You know it’s a bad sign when the very thought of going into work in the morning gives you a big, burning ball of anxiety in the pit of your stomach. Most of us think this is just the American way — punching in and punching out of a job that you hate — but the top career experts disagree.
Contrary to popular belief, grumbling about your job and your never-ending workload doesn’t mean you are working the hardest. It might mean you’ve been doing the same thing for too long without any career readjustments or advancements to keep you fresh, focused and on track. To make matters worse, career burnout can come in several different forms, according to 2014 research published in the journal PLOS ONE.
When researchers surveyed 429 university workers with different jobs, they categorized common career burnout in three or more ways — including overload burnout, boredom burnout and worn-out burnout. The researchers concluded that a lack of coping strategies could lead to any of these dead-end roads on the career track.
So what’s a hard worker like yourself to do when you start to feel the effects of burning the candle at both ends? As research has shown us, your success in beating this almost inevitable burnout all boils down to how well you can handle the frustrations and stress of your job. For those who find themselves in a career slump (and need a friendly kick in the pants), we’ve asked some of the leading career experts to share their best beat-the-burnout tips:
1. Start gigging
Yes, this is a real thing, and yes, it really is that easy. Having a little somethin’-somethin’ on the side — related to your career, of course — could provide the external stimulation you need to put some juice back into your job. Rebecca Lee, a registered nurse in New York City and creator of her own side gig RemediesForMe.com, suggest you “find something that you really do enjoy, such as a hobby or any subject matter that you are really interested in. It could be related to your current job, or it could be completely different. Starting a side job can add excitement to your days and be something to look forward to on your time off, while possibly pulling in some extra cash.
“I started Remedies For Me because I had an interest in holistic medicine. I started researching and learning about natural methods to better one’s health, in conjunction with traditional Western medicine. If you like to knit or crochet, you can let your creative side come out and start your own Etsy business,” Lee says.
2. Change departments
Based on her years of experience in the hospital sector, Lee has yet another ingenious tip to “hack” your career without making any major changes: Make a lateral move. She says, “After a few years of working in the same department, you may reach a learning plateau. This can cause boredom or disinterest to settle in. By moving departments, you can learn a whole new set of skills in a different environment, without all the stress of starting a job at a completely new company.”
3. Work smarter
Spinning your wheels, AKA working ineffectively, is one of the quickest ways to reach career burnout, says Tim Elmore, speaker, author and president of Growing Leaders. One of Elmore’s recommended career-refreshment “habitudes” (a combination of habit and attitude) is to work on your time management skills. He recommends minimizing the “burn” by moving the mind-numbing, mundane tasks off your plate: “What good is it to work extremely hard when it accomplishes little and leads to burnout? Working smarter means working on what you can do and delegating things others can do.”
4. Practice calendar offense
Elmore’s second go-to career-boosting tip is to practice your offense, instead of running defense on your weekly calendar. Taking control, says Elmore, can lead to strategic action instead of reaction — which puts you back in the driver’s seat. He advises asking yourself, “Will my day be filled by my priorities or by the requests of others?” Elmore continues, “There are going to be certain things you can do at your workplace that others cannot. But, when you fill your day with completing the requests of others, you may not be able to get done the tasks that you need to check off your own to-do list. Play offense by learning to organize so that you can efficiently get tasks done.”
5. Pat yourself on the back
Beyond these best-practice tips that you can use to keep your career organized and interesting, Angela Howell, speaker and author of Finding the Gift: Daily Meditations for Mindfulness, believes that a simple change in perspective may be one of the most effective ways to thwart job dissatisfaction. Howell explains that many people struggle with being a workaholic because they are looking for external recognition, while true job satisfaction can only be found in learning to give yourself the internal validation you seek. “I have struggled with being a workaholic for much of my life. I was a very successful, 12-year corporate sales rep, and I definitely experienced burnout because my entire life revolved around my career. I was so driven for external recognition that I let everything else slide, like my relationships, hobbies and health,” says Howell.
She continues, “When I focus on my own sense of accomplishment and can learn to give myself the praise I need, I am less critically dependent on getting my sense of worth at work. I can allow myself to have a life and live from a more balanced place, nurturing all the parts of me that exist beyond my career. I work to live instead of live to work.”
6. Become more mindful
Once your arm gets tired from all that patting, take a moment to really experience the moment you’re in — even if it happens to be within the four walls of a cubicle. For Howell, mindfulness has become her secret to enjoying every hour of her workweek. She says, “Being present can be 10 times more challenging than working 60 hours a week. Personally, I used work to escape real life. I avoided being uncomfortably present with myself so I wouldn’t have to think about my worries and fears, or my hopes and dreams — much less do anything about them. Life was easier on autopilot in a vacuum of overachieving. The trouble is, you can’t keep this pace up forever before it takes a toll on everything. Mindfulness is easier than it sounds, but it’s a practice that takes intentional pursuit, even if all you can do is a few minutes a day.”
7. Learn to really, really unplug
Here’s the bad news — up to 42 percent of employees check their email on vacation, a time your mind and body truly need to unplug completely if you want any chance at improving your productivity. Tricia Sciortino, president of eaHELP, a leader in the virtual assistant industry, considers a total unplug critical if you would like to enjoy your job when you come back from a break or even the weekend. She advises, “Put down your phone. Close your laptop. You really won’t miss anything, I promise. The work will always be waiting for you. Get as much done as you reasonably can, then walk away. Your mind and body need a break, and it will all still be there tomorrow.”
8. Know when to fold ’em
If you’ve done all you can to milk the goodness out of your job, there’s something to be said for knowing when to call it quits. Howell points out that it is common for fear and intimidation to paralyze us so that we stay in the wrong job instead of making a career switch. “We fear we could end up in an even worse job, so we decide it’s better to stay where it’s comfortable and familiar than risk going for a job or career that could be really great. In other cases, we know we’re ready to make a change, but we have no idea what else we might want to do. Our dissatisfaction keeps ticking away until we are gut-wrenchingly miserable and more clueless than ever about what would make us happy,” she says.
Drawing from her work as a life coach, Howell recommends talking to a professional if you feel stumped by the next career move to make. And if you have your eye on a new job in your field — go for it. Albeit scary, this could be the big change you need to get you excited about your career again.