I think I’m burning out — what should I do?

A reader writes:

Thanks for running such a helpful blog! Your advice has helped me stay true to professional norms through a couple of toxic situations, which has both kept me sane and gotten me big kudos from management. They didn’t teach me this in college.

I’m in a high-stress work situation where the organization is way too reliant on me to maintain day-to-day operations. We’re working on hiring a second person for my role, but it’s likely to take six months to find someone and get them on board.

And I’m afraid that I’m burning out now. I’m tired all the time and grumpy. Worse, in the last couple weeks I seem to be losing the ability to think. I’ll read an email and be unable to make sense of the words, or unable to figure out what to do with it – it’s just a blank white fog in my brain where I should have words and ideas and next steps. My productivity is less than half what it should be, and I’m horribly embarrassed and ashamed of myself.

I’m taking sick days and leaving work early when I can, which helps a bit, but not enough. I’m also doing all the recommended self-care stuff – diet, sleep, exercise. I’m scheduling a doctor’s appointment for next week.

I have a very good boss, which is the only reason I haven’t said screw it all and bought a one-way plane ticket to Tahiti. (I hear it’s a magical place.) Any thoughts on how to approach this with him? Under normal circumstances I’d try to arrange for some vacation time, but I’m afraid a week or two of rest isn’t going to fix the problem, just delay it a while. Any substantial amount of time off is going to really hurt my department. They may need to bring in someone to cover for me, which would be very expensive. I’m afraid it’d destroy my reputation as someone who can be relied on. What options do I have? What should I be doing next?

Well, first, make it a priority to take a vacation, even if it’s just a week (but two weeks would be better). I hear you that that doesn’t feel like enough to fix things, but it’ll probably give you more clarity about what you want to do than you have currently. If you’re tired and grumpy and feeling it affecting your brain, the first order of business is to get some space and an opportunity to relax and clear your head.

I think simply doing that will give you at least a little bit of clarity. And that’ll help you figure out where you want to go from there.

And if you feel like you can’t even take a week off anytime soon, talk to your boss and explain what you’ve explained here, and that you need his help in getting away, very soon.

Speaking of which, you say that you can’t feasibly take significant amount of time off (like a month or longer?), but it’s possible that if you talked to your boss about this, it would turn out that you can. If your organization relies on you as much as it sounds like they do, your boss would probably rather find a way for you to get away and recharge for a while than to lose you permanently. (And of course, they are going to lose you permanently at some point, because that’s how business relationships work. And really, they could lose you next week if you were suddenly hospitalized or had a family health crisis to attend to, and they would find a way to make things work, because that’s generally what happens, even when you can’t imagine how they’d do it. So if they’re motivated to, they can make it work now.)

So talk to your boss and tell her what’s going on. I wouldn’t recommend this with every single boss — if she were unreasonable or a jerk, this might not be the right strategy — but you say she’s very good, so just tell her what you’ve told me. If I were your boss, I would very much want to know that you were feeling this way, and I’d especially want to know that you felt nothing could be done to help, because almost certainly something could be done if I realized you were at this point. I bet your boss feels the same. Talk to her.

As for what to say, just be as straightforward as possible. You can even say it basically like you’ve said it here. For example: “I’ve probably waited too long to raise this, but I’m realizing that I’m in real danger of burn-out from everything I’ve been carrying for the last X months/years. I know we’re working on hiring someone to help, but I also know it’s likely to six months before someone is in place, and I’m worried about how I’ll do it before then. I’m finding myself exhausted and grumpy, and I’m having trouble thinking clearly from the stress. I know it’s impacting my work and it’s definitely impacting how I feel overall. I’ve tried a number of strategies — a day off here and then, leaving early when I can, diet and exercise — but it’s not helping as much as I need. At a minimum, I need to take a vacation, but I’m concerned that a week or two away won’t fix it. I feel stuck, so I wanted to talk with you.”

You noted that you’re worried that this will hurt your reputation as someone who can be relied on. But you’ve presumably built that reputation over a long period of time, and that’s not the kind of thing that gets destroyed simply for recognizing that you’re not superhuman and you need a break. Needing a break is normal, and people especially understand it when it stems from working as hard as it sounds like you’ve been working.

Last … You didn’t say how long you’ve been there, but is it possible that it’s actually time to move on? Being in a situation where you feel this much is riding on you, and it’ll take half a year just to get some help (not to replace you, but just to supplement you), and where you’re afraid to take the time you need to take care of yourself because your team won’t be able to sustain it, and you feel like your reputation is all wrapped up in keeping this all going … is not good. Great boss or not, that’s a situation that will take a ton out of you over time, and maybe you’re nearing the end of how long you personally can do it.

That’s not something you can or should try to figure out right now — you sound like you need some time away first before you tackle that question. But it’s worth having in the back of your head. For now, though, just talk to your boss and get your more immediate needs for rest handled.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber Rose*

    My boss is forever making what he calls Bus Plans: what we would do if someone got hit by a bus. Because it’s not good for either the company or your own health to be the only person who can do something. Talk about pressure.

    Hiring someone is great, but maybe there are people already working there who could be enlisted to learn a few key things and take the pressure off?

    1. Jennifer*

      Hah, my work desperately needs Bus Plans, because we have at least one person with zero permanent staff backup and they won’t hire any for her beyond the occasional temp for six months.

    2. LoveMyJob*

      Ha! I have a “If I Run Off To Rio” folder. I’ve totally been where OP has been, and it’s tough. And a week or two off does seem like a stop-gap measure, but please try it. Go, unplug, get lost. No work contact at all. You may be surprised at how much it helps to just get out of there for awhile. The company will not cease to exist in your absence (this was a shocking revelation for me!). And everything will still be there when you get back!

      1. LoveMyJob*

        P.S. When I said it will still be there when you get back – I should add that you will be approaching it with a clearer head, you’ll be rested, and you will have a new perspective. And maybe a new game plan!

      2. Splishy*

        I’ve taken to calling it “I won the Lottery” plans. ‘Cause if I get the PowerBall, it’s so long, suckers!

        1. MaryMary*

          OldJob called referred to it as “if you win the lottery.” Someone on another team had been in a serious accident, and talking about being hit by a bus was a little too close to home. And winning the lottery is a more cheerful thought to put in everyone’s minds!

          I also had a boss who forbid us from playing the lottery as a group. She was afraid that if we won, we’d all quit at once and she’d be screwed. We even offered to let her go in with us, but she wasn’t having it.

