This two-part series focuses on the terrible situation of burning out at work. This part deals with signs you should watch out for. Part two touches on ways to avoid it in the first place.
Burnout is real. I hadn’t witnessed it first hand until earlier this year, when a close colleague and mentor of mine, an engineering director here at The New York Times, resigned. It caught me off guard. I was left thinking: how could someone so respected, so accomplished, and with so many options for his future fall into this situation? I had to know what happened, and so during our last one-on-one together I asked.
Not long before that, burnout took its toll on another colleague of mine. We worked very closely together for years, both growing from engineering to management roles over that time. He was sharp, hard-working, and one of the most reliable people I knew. In hindsight, I saw the signs, but I didn’t realize what I was seeing exactly. If I was more aware at the time, I probably could have helped him avoid a burnout, but it was too late.
What is Burnout and Why is it Bad?
Burnout is when you push yourself too hard, whether physically or mentally, and pass a limit you can’t easily return from. It’s a sustained—yet unsustainable—pressure on yourself that causes a physical, mental, or emotional collapse. That collapse can cause you to make really drastic, and sometimes disastrous, decisions. It goes without saying, but this is something you really want to avoid falling into.
Like my two colleagues, burnout usually leads a person to leave their job prematurely. While I’m not against switching jobs under normal circumstances, using it as a way to solve this problem is a really bad idea. Most likely, you’ll end up in the same situation a few years down the road. You’ll keep repeating a really bad pattern of burning out. Not only is that terrible for your career, but it can drain your mental and physical health.
When I asked my old mentor why he resigned, he told me he just wasn’t as motivated as he used to be. When I asked him where he planned to go next, he wasn’t sure. He had so thoroughly burnt out that all he knew was he wanted to escape. It had gone on for so long that he lost the desire to make it better. I genuinely felt bad for him, but it made me determined not to fall into the same trap.
Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire
If you know what to look for, the signs are pretty clear if you or someone you know is on an unsustainable path towards burnout. Rather than giving a list of things I’ve read about, I’m going to mention signs I’ve seen in people who actually did end up burning out. These were all high-achievers, people who kicked-butt and did amazing work, but in the end overdid it.
12 Signs you’re on track for a burnout
- You’re working more hours than anyone else
- You can’t seem to get caught up
- You don’t have time to take at least a week straight vacation
- You’re more stressed than anyone around you
- You’ve gained/lost considerable weight unexpectedly
- You’re abandoning your hobbies over work you take home
- You get agitated easily, more than normal
- You dread being asked to do anything new
- You’re having problems at home because of stress from work
- You find little pleasure in work anymore
- You’re busy, but you’re consistently bored
- You feel overwhelmingly exhausted all the time
I want to emphasis that we all feel these signs from time to time, that’s normal. The problem is if you’ve noticed them for an extended period of time. That’s when you’re entering the danger zone and need to start taking these signs more seriously. Remember, burnout is preventable, and it’s always better to prevent it then let it continue to smolder.
Avoiding That Feeling of Burning Out
There’s a lot to talk about so I’ve decided to break this post into two parts. The next part will focus on practical tips for avoiding burnout. Those two posts will come out in the next couple weeks and I’ll link them here too.
For now, keep the idea of burning out on the top of your mind, and do a check on yourself and your close colleagues. Are any of you exhibiting signs that maybe you’re overdoing it?
A very simple tip if you think someone is falling into this trap is to make sure they know that you think they’re doing a good job. It seems obvious, but for high-achievers, the pressure they tend to put on themselves can be eased a lot with a little acknowledgement. If you haven’t told a colleague that you think they’re doing a great job, make sure to do it. I know from experience that sometimes that small statement can relieve more than its share of stress.
As for you, if you’ve noticed these signs in yourself, then let me honestly tell you that you’re doing better than you might believe—so relax! Work is important, but your own wellbeing is even more important. It’s like the oxygen mask analogy on an airplane. First take care of yourself, then you’ll be much more able to help the people around you. This includes being an even more amazing contributor at work.
Credit: Feature image by Freepik