You’re tired, ambivalent, stressed, cynical and overextended.
Are you in love, or are you burned out at work?
It could be love, but according to a recent “Smart Living” article by Kenneth R. Rosen in The New York Times” the correct answer is behind door No. 2 — burnout.
According to data from the General Social Survey presented by Rosen in “How to Recognize Burnout Before You’re Burned Out,” 50 percent of respondents were consistently exhausted because of work. (That percentage would have to be even higher, I think, if the poor devils conducting the survey were included in the results. Imagine how quickly you’d be burned out if your job was to knock on doors across America, asking people if they wanted to take a nappy-poo?)
While burnout was once applied exclusively to health care and public safety workers, you’ll be happy to know that the malady has “been expanded to workers who are now part of a more connected, hyperactive and overcompensating work force.”
To spell it out, they’re talking about y-o-u.
“We got lost in this idea is the only way to be productive is to be in the go-go-go mode,” explains Emma Seppala at the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.” We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”
This is a diagnosis you should share with your manager. Or you could just shoot him in the foot.
For workers who are so burned out they don’t know why they’re burned out, Rosen provides a list of “common work stressors,” including overcoming challenges associated with new software, unrealistic deadlines, unpredictable schedules and “interpersonal demands such as interactions with colleagues or customers.”
Some of these stressors you have already resolved. You have avoided the IT department’s latest software upgrade and now do your work with an abacus and a box of crayons. As for “interpersonal interactions with colleagues and customers,” those have been reduced to almost zero. It’s amazing how much useless chit-chat you can avoid when you unplug your computer, turn off your phone and circle your desk with 200 feet of yellow, plastic tape reading, “CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS.”
Can you do more? According to the experts, here are five ways to douse your burnout:
1. “Focused breathing, which can tap into your parasympathetic nervous system to help you reduce or manage stress.”
Or even better, stop breathing all together. Let’s face it, breathing takes a lot of work, and it’s really hard to see the benefit of it.
2. “Frequent breaks, preferably five-minute breaks for every 20 minutes spent on a single task, or sitting at your desk.”
Twenty minutes on and five minutes off is good. Five minutes on and 20 minutes off is better. Five minutes on and the rest of the day spent drinking Mad Dog Margaritas at the Kit Kat Klub is best.
3. “Ergonomic chairs and desks, like a sit-stand arrangement, or even a small plant in your office.”
Yes, and when you request the new furniture, also order an ergonomic mattress. Explain you’re going for a sit-stand-lay-down arrangement. A small plant is also fine. Be sure to give it a name and take it to lunch. Go for a plant that fits your specific office environment, like an “atropa belladona,” or Deadly Nightshade.
4. “Periodically working out of the office enables you to try working from a quiet and contemplative space in which creativity may grow.”
Forget growing creativity. You want a place so quiet and contemplative that moss will grow. Considering the atmosphere at your work, an appropriate out-of-office location would be Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp. It will feel quite similar to your office and will definitely be quiet, at least, until an alligator starts gnawing on your leg.
5. “A trusted mentor at work with whom you can discuss and strategize other ways to deal with work-related issues.”
This could help, but it is difficult to find a senior manager who is interested in helping you improve your job. Mostly, she or he will be interested in eliminating your job, which, you have to admit, would solve a lot of your stress at work.
However you combat burnout, you are encouraged to “find some humor in life.” You won’t find it in this column, unfortunately, but there are other places to look. Psychologist Christina Maslach insists that “everything in life is way better if you’re connected to other people.”
Maybe, but considering the people in your workplace, I think you’ll be much happier being connected to your plant.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.