      1. Amber Rose*

        He is pretty great. It’s also because due to some weird rules, if our president were to suddenly die or not be employed by us, we would have to change the name of the company. Then we started realizing we had too many things that would be problems if other people left and now we have plans.

    3. SL*

      Oh, I like that… my boss has a joke one, but now we’re finding ourselves needing to implement a real one (but no one got hit by a bus), and it’s been quite a scramble.

    4. Kate*

      I’ve been the only person doing my job for a good eight months now, and it IS exhausting, and it IS causing me to burn out. I’ve been fortunate to be in pretty good health this year, but I remember a week where I had a terrible cold and couldn’t take a day off. No plans to hire another person to help, although we are (supposedly) looking for an intern. Vacation is a mixed blessing because I just come back to a mountain of work that apparently no one else could do, and the stress of that almost negates the whole vacation.

      Fortunately, I’m moving after New Year’s for family reasons, so I’ve already put in notice that my last day will be in December. It is soooo hard to keep caring.

    5. T3k*

      I wish my boss would do this except she pays so little, the only ones it’d appeal to were those desperate to have a job. I’m trying to leave to find a job with a livable salary and I know they’ll be hard pressed to find someone to take my place quickly. And by the sounds of it, they’ve gone through about 4 different people in my position within the past year, I wonder why…

      1. MinB*

        That’s the exact position I’m in. Our whole organization has had nearly 70% turnover in the past year and in my department of 3 people, I’ve had 4 coworkers (two of whom were managers) leave in the past 2 years. We all love the org but the pay is terrible and leadership keeps downsizing even though we’re going through record growth.

        It’s totally unsustainable and at this point I don’t know how they’re going to replace me because I’ve absorbed so many completely unrelated duties. I’m planning on leaving in two months and I’m working on a handbook to leave to my successor. At this point it’s long enough that it qualifies as a novela and I’m only 1/4 of the way through explaining my job.

      2. popesuburban*

        Yikes, are you me? Because over the last three years, my position has burned through about six people, including my direct predecessor, who was in and out of the hospital before she resigned and let me take over the bulk of the role. The combination of dysfunction and low pay make this job a killer. I’m trying like mad to get out, but I’m concerned that our reputation precedes me, and that there is no way to quantify “I have two simultaneous full-time job here in addition to absorbing random tasks” to induce people to at least interview me. The icing on the cake is that my boss skimps on benefits as well as pay, so I have to parcel out my five vacation days for the year; taking a week would be glorious and horrible at once.

    6. CAA*

      We do something similar, but one of my employees suggested that it would be a lot nicer to say “wins the lottery” instead of “gets hit by a bus” when we were talking about him, so now we have “lottery plans”.

  2. My 2 cents*

    Also, if it’s going to take SIX months to hire someone to take some of the workload off of you then you are working in a bad place. You can have someone good hired in a month or two at the most, if they tell you longer then they aren’t trying hard enough and that is a sign that they aren’t valuing you. I work in a nonprofit with NO extra money and I had the same issue and had a meltdown on my boss one day because I was so burnt out. Within a week we had a temp in there to pick up the slack and a month later had hired someone permanent, so I know it can be done, we found a way.

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s not uncommon in government-type places where you have to get approval for the budget line first.

      1. notinhr*

        Yep, need to make sure there’s FTE for it. And if there isn’t, well, you’re not getting that person no matter how much you need them.

      2. Sascha*

        And there are often rules regarding how long postings can be remained open, a minimum number of interviews, etc. It’s pretty common for hirings to take at least 3 months at my university, even if they are in a rush…usually 3 months is considered “pushing it through.”

        1. Lia*

          Seconding this. The fastest internal hire I’m aware of took 3 months almost to the day from job posting to new person’s first day, and this was a case where the manager was pushing HR and the search committee as fast as possible. External hires often take 6+ months and for leadership positions, closer to 9 months is not uncommon.

          Heck, even getting approval for a new line can take months. Temps can be hired in emergencies (the dreaded bus scenario), but that can take a couple of weeks to process if there’s anyone at ALL who can step in even part-time to help.

          1. Sans*

            Then they need to hire a temp to help this person out. At least a bit of the pressure can be lifted until someone permanent comes in.

      3. oldfashionedlovesong*

        Apparently the job I now hold at a government agency was open for eighteen months– 18 months!– until I accepted the offer. (Knowing what I know now about the extreme level of dysfunction at all levels here, it’s not surprising.)

        1. Tracey*

          I’ve stumbled on a couple of those myself. Generally, it seems, the jobs that tend to be open are the dregs (at least in my large company where we can transfer). The high-desire jobs are taken by someone who is smart enough to snag them quickly when they open. :)

    2. KHB*

      That can vary a lot from job to job. If LW’s job is highly specialized in terms of skills or expertise, there might not be a ready supply of good local candidates. It might take a lot of time to find the right person, and that person may then need time to arrange a long-distance (or even international) move. Not all roles can be filled in a month or two.

    3. insert pun here*

      This really depends on the industry and the skills needed, though. It’s not uncommon in my industry for it to take 6 months (from posting a position to first day butt-in-chair) to hire someone at a mid-level position like mine.

      That said, hiring a temp and offloading what can be offloaded… that should be doable, unless this person is working on like, nuclear weapons technology or is a brain surgeon or something.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      I was wondering about that part too. Is the job even posted yet? If not I wonder if they were just paying lip service like yeah yeah sure we’ll get someone. Sounds like it’ll take them a few months to get trained tho too

    5. Jillociraptor*

      I thought OP was saying it would take them 6 months to hire AND get the person up to speed enough to make a helpful dent in her workload, which makes sense to me.

      But I think the other part of your point stands — it should absolutely be doable to at least farm certain sets of tasks off to some folks in the interim, while also hiring someone to handle those permanently.

    6. heatherskib*

      Exactly this! I work for a state agency, and every position has taken a MINIMUM Of 6 months to fill. This caused a huge problem last year when out of our 5 person team- 1 person quit without notice, one person left for school, another gave notice, and the 4th was diagnosed within terminal cancer in a two week period! You never know what’s going to happen, so always have a drastic contingency plan! Now I’m fighting burn out from the turnover before that and the overall craziness before that.

    7. Hiding on the Internet Today*

      I would dearly love to be able to categorically say that I could fill an open position with a good candidate in a month or two at most. With my team, our work, and our goals, that has not been possible. Some specialities and skill sets are just really hard to find.

