The difference between stress and burnout...
When we are stressed, we are under too much pressure. At work, stress is commonly due to tight deadlines, work overload, competing priorities or working with a person who radiates stress. (Yes, it can be contagious.) When we are stressed, we feel a sense of urgency and tend to be very active. Stress at work is fairly common, and, in fact, some level of stress is good for us, keeping us interested and productive.
Chronic stress, however, can lead to burnout—and burnout is the result of persistent stress for some people. Not all those who are under chronic stress burn out—some people can maintain their balance, restore themselves and cope with stress more effectively than others. Also, research suggests the people most likely to experience burnout are those who feel their work is not significant or doesn’t make a difference.
Stress may lead to burnout, but they are not the same thing. Burnout is characterized by withdrawal, detachment and exhaustion. The individual begins to shut down, losing motivation and feeling helpless. Burnout is a cycle of negative emotions, paralysis and disengagement. While stress may result in physical damage, burnout primarily causes emotional damage. But, burnout doesn't happen suddenly. You don't get to work one day and suddenly "have burnout." Burnout slowly inches its way into our emotions, making it harder to identify.
Are you on the road to burnout?
In addition to experiencing a high level of stress over a period of time, burnout shows itself in lack of interest or engagement. Some examples of a changing mental state might be: You’re not so happy to help others out or to take on new projects. You find yourself complaining and participating in cynical “pity parties” with your colleagues. You’d hesitate to recommend your organization as a good place to work. You dread coming to work many days. You feel like you work for not with your manager. You become a clock-watcher. You don’t enjoy your work.
Check your expectations and how your job has changed. The workplace itself is faster and weighed down with new information. Our attitudes toward our work aren’t going to remain the same. ‘Work you loved in your twenties may turn to ashes in your hands in your thirties. The work hasn’t changed, but in all probability you have changed. It’s not a cause for despair, but rather a sign that it’s time to move on, to push your boat towards a frontier a little further from the shore.’
Can you turn things around?
No matter how well you do your job, you may not be recognized, valued, appreciated or rewarded for what you do. There are likely to be factors at work that you feel you cannot control:
It would be easy to throw up your hands and become a victim. Refuse to be a victim. Start by recognizing that you choose to be in this job and accept accountability for your own satisfaction. Ask what can you do to make your current work more enjoyable? You are responsible for your happiness, and if you can’t immediately change the job you are in, then it is up to you to make the most of it. Can you improve the situation or develop a better reaction and more effective coping mechanisms – or-- do you need to explore other job options? If you do need to move on, it is still critical that you not let yourself fall into a negative mindset that will threaten to show itself elsewhere.
Happiness and satisfaction at work are mostly the result of a sense of autonomy, meaning and having fun, challenging things to do. That’s why caregivers often have high levels of job satisfaction even though their jobs are stressful. Those who are most dissatisfied at work report feeling: unrecognized and undervalued; that their work is irrelevant and meaningless; a lack of harmony with coworkers and hostility towards their managers.
The bottom line: Change what you can.
Starting with your own attitude. Smile. Be gracious. Avoid negative or difficult people as much as possible. Consciously list three things that went right and you are thankful for at the end of every day.
Do you enjoy what you are doing 75% of the time? If so, moving on may not be the best choice. Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations about job satisfaction. Think systematically about what’s not working and what you can do about it. What do you enjoy doing and are good at that benefits your boss and organization? Do more of it.
10 how-to tips for renewal
Over time, your routines, habits, and responsibilities may have turned a great job into a forced march. Changing things up can be simpler than you think. Develop new skills and habits that bring challenge and purpose into your day. Eliminate negative thinking that is dragging you down. Reinvent the way you see work and your career. Here are a few more ways to bring possibility into your day-to-day work:
Welcome to the ASAP Circle, a community platform for peer-to-peer conversation on trending topics, professional challenges, and shared experiences. We even have designated spaces for weekly Tuesday Coffee Breaks.