There once was a time when your work seemed like the stuff of dreams.
It was fulfilling, perfectly aligned with your long-term career goals and, yes, it paid pretty well, too.
Yet as time went on that dream job turned into a nightmare.
Your workload spiralled out of control.
All the added stress and pressure made turning up to the office something to dread.
Before you knew it, you were overworked, over-tired and overburdened. Not to mention under-valued, under-appreciated and under the weather.
If any of this sounds familiar, then you’ve likely experienced that most soul-destroying phenomenon known as burnout.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
A growing phenomenon
In the United States, some 23% of respondents to a survey by global analytics firm Gallup reported feeling burned out all the time. While 44% of respondents reported occasional burnout.
Here in the UK, The Telegraph reports that 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/2018 due to work-related stress, anxiety, or depression.
The burnout epidemic reached such a critical stage that in May 2019 The World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognised burnout as an occupational phenomenon.
In an official statement, The WHO described burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Without going so far as to call it a medical condition, the organisation did note the three main factors contributing to workplace burnout:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
Again, if any of these sound familiar to you, then it may be of some comfort to know that there are countless tools, techniques and strategies to help you recover when burnout pushes you right to the brink.
While things like taking time off, talking to a counsellor and exercise can all help you to start feeling more like your old self again, what do you do when you’re ready to get back in the game?
How do you get your career back on track after it was derailed by burnout? More importantly, how do you stop it from happening again?
Today, we’ll talk through a six-step strategy designed to help you get back on course and transform your work from something you loathe back into something you’ll love.
1: Invest in self-care
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.
So before you step foot back in the office, it’s time to make some changes.
Whether you’re starting afresh at a brand new company or returning to your old stomping ground, it’s essential that you put your own health and well-being first. If not, you run the risk of crashing and burning all over again.
This doesn’t mean that you have to spend countless hours in the lotus position in pursuit of enlightenment. Basic self-care means taking a serious look at your lifestyle and, where necessary, making positive changes.
Along with the day-to-day stress of work, burnout can be caused by a lack of sleep, poor diet and general lack of well-being, so start there.
- Are you getting enough sleep?
- Is your body getting the nutrients it really needs to thrive?
- Are you getting enough fresh air, sunshine and exercise?
- Are you drinking enough water?
Look after yourself first and you’ll be ready to look after your career, feeling better than ever.
2: List your priorities – what truly matters to you?
Part of the reason why our dream jobs become exhausting nightmares is that over time — and often without us realising — our once clearly-defined roles become muddied.
We take on an extra task here and an extra responsibility there, and before we know it, we’re no longer spending any time doing what we love.
So, strip things back and re-address your priorities. It’s time to consider what parts of your work make you come alive and which parts make you wish you’d stayed in bed. Then, figure out how you can do less of the latter and much more of the former.
For example, you may love the parts of your job that involve working one-on-one with customers. But recently you’ve been spending so much time buried beneath a mountain of soul-crushing paperwork that you no longer get to enjoy the human interaction that truly energies you.
Or maybe you’ve found that you have a knack for leading and managing projects. But you’re constantly saddled with the ‘busy’ stuff and never given your chance to shine.
Whatever the case may be, take some time to figure out what it is you really want from your work.
- What motivates you?
- Where does your heart go when you think about doing truly fulfilling work?
- What truly matters?
3: Take action
Now that you know what you really want from your work, it’s time to put a strategy in place so that you can go out and get it.
What steps do you need to take in order to make work something that has you leaping out of bed in a morning rather than hiding under the duvet?
Maybe you can talk to a manager about restructuring your role. Take on a promotion — or even a demotion — to find your sweet spot.
Sure, the traditional career path is often seen as an upwards curve. But if the extra money, status and responsibility only make you miserable, then what’s the point?
If your boss is less than sympathetic, then maybe it’s time to find a new boss or even an entirely new career.
4: Learn new skills
If a new career or a new role is what’s needed, then it might be time to think about retraining.
Fortunately, there are literally dozens of ways — both formal and informal — that you can acquire the skills you need to get your career back on track.
- Taking an evening class at your local college
- Taking online courses
- Investing in self-learning by reading books, articles, and tutorials
- Attending workshops and CPD events
- Job shadowing
- Volunteer work.
5: Learn to say no
Of course, one of the most important things we can learn is the simple yet powerful act of saying no.
That could be saying no to:
- Taking on tasks that are outside of your remit or skill set
- Working late or working at the weekends
- Attending after-work social functions when you’d much rather be doing… well, anything else
The more you say no to the things that drain you, the more time you have to say yes to the things that truly matter.
We could dive off on a whole different tangent about how to say no, but for now, you might want to get a copy of Mark Manson’s best-selling book: The art of not giving a f*ck.
6: Avoid it happening again
We started this strategy by looking at how important it is to take care of yourself as you start to get your career back on track, but that’s not the only way you can avoid the crash and burn.
Learn to recognise the common signs of burnout so that if they return, you can identify them and do something about them before they take you down.
Talk to your boss, your partner, or even a therapist to get the support you need as you begin getting your career back on track.
Re-address your work-life balance so that your job is no longer the be-all and end-all of your existence.
Remember, work can be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding, but so too can so many other things in life.
As the old saying goes, none of us reaches the end of our lives wishing we’d spent more time in the office.