      What I can do is get rid of work load. Explain to people that X commitments will not be met until I’m fully staffed. That the SLA on Task Y will be twice as long until I’m fully staffed. That optional Projects like Z can be expected to make zero progress until I’m fully staffed. It makes for some hard choices, but prioritizing work so that my staff carries a reasonable human being sized work load (complete with the ability to take off for vacation and sick days) is my job as their manager.

      1. Anonna Miss*

        Can I come work for you? LOL.

        Two senior staff left at the beginning of the summer, and we still haven’t found replacements, so I’ve been picking up part of the load. It’s frustrating because much of this is only urgent to my boss. She still wants a 1-day turnaround on emails, X done in Y days, etc. Half the time, clients don’t care much, or would possibly understand, but her solution is for us to just work longer hours. Between this and the micromanagement, I’m likely to answer the phone the next time a recruiter calls, instead of letting it go to voice mail.

    1. Anna*

      I had a laugh at that too.

      I hope you can get a break, OP. You really do sound like you need it and if nothing else, it will give you mental space to evaluate how you really feel about continuing to work there.

  3. Joy*

    Love the Agents of Shield reference – and was Alison’s “clear your head” a happy coincidence or a shout-out?

    OP, I hope you’re able to take the time off that you need.

      1. Joy*


        One of the main characters on the shows spends the first season thinking he spent some time recovering from injuries in Tahiti, and whenever someone mentions it, he automatically says: “It’s a magical place.” He later finds out he was brought back from the dead and given false memories and was never in Tahiti.

        So your line about going on vacation to “clear your head” was a great response!

        1. Letter Writer*

          My partner is also in a rough work situation right now, so on bad days we send each other the current price of a ticket to Tahiti. It’s perhaps not a good sign that the joke is about literal death, resurrection, and brainwashing to forget it all.

          1. Jessica (tc)*

            Yeah, don’t forget that in the end, that trip to Tahiti? “It sucked.” ;~) I’m sure your Tahiti would be a more beautiful getaway, though.

  4. Anon Today*

    These are not short-term fixes – and it sounds like you need something soon! – but there a re a number of really good renewal programs for community-serving leaders out there: Rockwood Leadership Institute, the Shannon Leadership Institute, various offerings from the Center for Courage and Renewal.

    I’m a current participant in the Shannon Leadership Institute and can vouch for it as an antidote to my own burnout. Lots of friends have recommended Rockwood and the Center for Courage and Renewal programs.

    The Shannon focuses on identifying the values that you want to guide your life, and aligning your work to those values. For me, the big release was in realizing that while I was aligned with the mission of my employer the day-to-day operating values were out of whack (they valued competition, urgency, achievement – all good things but not what drives me, which is more along the lines of helpfulness, reflection, taking the long view).

    Rockwood more explicitly focuses on developing skills for self-care for folks in the social justice world. The Center for Courage and Renewal offers a wide variety of workshops and programs, many of which draw on Quaker practice).

    I’ll put links in a comment. Happy to talk personally if you want to connect via email.

    1. Cucumberzucchini*

      I think an all-inclusive trip to a resort, full spa services, lounging beachside with a daquiri would be time and money better spent.

      1. Anon Today*

        Really? I considered doing something like that instead, but I worried that I’d come back after two weeks and everything would be the same (except my savings account balance).

        1. willow*

          I think some people may benefit from a structured self-help program, but many people already know these things about themselves and are simply in a context where they feel unable to take the break they need. Those people need to be confident in their ability to take two weeks off to relax, not enroll in yet another demand on their time and effort.

          If the program you selected worked for you, that’s wonderful. But it’s a rather extreme answer to the issue of feeling you can’t take a vacation!

          1. Anon Today*

            This is so interesting. I’m not pushing back, I’m just surprised at this response. But then again, I’m a person who has taken several left turns in my career path (I also once left a great job to spend a year living at a retreat center to study prayer and community).

    2. Beancounter in Texas*

      This sounds awesome! I’m not burnt out, but I feel my wheels are spinning and I’m clueless as to what to do. Thanks for posting this!

  5. UKAnon*

    I second the suggestion to talk to your boss, OP. If they don’t handle it well then that’s a clear indication that you need to start searching. But even if it’s true that you can’t take that much time off, it should be possible to rearrange some of your workload to help you bring your hours back down to (close to) normal.

    Your burn out will hurt your company much more than taking some time and getting your workload under control – already you aren’t concentrating and might be making mistakes. Any good company will recognise this and help you.

  6. Anon Today*

    Shannon Leadership Institute: http://www.wilder.org/Community-Leadership/James-P-Shannon-Leadership-Institute/Pages/default.aspx

    Rockwood Leadership Institute: http://rockwoodleadership.org/

    Center for Courage and Renewal: http://www.couragerenewal.org/

    I should note that the Shannon is held in Minnesota and Rockwood typically in Northern California, but participants come in from around the country. The Center for Courage and Renewal offers programs around the world.

    1. heatherskib*

      I was checking these out, and I’m a bit disappointed that the Shannon doesn’t really give details like due dates, session dates, etc. I know in my case there are certain times that I have to be available for work during the year, and having that data would be helpful for me to look into.

        1. heatherskib*

          Thanks! I was looking for it the other day for about an hour…. Now I’m trying to figure out how to bring it up to my bosses….

  7. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    I have an employee who is struggling with this right now, and as much as I am trying to be direct, I feel like I can’t quite communicate how much I’m willing to do to help her feel better because she is truly that valuable. You want a couple weeks off now? DONE. You want to rearrange other people so that you can pass off tasks you don’t like and you don’t ever have to do them again? DONE!. You need to work mostly at home for a month? Leave a 2pm every day for now? No problem. Really. She’s very selfless, very focused on what the business needs and not what she needs, and really does not want to ask for special favors. My point with her is that she is, in fact, special and extra valuable, so she can have special favors and extra flexibility and it makes sense to give it to her. She is so willing and helpful that I see why she’s tired. I want to help her be not tired and instead be happy. When it comes down to it, this is really about her managing her own guilt and discomfort about needing a break and needing change. If that might be the case for you, own that this might be more about your own discomfort with asking for help than an actual barrier to your boss giving you what you need, and give your boss a chance to help you out here.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Yeah, that might be me. My boss has been literally telling me that he doesn’t want me to feel alone in this, which has been going in one ear and out the other. I’m the only person in the organization with technical skills that are not easily learned (or hired for), so I pretty much am alone in needing to deal with this stuff, right? Maybe not. Thanks for the perspective.

