A good friend reached out to me last week asking for help with a problem. My friend is suffering from a rather advanced state of burnout in his career and wanted to speak to someone who had no stake in the outcome. I suspected that he had come to me because he knew I had confronted burnout a couple of times during my lengthy corporate career and had lived to become re-energized and tell the tale.
The first thing we discussed was his concern that he might be suffering from burnout. He asked if I knew how he could determine if he was burned out or not. Really, I’m not making this up. I laughed out loud and said that we probably wouldn’t have to Google burnout to ascertain if he was in the danger zone for experiencing burnout. He looked puzzled until I said this: “If you are wondering if you are suffering from burnout, it is almost certain that you are indeed suffering from burnout. People who are not stressed and feeling stuck, rarely ask themselves if they’re burning out, in my experience.
So he said, “Humor me, will you?” and I said, “OK, let’s figure out if you’re burned out…” With that, we began to go through the checklist that I found online from the Mayo Clinic and lo and behold, he was suffering from burnout.
So what do you do when you are suffering from burnout at work? We talked about a number of approaches. The most tantalizing is almost always the “I’m sick of this, I need to quit what I’m doing and start over somewhere else.” There is great danger in pulling the plug on a great position or a great business and placing all of your future into the unknown. I recognize that doing something new and exciting has a tremendous cachet and allows us to imagine a fresh start and to become truly happy by visiting the other side of the valley. Here’s a reality check for all: “The grass is NOT always greener on the other side of the valley.” Also, recognize that the trip to the other side of the valley does not come easily, no matter how green the grass looks from here. Be careful. Think this through.
My advice is that it may make better sense to first try to make things more palatable right here in River City before you set out for the other side of the valley. I recommended that my friend look in the mirror and begin to ask himself some good questions to prepare himself for the tough decision that he has coming up. I asked him to ask himself the following:
- Do you really know what you are passionate about and what would energize you at work? If not, think about that and determine it now.
- Do you have a sense about what fills your gas tank during the day? Do you have a good understanding of what reduces your battery to zero quickly? If not, think about that and determine it now.
- Do you have an ability to make some changes at your work so that you can ask for an inspiring change? Could you work with your manager to create a job that you would love within your current organization and benefit yourself and your company at the same time?
- Do you have the ability to collaborate with someone older or younger to provide you with some new challenge at your work?
This gentleman is a business owner, so he has no boss to ask, he needs to just sit down and have a long talk with himself. In the end, my advice for him was this:
- Volunteer for something that will fuel a return to your passion. If you need to do it in your private life, so be it, but if you can wrap it into your company, go for it!
- Find a new challenge that will energize you. Partner with someone less experienced and start working on something REALLY challenging, something that you don’t know how to do, which will force you into your uncomfortable zone.
- Mentor this younger person to help them gain the benefit of your many years of experience. At the same time, ask this young whippersnapper to mentor you on 5 or 10 killer smartphone apps and work hacks that will make you much more productive.
- Above all, get in touch with your learning side. You need to exercise your learning muscles and give them a good flex over the next couple of months to find your drive again.
- Don’t back off and start coasting. Keep working hard, but start working smart. If you haven’t taken a day off in a while, do so. If you haven’t had a vacation in a while, schedule one, and spend the next couple of months looking forward to it, and planning to make it special.
In it’s early days; my friend has just begun to tackle his feeling of burnout. It’s too soon to tell whether our conversation will lead to him finding his moment of Zen anytime soon. I will keep you posted on how this turns out.
Hey, I’d love to hear what you think. Add a comment and let me know what you think about burnout and whether you think my advice is strong, or whether I need to have my head examined. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you our Motivation Best Practices document. Do some damage out there, my friends!