in a work-related context
  • Increased frustration at work
  • Loss of interest or passion for work
  • Strong, recurring desires to quit or change professions
  • Depression
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Heart disease
  • Immune disorders

So why are more people feeling this way?

Fewer “Unplugged” Hours

The internet is wonderful. It allows us a constant, instant connection to practically everyone else in the world. We can communicate with each other at any moment, and we often receive notifications the moment someone sends us something new.

Full-time employees in the United States work an average of 47 hours, almost a full weekday longer than the 40-hour standard put in place more than a century ago.

There’s a dark side to this convenient technology, however. We’ve grown less patient, more demanding of instant responses, and more willing to carry our work into non-working hours. Multiple studies have confirmed fast, borderline unhealthy email response times; one study found that 50 percent of email recipients respond within 2 hours, and another found the most common response time to be 2 minutes — and those include emails sent late at night or on weekends.

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Customer expectations for email response times are also increasing steadily, year over year, putting more pressure on employees to be available for their jobs 24-7. Because it’s harder to truly break away from the office, employees don’t get the chance to decompress. Instead, they’re constantly bombarded with job-related tasks and stress.

Long Hours

The “9 to 5” workday was a revolutionary idea for its time, and cut back on excessive hours to what was then a reasonable 40-hour workweek. Other countries, in an effort to increase productivity, happiness and time for familial responsibilities, have dramatically shortened this; for example, people in the Netherlands work an average of 29 hours per week, with an adjusted average salary of $47,000.

Full-time employees in the United States, on the other hand, work an average of 47 hours, almost a full weekday longer than the 40-hour standard put in place more than a century ago. In fact, 18 percent of survey responders claim they work 60 hours a week or more on a consistent basis.

Societal Pressures

Corporate expectations and societal pressures are also increasing the frequency of burnout. Millennials, who are experiencing higher rates of burnout than other generations, are seeing unemployment rates of nearly double the national average. There are conflicting viewpoints on why this is the case, but any millennial who finds themselves able to land a job is inclined to do whatever it takes to keep it — meaning complying with demand for extended hours, working through weekends, and never saying no to a request. Overextension almost always leads to burnout.

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We also find ourselves naturally drawn to professions that are expected to be fulfilling, rather than professions that actually are fulfilling. Careers in the medical field are glamorized as respectable, helpful, and with high income earning potential, yet physicians are some of the most dissatisfied workers in the country.

Potential Solutions to Combat Career Burnout

So what can we do to prevent burnout, in our lives and the lives of our employees and coworkers?

These solutions could be a start:

  • Set firm “dark” hours. Responding to an email within 24 hours is plenty; if there’s a genuine emergency, someone can call you. Set firm “dark” hours where you refuse to do work or check email unless absolutely necessary. Give yourself the mental break you need to stay healthy.
  • Be reasonable with overtime. There’s nothing wrong with working more than 40 hours in a week to finish up a project, but when you’re working 50 hours a week or more consistently, something has to give. Be reasonable with the overtime hours you work.
  • Reset your expectations. You’re in charge of your professional path — no one else. Don’t buy into other people’s expectations for where and how you work, or what work will be fulfilling to you. Set your own expectations and goals.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave. If you aren’t satisfied with your work, sticking around probably isn’t going to increase your satisfaction. The fear of the unknown can be intimidating, but your health is more important than a steady paycheck. Don’t be afraid to make a career switch; it’s more common than you might think.

Burnout can be devastating, but it isn’t simple, and no simple solution will be enough to prevent it from manifesting in everybody. Know yourself, be aware of what you need to feel fulfilled in your line of work and proactively acknowledge the signs of burnout before it gets the better of you. The sooner you notice these signs, the sooner you can fight against them.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business and entrepreneurship.