      1. WorkingFromCafeInCA*

        This might be way down the road- but, if some of the technical skills you refer to involve a particular software or sequence of things on a computer, might I suggest you make a screencast with audio recording of you talking through everything you’re doing. I was once the only person at my job who knew how to do a Huge Biannual Process, and when we hired my replacement, I walked her through things in person, but I also left her screencasts of me doing the actual thing. She could go back and refer to those any time she wanted- see which button I clicked and when, and which application I opened next, etc. etc. etc. It was also a relief for me because I knew she had this perma-resource with the how and why. She may have done things differently after I left, but I know it was a big help when she was first starting (especially because she didn’t start Huge Biannual Process until a few months after our initial training, so our conversations would have largely been forgotten).
        Best of luck and I hope you get your rest time!

    2. VolunteerCoordinatorinNOVA*

      I know when I was feeling burnt out at my last job, my boss would talk to me about taking off/bringing in temp support for the next holiday season and some other ideas. The problem I had was I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that it was more frustrating to have those conversations. I felt like it was lip service to make me feel better, even if it wasn’t. Every day it seemed like I had more to do so the idea of taking a vacation seemed almost cruel. Maybe it would be helpful to sit down with her and explore some of the options and how you see them working realistically. I know when I’m burnout, logic and linear thinking isn’t my strong point, its all about reacting and handling emergencies.

      1. Jeannamarie*

        Yes, those frustrating conversations about how to reduce your workload… The problem with bringing in/training someone else is 1) guess who has to fight the battle to justify it; 2) guess who has to find time to create the training materials and train them, and 3) guess who fixes whatever they mess up.

        I program/administer a database. The other person who worked with it left a few years ago, and I was given all his work. I also manage the computer systems. The person who did that left a couple years ago, and I was given her work. I should be training one of my coworkers to back me up. She keeps cancelling the training meetings, with apologies, because she’s too busy. She’s burning out too. We are owned by a cost-cutting investment billionaire who expects us to do more with less; requests for help over the last few years have been met by shrugs and “We’re all busy”. When you’re already burning out, “fighting corporate” just becomes too much. I’m planning “sick days” and using vacation to job hunt.

  8. F.*

    I am sitting here with tears on my face. I could have written this letter. While I can take partial days of PTO here and there, I cannot take a full day off, and even then I get texts, e-mails and phone calls. No one, and I mean NO ONE, at my small company can cover my position, and I would come back to all of the work I had before I was out plus whatever accumulated while I was out if I took off. I am currently doing the work of 2-1/2 positions: HR Manager (my “real” job), Administrative Assistant, and 1/2 of Sales Support. The Sales Support person will not be replaced. We just hired the third person in the past year for the Admin position this week (they don’t like to be alone in the lobby all day and quit), and the mere thought of training her on top of all of my other duties is quite possibly the straw that will break this fragile camel’s back and send me into a complete nervous breakdown. Management is very sympathetic, but we are a small company in a highly-competitive industry with a slim margin, so hiring a temp or adding positions is totally out of the budget. And it’s not just me, our Accountant is doing the work of 2 positions, too. We are both “mature” women, and simply cannot quit and find other jobs easily (yes, age discrimination is very alive and well out there, especially with the extra costs of health insurance priced by age imposed by the Affordable Care Act, but that is another rant.) I feel better just writing this, and I think the advice given to the OP is very good. I just need to figure out how to implement it.

    1. Doodle*

      This is such a sad post — sending good thoughts out to you. I think a lot of us have been there. I don’t have a solution, and it sounds like you’re doing most of the things you can be doing, but I wanted to make sure you know that there are people out here rooting for you!

      1. F.*

        Thank you. It means a lot to be validated like this. Not everyone understands. I have been accused of having “Stockholm Syndrome” by a poster on this blog (in a previous post) who didn’t understand.

    2. NJ Anon*

      I have a similar issue and feel your pain. Yes, age discrimination exists and it’s not so easy to get another job, but you should still look. It can’t hurt. I took an extended vacation. It was wonderful but no one does my job when I am not there and it is waiting for me, and then some, when I get back which just adds to the stress.

    3. Judy*

      Not that you’re angling for solutions, but is there any way the lobby can be reconfigured so the admin doesn’t sit there? The place I work has a phone and phone list and a few chairs in the lobby. We have an admin, but she’s not a receptionist, she just lets in the folks like the ones that deliver the water bottles and the ones that change out the floor mats. If I have a vendor visiting, I walk down and let them in. If they’re alone in the lobby all day, are they actually needed in the lobby?

      1. Kerry (Like the County in Ireland)*

        “Management is very sympathetic, but we are a small company in a highly-competitive industry with a slim margin,”

        So basically you are in a failing company, because a successful company can’t run 5 positions on the backs of two people for very long. Put into effect a plan for when the company does fail, and get your resume out there. And like misspiggy says, start pushing back and taking care of yourself because your sympatheic management isn’t going to.

      2. Manders*

        To be honest, as an admin who sits in a lobby-like area but has more than receptionist duties, I would love to have a place where I could be alone to focus for long stretches of the day. It sounds like this admin should have had plenty of work to do, work that F. is now picking up. I wonder if the admin actually meant, “I need more than one person in the lobby, I can’t do this alone.”

    4. misspiggy*

      This sounds rough. If your company is operating on margins that slim with two people doing double loads, it may not be truly competitive and may be on its way out anyway. It makes no sense for you to ruin your health for such a weak company, particularly as that will put you in a worse position if the company goes bust and you don’t end up with the energy to jobhunt effectively.

      I’d suggest working out a healthy number of hours per week that you can work and still enjoy life, including some vacation time. Across all the roles you’re covering, write down the things that are essential and the real amount of time it takes on average to do them. Keep taking things out of that list until you have a list of tasks that fit the time you’ve allocated. Then do those things and not others.

      You could tell management in advance, but don’t ask them – tell them that henceforward you’ll be doing x and not y. If they push back, ask whether they would prefer y and not x. If they are as sympathetic as you claim, they won’t push back, except perhaps to suggest different things to prioritise. You might also find that if you’re less exhausted the jobhunting is more successful.

      1. Chorizo*

        Totally agree. Sounds like the OP’s company’s business model isn’t sustainable.
        In a bad economy, employees will put up with this kind of abuse because they need to keep their jobs. Hopefully, as the economy improves, employees will have more options and won’t have to sacrifice like this.

