Burnout, or long-term exhaustion and stress in a work context, is possible even in extremely fulfilling careers. Often, the causes of burnout have their roots in feeling a lack of purpose, spending too much time or too much energy working, or feeling like barriers at work prevent you from being effective.
Luckily, you don't have to wait until you are already feeling burnt out and uninterested in your work to work on preventing burnout! Instead, you can develop healthy problem-solving skills and guard against some of the common causes.
Resilience: How We Fight Burnout
Resilience is seen broadly as the ability to recover from difficulties, and at work, it is an incredible attribute. When you create routines and your workplace supports you in recovering from the difficult seasons in your work, you can "bounce back" in a healthy way even in a very challenging job.
The problems come when the difficulty at work is non-stop or the way that your workplace runs never allows you the time and space to recover from challenges. What is good to know is that resilience is something you can develop in yourself while also advocating for procedures at work that build resilience in your whole team.
Tips for Preventing Burn Out
1. Saying "Yes" to Something New Means Asking Where You Can Say "Not Anymore"
In many parts of the Portland, Oregon area, start-up culture or just high-achiever culture can turn into a belief that any amount of work can be squeezed into a given workweek. While, of course, people do grow more efficient over time, there comes a point when adding anything else to your plate means something else is pushed off of the plate.
What this means practically is getting accustomed to having a conversation with your supervisor or other work colleagues who offer you tasks about what adding something new means, and the ability to accurately prioritize. When you are asked to take on a substantial new responsibility, ask, "Given that this additional work will take me beyond my standard workweek, what would you like me to de-prioritize for now in order to make sure this gets done in a timely manner?"
While some corporate cultures will continue to emphasize that you can add infinite things to your plate, it is a key element of self-advocacy to keep asking and discussing creative ways to keep your workload manageable.
2. Outline and Emphasize Aspects of Your Work that Provide Purpose
Taking a few minutes of reflection when you are feeling exhausted, distracted, or frustrated can be very healing. Let this time remind you what you find important about the work, even if it is less driven by the work itself than by the way the work helps you achieve your outside-of-work goals, even for basic needs like paying your bills. Being grateful, for instance, that your work is conveniently located on Portland's great public transit system, or that your work doesn't require you to work during your evenings, can be a valuable perspective as you dive back into the tasks at hand.
3. Seek Connections Both Inside and Outside Work To Build Resilience
A support system at work and outside of work both help those whose jobs are sometimes prone to burnout. For instance, for firefighters working in the Portland, Oregon area, wildfire fighting is always going to be a major source of difficulty. However, supportive colleagues, kind and understanding friends, and a wider community that recognizes their skills and valuable assets can really go a long way to helping firefighters bounce back after grueling shifts. If you see an opening to deepen a connection, recognize that it may be insulating you against burnout as well as building a new connection.
4. Take a Course to See Yourself Growing and Improving
At Portland Community College, our professional development courses give you a relevant, up-to-date understanding of the key elements of work life. The course on Resiliency and Burnout, for instance, offers valuable techniques and strategies for stopping burnout in its tracks. Taking any professional development courses, however, can also help you gain perspective on where you want your career to grow, which can be key in preventing burn out.
5. Advocate With Your Supervisor For Tasks and Projects That You Enjoy
While not every job contains flexibility for responsibilities, most jobs have a little more wiggle room than you might initially think. If you have elements of your job that you really enjoy and can see a way that you are doing them will benefit your organization as well, talk to your supervisor about expanding that part of your job, even just a little. Effectively molding your job to fit your interests, even for small parts of your workday, helps you feel more in control of your life and happier too.
6. Take Actual Vacations and Work to Keep Weekly Hours Manageable
Some jobs make it difficult, but recognize the benefits of a totally-unplugged vacation and days off away from the workplace (weekends, or midweek days off if that's the structure of your job). We do better work when our brains get a chance to fully decompress and think differently, and many workplaces are realizing that they are wasting talent by letting people burn out without adequate time off - if your work offers the option for paid time off for vacations or at least days off here and there unpaid, take advantage of them and try to fill those days with other things in your life that bring you joy.
Portland Community College offers a valuable course on Resiliency and Burnout to help people in a variety of workplaces who are interested in preventing burn out. Learn more about professional development courses at PCC and sign up today!