Career burnout: we’ve all heard of it, but what does it really mean and how do you recognise it in yourself?
Mid-career coach, Nicola Porter, advises a reader on the steps she can take to improve her wellbeing, and find a better quality of working life.
Dear Daily Slog,
“I’m not sure what is officially classified as burnout but I’m starting to think I might fit the bill. I am in my early forties and have worked in the legal profession for my entire career to date.
In the early days of my career I felt passionate about my work and was driven to move up the ladder. I now find that the more senior I get the more depressed and overwhelmed I feel at the consistently heavy workload, the stress, the expectation.
I feel like I’m at a point where all I want to do is pack it all in and perhaps move to a different country, take an entry level job in a completely different sector and just zone out of life for a bit.
I am terrified at the thought of leaving my high salary though, so am constantly torn between my wellbeing and the practicalities of the life I am used to. Any advice would be great.”
Taking action and making changes when you’re stressed and overwhelmed is a challenge – but not an impossible one. The key is to prioritise your health and wellbeing and take one step at a time towards a better quality of working life.
So, what steps can you take to get yourself out of this situation?
Step 1: Look after yourself
Your experience of stress in the workplace is not uncommon. According to a report published by the ESRI last November, the number of people experiencing job stress in Ireland doubled from 2010 to 2015.
Burnout is a type of job stress. Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter explain how burnout comes about:
“People entered a job with positive expectations, enthusiasm, and the goal to be successful. Over time, things changed – and now people have a deep sense of exhaustion; feelings of frustration, anger, and cynicism; and a sense of ineffectiveness and failure. The initial flame has burned out.”
The Mayo Clinic clearly explain how to spot burnout and what to do about it. Most importantly, their advice is to consider talking to a doctor or mental health professional if you think you might be experiencing the symptoms of job burnout.
While career change might be uppermost in your mind, as long as you’re feeling burned out, your health and wellbeing should be addressed first.
Availing of a two-year job-sharing scheme gave me the time and space I needed to figure out where I wanted to go and ultimately start my own business
Step 2: Create time and space for change
When you’re feeling physically and emotionally better, and have put some practices in place to support your health and wellbeing, have a think about how you can create some time and space for career change to happen.
One avenue worth exploring is flexible working. There are many versions of this, including job sharing, working part-time and working a four-day week.
For me, it was availing of a two-year job-sharing scheme. This gave me the time and space I needed to figure out where I wanted to go with my career and ultimately start my own business.
Ask your employer what’s available to you. Even if you’re not able to take a step like this, find a regular slot in your schedule to devote to making a change. The key is to make it a priority and schedule the time accordingly.
Start talking to people you trust about your desire for change. Who are your greatest champions? Who gives you a boost every time you see them?
Step 3: Figuring out what you want and how to get there
There are a number of things you could do to figure out your next step (and bear in mind it is likely to be a series of smaller steps rather than one big, salary-changing leap! These things take time).
One of the most useful tools for career changers is a notebook or an app like Evernote which syncs across multiple devices. In particular, take note of:
- What do you enjoy doing, in or outside work?
- What do you not enjoying doing (even if you’re good at it)?
- What do people come to you for help with?
- What tasks do you find so easy to do that you nearly can’t understand why other people can’t do them?
- What’s important to you when it comes to work? What can you absolutely not do without?
Start talking to people you trust about your desire for change. Who are your greatest champions? Who gives you a boost every time you see them? Having people around you that believe in you is a tremendous source of support.
Follow your interests and allow yourself to explore new possibilities. You never know what opportunities might open up.
Inspire yourself with stories about people who have successfully changed careers in their 40s and beyond.
One of my favourite books for this is “Never Too Late to be Great: The Power of Thinking Long” by Tom Butler-Bowdon; it’s full of real-life accounts of second careers.
Finally, get out there and try something new, even on a small-scale. Whether it’s volunteering or a night class or simply taking the time to read a new book, follow your interests and allow yourself to explore new possibilities. You never know what opportunities might open up.
If you’re still struggling to work out what direction you want to go in, do try some career coaching. As well as giving you time and space to prioritise your career change, coaching can provide support, accountability and a much-needed structure to your search for job satisfaction.
What’s the take-home message? Have hope, get well and know that there are always options.
You can do this.
You may ultimately decide to stay in your job or you may make a complete change. You may even decide to take that trip to a far-away destination!
The point is that there are many possibilities but it’s hard to see those possibilities while you’re in the midst of stress and overload.
What’s the take-home message? Have hope, get well and know that there are always options. You might not be able to see them right now but they’re there. And most importantly: You. Can. Do. This.
About the Author
Nicola Porter, PhD, is a mid-career coach for smart, capable professionals who are struggling to take stock of their career and figure out their next step.
Nicola combines everything she knows and loves about psychology with highly effective coaching tools and techniques to help you create a better quality of working life so that you can enjoy more success, confidence and satisfaction in your work – in a totally doable way.
Having masterminded her own mid-career change to create a more satisfying and flexible working life, Nicola is keen to share what works to help you do the same.
Meet Nicola and take your first step towards creating a more meaningful, enjoyable career at www.coachd.ie.