      2. Chani*

        “It makes no sense for you to ruin your health for such a weak company”

        Yes. And the “ruin your health” part is serious. I’ve been unable to work for over a year now, and in significant pain for a good portion of that, because I missed the warning signs and thought I was just being “lazy” when I desperately wanted to stay in bed. It literally hurt to think, for over a YEAR straight. Even now I’m not quite well enough to actually work, and I don’t know whether or not I can get any better. If I was really unlucky, the pain might not have responded to treatment at *all*. This is a real thing. Take care of your body, please – don’t end up like me. :(

    5. Teresa the VII*

      OP + F./2 = Me.

      I can relate so well to this. We have the front desk island + mediocre pay and insulting bonuses that causes me to lose at least 1 of 2 admins a year, therefore I am still doing work I did when I was an admin 4 years ago in addition to my actual job because I cant get them up to speed before they quit. Luckily I have a pretty good Bus plan written for the basic admin role so our constantly rotating temps dont have to bug me with questions every second of the day.

      I am at OPs level of constantly feeling sick and dreading every new work day. My loathing for some of the people I work with is unbearable. On top of that, my long-term boyfriend moved to another state. I have been trying to find a job long-distance and that isn’t going very well (though I am gleaning as much useful info here as Alison can provide), but I cant move without having a job lined up. He doesn’t understand why I just wont quit and move (I do want to move because it would get me much closer to my aging parents and the rest of my family). So I am miserable at work and just as stressed when not at work.

      I recognize that what the OP is feeling, if not helped by an extended break, are definitely signs that it may be time to move on. Trust me, if not for plans to relocate, I would have left this job 8 months ago. And when I do leave, I will have not an ounce of guilt about leaving.

      Good Luck OP and F.

    6. Beancounter in Texas*

      While age discrimination does happen, I work in a company where it does not. The Boss is 77, his portfolio advisor is 78, his former admin asst was hired after age 55 (retired at 69) and my former supervisor was hired at age 58 and she retired at 77. Perhaps we’re a rare bird for it, but working here has taught me not to dismiss a person because of their age.

    7. Artemesia*

      My husband had a small firm and I can guarantee you that health insurance was priced by age long before the ACA. Their firm was old and each partner’s policy for just normal health insurance was over 20K a year.

    8. AG*

      Holy smokes, the comments! Talk about being unsympathetic. I know what it’s like to feel like a martyr for your employer, but you really do have to look out for yourself. Life is just too short to be miserable and stressed out all the time. Have you looked into hiring interns, either un- or low-paid? I know a lot of people frown upon it, but as a former unpaid intern myself, I know that giving someone with zero experience a taste of your industry and a few responsibilities will take some of the menial and time consuming tasks off your hands and will help them get their foot in the door. This is of course dependent on you not getting stuck with a dud who will make life harder on you. Ultimately though, you should start looking for a different job. You have nothing to lose by trying.

    9. Panda Bandit*

      Please start looking for another job. The place you work for is failing and it’s only a matter of time until you’re out of a job anyway.

  9. Rubyrose*

    “but it’s likely to take six months to find someone and get them on board.”

    Alison is right – if they are motivated, they can make it work now. Take her advice. I bet they can get this resolved in two months, rather than six, if they are willing.

    I’m writing this right now on my second day calling in sick because the stress of working 70 hr weeks since May, supporting both onshore and offshore staff, has finally done me in. I’ve been on the IT install where everything that could go wrong did. I can’t think straight and my motivation to deal with unprofessional people is gone. I’m actually recuperating faster than I thought I would. I checked my emails this morning; the time I spent training my folks in better communication with themselves and others has paid off. The place is not falling apart.

    The good news — the install went OK. And I was just informed that a formal job offer elsewhere is coming within 24 hrs!!!

  10. Persephone Mulberry*

    Agreed 100% on both of Alison’s points. Last fall I was under a ton of stress getting a huge project rolled out, and the two-week vacation I had planned at the “finish line” was the only thing that kept me going some days. I came back refreshed and ready to tackle the next thing. 8 months later, I am again feeling overburdened and worn down. I again took a week of vacation to catch my breath…and didn’tcome back with that rejuvenated feeling. I’m taking it as a sign that it’s time to explore new opportunities.

  11. notinhr*

    I’m curious and concerned about the 6 months to get a qualified candidate and get them in. I work in a place where we have waited 6 months, but that’s due to getting the position approved and through HR. Once its posted, thought, its 1-2 months depending on the candidate’s availability to start. Is HR the issue, OP? Or is it more not being able to get qualified employees on the salary/benefits offered, or the hiring timeline is so long, good candidates get other jobs while waiting to hear back from you? Because if so, those issues aren’t going to suddenly go away. They may take *a year* to fill a temp position, if they don’t value it enough or think its a priority and that the status quo can keep going on without a threat to the business.

    And, hey, if its a strict 6 month timeline, have they even *started* it?

    There’s a rule of thumb on captain awkward about how long can you deal with the status quo. Can you hold out 6 months? What about 12? Or never?

    Take your vacation, OP. If things fall apart when you are gone, well… that is not your fault for not staffing appropriately, and maybe your boss needs the kick in the pants.

    And i’d recommend looking for another job where they do adequately support their staff.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      This just varies, though. It was five months from submitting my application to starting my last job, and I don’t know how long the role was open before then.

      1. I might as well be made of stone*

        A six month timeline isn’t in itself a sign of toxic awfulness unless it’s for a low-skill, entry-level, “seriously anyone will do” position.

        OldJob was reasonably well-managed, but it wasn’t unusual to have a hiring timeline like this for even mid-level roles:

        -Management sees a need for a position in January and asks for HR approval to post an opening
        -HR approval takes about a month, position is posted in February
        -Company policy requires an opening be posted for 45 days before any interviews are scheduled
        -Company chooses 10 candidates by the end of March, with interviews scheduled throughout the month of April
        -Company narrows candidate pool down to final 2 by early May, with follow up interviews in late May
        -Company makes top candidate an offer early June, top candidate declines offer a week later
        -Company makes offer to second choice mid-June, second choice accepts a week later with a July 1 start date

  12. Van Wilder*

    I second everything Alison suggested, and also: therapy.

    It’s awesome that you’re doing self care and going to the doctor. That is probably stopping you from sinking into a deep depression, but therapy can be an added help. I don’t know what your experience of therapy is, but if you find a good therapist, they can really help you with concrete suggestions and give you some good perspective.

    Good luck!

    1. Anon for this one*

      Also, consider getting health checks. My serious depression manifested mostly as flatness, grumpiness, sleep issues and brain fog for a long period (got worse, but that’s another story). My sister has hypothyroidism and her symptoms included tiredness, grumpiness and low level depression. The right treatment has made a world of difference.

      If anything like this is complicating things, it can be even harder to shift without help.

  13. LBK*

    Honestly, it sounds to me like it’s time for the OP to move on. I think it’s nearly impossible to revive your motivation to do a job that you’ve burned out on even if the things that are currently making it hard are fixed, because ultimately what being burned out means is that the work itself is no longer enough to keep you interested in doing it. You can work too many hours for too little pay and with too little support for years as long as you still enjoy and care about the work you’re doing. But you can’t sustain doing work you don’t care about doing even if all of those factors are changed.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yeah, that’s what I thought too. I’m burned out myself and frankly, a vacation doesn’t leave me “rested and rejuvenated,” it just means you spend more time catching up and the second I’m back in the same environment I feel like I never left. Which is the real problem. It doesn’t matter about your vacation if you’re in the same problem the second you come back, and are they going to make anything better for you while you are here?

      But….well, I guess it depends on how supporting her boss is and if they’re willing to do anything about it. My place of work definitely isn’t willing to make any compromises to make me less unhappy, so I soldier on because I can take anything forever.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, and going on a vacation during a burn out can even be more demotivating sometimes because realizing how much happier and relaxed you are when you’re not working only highlights how much the job is sucking the life out of you.

    2. Kyrielle*

      It may depend. OP may not yet be burned out, but may be *too exhausted to function*, based on what’s written here. OP still seems to care…just tired/grumpy/can’t think clearly. If two weeks of vacation doesn’t help, I’d be confident it’s burnout. If it does, OP may have narrowly avoided burnout instead.

      Two weeks of vacation is a good idea anyway, to get a clear(er) head to think about whether you want to stay there or not, OP, and if you do want to stay, what conditions are necessary to make it work. Making plans while desperately exhausted can be done, but it’s preferable to do it after some rest if you possibly can. Even if you end at the same decision, you’ll be more confident of it, I suspect.

  14. Chrissi*

    Take it from someone who is in the middle of leaving her job (not quite voluntarily) due to burn-out that resulted in performance issues – take some time to take care of yourself!!! It’s probably going to take more than 2 weeks, frankly. My problem was that I was certain that it was all my fault, that if I just worked harder I could get it all done, and that I seemed to think I could simply will myself to concentrate and get better. Doesn’t work like that. In my case, I have a terrible manager and when I would go to her w/ those problems, she would listen and then just tell me that I needed to get all the work done. Every single time. I felt so ashamed and guilty that I got behind, but now I realize that the workload had become increasingly unreasonable and part of it was on my manager for not caring and just working me until I broke.

    Sorry for the venting, but if you take anything from this comment – take this: TAKE A BREAK!

  15. Robyn*

    I came here just to say I loved the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reference.

    In regards to the issue at hand, I hope you get the rest you need!

  16. Jerzy*

    I was only three months in at my current job when I was in desperate need of time off. Long-story short, I was dealing with a death in the family and trying to sell my house at the same time, all of which came to a head within days. Plus, there was the stress of having just recently starting a new job and feeling a little like a fish out of water. I was teetering very close to an emotional breakdown, so I just walked into the office manager’s office and asked him frankly about making some vacation time available to me, despite not having accrued it yet. He knew about the death of my nephew and I received no flack from anyone about needing a little emotional rest with my husband (who also took that week off of work) and even though I am currently still a little in the red on my vacation time, I know it was the right move. I needed time with fewer responsibilities to clear my head and now I’m much more productive and feeling more capable of doing my job.

    Take some time for yourself, OP. The world won’t fall apart if you do, but you might if you don’t.

  17. Chris*

    This happened to me – the same thing, I literally could not get my brain to think. It was scary and embarrassing. I was a go to person who could be trusted with the high profile project and yes my productivity was less than half of what it should have been. I couldn’t even see my options.

    I did tell my boss, who tried to reassure me and rearrange some things. But didn’t take enough off my plate. then I tried to quit. And instead she gave me 3 months to work part time (literally 2 days a week and no checking email in between, with a very limited scope of responsibility) and it worked wonders. It took me a full month to decompress and just start to get my cognitive skills back to where they needed to be, I think it took about 2 months to really feel like myself again.

    I should note I was a highly valued, very long term employee with a great relationship with this boss, and the time off was not paid except what I could cover with PTO. But it was the best thing I ever did.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Oh hey, that’s exactly how I’m feeling, and I’m wondering if I’m going to need a similar arrangement to recover. I’m glad to hear it worked for you.

  18. mina*

    I sincerely hope this person’s boss does listen and does care enough to help them. When my time of crisis came, I got thrown to the wolves. He just carefully looked in the other direction, didn’t want to know anything. I’m still here but it’s a bitter pill to swallow, knowing what they did to me… and that they don’t care at all. Over 12 years here and this is how little anyone cares.

  19. Bostonian*

    On the question of your reputation as a reliable person: Reliability doesn’t just mean that someone knows they can assign you work and you’ll get it done. It can also mean that your assessments of when things will get done usually match reality and that you’re upfront about it when something isn’t achievable or is starting to go wrong. Someone who says “You want me to do this project in 2 weeks but it will take 3” and then delivers it in 3 weeks is reliable. Someone who agrees to 2 weeks but proactively comes back at day 4 and says “this is taking longer than expected due to X and I’ll need 3 weeks or Y help” is being reliable. We’ve seen letters from people taking medication that made them foggy who were advised to tell their boss and/or coworkers what was going on, because if you’re honest about the potential errors in your work or your potential reduced productivity, your manager can still rely on what you tell her.

    It may help to adjust your thinking, because it’s not realistic to have a goal of being someone who can always get everything done in any situation. Aim to be someone whose judgment and word other people can trust, who can be counted on to follow through when she says she can do something, and to be honest when she can’t. Pretending to your boss that everything is fine while your productivity tanks may well do more harm to your reputation than admitting to the problem, if your boss is a good one. (Of course, there are plenty of bad bosses who would react badly to honesty and have completely unrealistic expectations, so know your situation.)

    1. Ad Astra*

      People are sometimes unfair or unrealistic when evaluating their coworkers’ reliability, so I can understand how the OP worries about her reputation even if she realizes her workload is unreasonable. But she’s so tired she can’t even read, so something has to change. Your suggestions about managing expectations (from others and herself) are excellent.

    2. Jillociraptor*

      This is a really excellent point. OP, I’ve been in your situation and one thing that worsened it for me (which may or may not resonate with you at all–not trying to put words in your mouth) was the pressure I was putting on myself by keeping my professional self-worth wrapped up in the idea that everyone was relying on me. It was so important for me to feel needed and necessary. I think this is something we all need in our work (to feel like we’re not just an interchangeable widget), but I had taken it to a pathological degree. For your sake, and for your company’s, you just can’t have the world on your shoulders.

      Echoing some other commenters, I think there’s a lot more your boss can do here than you’re assuming is possible. I’ve been coaching a couple of people this summer who are in similar situations to yours, and I know that the stress of this situation puts blinders on you where you don’t think that it’s possible to do anything to make it better. But almost universally, when the folks I was working with asked their bosses, the bosses had great ideas that made immediate impacts. I hope that’s true for you! Good luck.

      1. F.*

        Many of us, especially women, are programmed to be this way. And as an eldest child, my sense of responsibility is on warp speed.
        Regarding being an interchangeable widget (or piece of a machine), I recently dreamt that I was C3PO (the perfectionist droid from Star Wars). I had a screwdriver in my hand and was removing my parts one by one while thinking I was self-destructing. My psyche was definitely telling me something about my job and my life. I hope this column today is as much help to the OP and others in this situation as it has been to me.

  20. Rebecca Too*

    This very same thing happened to me a while ago….the burned out feeling, that is. I was in a spot where I was literally carrying the department on my shoulders; my boss had been fired, the other assistant admin was only on the job for 2 months, and it seemed like every single person was relying on me for everything. I got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore, so I approached my HR manager, and asked her if I would be able to take a personal leave of absence. It turned out that I was eligible for 30 days (unpaid, but I could swing it) leave if it was approved by my former manager’s boss. Not only did he approve it, he encouraged me to do it, saying he didn’t want to lose me permanently, and that they would find a way to manage without me. It was the best thing I could have done for myself! I’m back to work now, recharged, happy, and fully committed to my team….and my new boss, who was hired during my LOA. We get along great, and I’m so grateful to my company for allowing me the opportunity to take that time off, rather than watch me flame out and eventually leave the job. If you can swing it, DO IT! It’s totally worth it.

  21. CJ*

    Having been and seen many a “bus target”, I think it’s also worth talking to your manager about the job roles themselves. It sounds like your position is a key bottleneck, possibly with skills and expectations that are not replicated elsewhere in the organizational structure–especially since you imply that things won’t get done if you take a significan vacation. Which, hey, job security, but boy howdy that turns the pressure up to about 12. Management may be aware of the general workflow bottleneck and pressure if they’re giving you back-up, but it makes me wonder if that’s just making the mouth of the bottle slightly wider rather than addressing the actual procedural jam.

  22. Lillian McGee*

    Oh, this was me! For three years, I was you, letter-writer. My org could not hire someone to share my burden due to funding (we’re non-profit). I would be in the ED’s office on pretty much a monthly basis in tears. I was job hunting (half-heartedly). But I didn’t up and quit because I really love the org’s mission and I could always muster just enough motivation to come in and do the work. It’s understood in my org that burnout is inevitable, so management really encourages use of PTO, flex time etc. And after three years we got a huge grant and I was no longer a one-person department! I hope it all works out for you.

  23. Admin_Kathy*

    Take the week off. I’ve been where you are, and I didn’t think a week would be enough so I just kept plugging along. I finally reached the breaking point, and did take only a week – and it made a HUGE difference in my mental well-being. I came back a different person.

  24. MaryMary*

    I don’t know why today is Burn Out Day, but CapHillStyle has a post on the same topic. She also links to a couple other sources with posts on how to tell it’s time to move on: http://www.caphillstyle.com/capitol/2015/08/19/realworktalk-knowing-when-to-move-on.html

    OP, when I was completely burned out at OldJob, the only way I could keep my sanity was to leave. I had been talking to my manager about the situation for months. They tried getting me part time help, they promised me in 12-18 months we could promote someone into a team lead spot to help me, and when I put in my notice they offered to let me become part time. I had hit the wall and I was just DONE. The organization survived, my reputation is mostly intact (I’m pretty sure a couple former coworkers think I’m a flake), and I have a new job with a managable work load. Best of luck to you, whatever you choose to do.

    1. SL*

      CHS doesn’t give out work advice as often as she used to, but I always found her responses to be reasoned and thoughtful, similar to Alison’s!

  25. Beth*

    I’m glad you’re seeing a doctor soon, because certain dietary deficiencies have exactly those symptoms and are very common! If anyone’s identifying with OP, they might want to go for a checkup just in case.

    1. Lore*

      Also medication side effects. I at one point was grappling with an episode of depression that had overlapping symptoms of exhaustion and brain fog. Coincidentally I changed to different birth control in the thick of this time, and within a week I felt like a different person. The situational factors didn’t become any better–and I don’t want to suggest that your work situation doesn’t need addressing!–but my feeling of hopeless paralysis in the face of it changed dramatically. Take all the other workplace advice but don’t cancel your dr appt!

  26. Jake*

    I was in that situation 8 months ago. I was holding 3 roles and my bosses weren’t fulfilling their own responsibilities. Had the talk with the boss. Nothing changed.

    Got new boss 4 months ago, he recognized I was on the edge and hired one new person to take the load off 2 months ago, which has helped, however not as much as you think.

    During the 6 months of 65 to 75 hours a week and serving 3 roles without anybody doing the bosses duties as well, a lot of balls fell to the floor on both mine and the two bosses end. A lot.

    Now, even though we are relatively close to being properly staffed, we spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning up old messes. We are still radically under

    What I’m trying to say is that just because you have a supplement coming in 6 months doesn’t mean the damage won’t be for a much longer term than that. You need to get this under control now, and if they aren’t willing to do that, moving on may be your only choice.

  27. Paloma Pigeon*

    I hate to sound curmudgeonly, but I have had three crucial projects derailed this summer due to vacations. I don’t begrudge anyone their rightful vacation time at all. I think the global issue is that companies are staffed so leanly that everyone is doing the work of 2.5 people, and when someone goes on vacation there is literally no one to pick up the pieces while they are gone. But it’s seriously affected deliverables – our audit was delayed for over a month due to travel/vacations, and for those of you who work in small nonprofits, you know how crucial having updated financials are for funding applications.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yup. At this point, if anyone is out for any reason (much less multiple people!), dominoes start falling hard.

      I say this as the only one in my group here today. God, I hope nothing important/bad happens on my lone watch, which guarantees that it probably will.

      I’m so sick of being short-staffed every dang day. I thought the economy was going better, the head of our org is doing a public money dance gloating about fundraising, but still nothing changes and our office is broke? Forever?

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Yep I think it’s fallout from the recession. Companies realized after laying off massive amounts of people that Hey a single person can do A , B, and part of C job and a lot of places haven’t replaced all the prior roles they used to have and kept on working with this lean staff

      1. Paloma Pigeon*

        And it’s not just small nonprofits either – it’s Fortune 500 companies too. My DH works for one that has the same staffing issues – HR not allowing them to up their headcount.

  28. Ad Astra*

    If only I had seen this when it ran, which was well before I finished my journalism degree and took a job as a newspaper copy editor: http://gawker.com/5002323/study-on-journalist-burnout-explains-why-you-hate-your-job-so–much

    OP, once you’ve taken Allison’s advice to go on vacation and clear your head, you may want to start thinking about how long you want to stay at this job. Which of your problems are likely to improve through actions like hiring a new employee or redistributing the work load? Which problems are tied to your company or industry culture and likely can’t be changed? What are you willing to put up with?

  29. Anon for this today*

    Wow, OP this really strikes home with me. I was majorly overworked at a place for 2 years (not long but still damaging). It really took a toll on both my physical and mental health. I repeatedly asked for help from my boss but she was just an awful manager (she had no business being a manager but was the owner’s daughter). It didn’t help that my other boss and people senior to me were pretty much abusive (threw things at me, would constantly yell, very demanding, etc).

    Any way I will spare you the rest of the details and share with you what I learned. When I got a new job, I believe I had a type of PTSD, I was afraid to talk to my boss or co-workers for fear of them exploding, I didn’t know what to do with myself with a normal workload, I couldn’t relax, etc. It took me several months to calm down and I still feel very bitter to the company who overworked me. The old company did give me a raise when I was there but did nothing to try to keep me when I left and they ended up hiring not one, not two, not three, but four people to replace me.

    It’s just not worth it OP. Please find something else if you don’t get help soon, your health is what is most important. What difference is it going to make? You’re going to help a company make profits at a detriment to your health?

  30. Letter Writer*

    Thanks for the great feedback everyone. I’ve been having trouble seeing my way out of this one (which hey, burnout symptom), so this is really useful. We have a couple major things happening this week and next, but I’m going to see if I can take the following week off. I’d been thinking that it isn’t a real fix and therefore not worth considering, but you’re right, it’s probably necessary for me to get a break first in order to locate a real fix.

    To answer a couple things that have come up in the comments – this is a moderately skilled IT role in a medium sized non-profit. My six month estimate includes onboarding and training time before they can actually take weight off my shoulders, as well as time to locate the right person and get them hired. There’s a chance it’ll move faster, but realistically that’s about what it takes for this kind of position in this industry right now. They’re not stringing me along, the job description is already written and the budget is arranged. I’d much prefer that we take a couple more months to hire the right person than make a rushed but bad hire – as much as I need a break now, I really can’t cope with a bad coworker in this position.

    We do have a contractor helping out at a couple of our locations with desktop support stuff, but I think their agency has people with higher-level skill sets as well. I’ll mention it to my boss, we might be able to get them to handle some of the stuff I’m dealing with.

    Among other things I’m feeling guilty that I’ve only been working 40 hours per week – there’s way more work to be done, and I’d like to just put in hours and get it done, but my brain. just. won’t. Spending more hours staring at a screen isn’t going to help – it’ll actively make things worse – but it means from the outside I look like I can’t cope with a normal work week. As several of you have suggested, the responsible, reliable path forward is being honest about this and finding a fix, not trying to hide it.

    Thanks everyone.

    1. Cucumberzucchini*

      I left a stress filled job about two months, though the last couple weeks there I was down to part-time hours (company was shutting down). I was having similar symptoms, though my biggest issue was major memory issues and I normally have an extremely excellent memory.

      It took well over a month for my brain to recoup. My memory still isn’t completely back to where it was before but my MOOD IS SO IMPROVED. I feel happy again, I can breathe, I’m not constantly on edge. I can live my life again.

      I eased back in to working (I can easily pick-up freelance work, so it wasn’t that big a deal to leave my job) working like 10 hours a week, then 20, until I’d worked back up to a full-time schedule.

      Regardless of whether you move on to a new job or take some time off, you really need at least two weeks, but a month would be better. AND something needs to be done to fix the problem on your return or you’ll just end up back where you were.

      I’m so happy things worked out the way they did. Good luck to you! Take a vacation!!!!

  31. Human Resources Manager*

    Does your company have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program)? If so, I would suggest taking advantage of it. So many times we think that getting counseling or therapy means we are weak or can’t handle things but all of us have times when we need some outside perspective. And that’s what those programs are for, I always say use all of the benefits your company provides to you, it can be super helpful. Good luck :)

  32. Colorado*

    Wow, I just have to say it was really sad to read the comments about all the folks who could relate to this post. All the burned out, overworked, understaffed positions and companies. The work culture that has been fostered bums me out and I’m mid-career (early 40’s). I don’t see how it is sustainable long term for anyone, the companies and employees. Best of luck OP. Take care of your best asset, you!

  33. Traveller*

    Taking a break (ie a vacation) is a good short term fix, but you also need to do something longer term.

    Short of quitting & finding a new job, there is another option…
    This goes against the instincts of many folks who feel that their job is to “get everything done” no matter how hard you have to work …but part of the solution can be to purposely let things drop or not get done.

    Your management may not see how far understaffed they are because you are successfully keeping it all together.
    And if things fall apart when you are only doing the job of one person, then that’s the problem of the business, not your problem.

    Its a bit counter-intuitive to think that you need to “care less” than “care more”, but the professional environments I’ve worked it, its really been up to me to decide where my boundaries are and say “no more”.
    If you try to carry the weight of world on your shoulders, it will eventually crush you.

  34. Harriet*

    OP, just adding to the chorus that I have been here. I thought the world would end if I admitted just how much I was struggling. I thought my colleagues and managers would lose all respect for me if I took time off. I thought I would never be able to hold my head up at work again. I thought I would lose future job options with this in my past.

    I knew rationally that I didn’t think less of people who had been through this (sadly, this workplace pushed people past their limit and then took care of them instead of, you know, putting systems in place to stop things getting to that point). Honestly, I thought I needed to be superwoman and that different rules applied to me. I could see that I was pushing myself to burnout, I knew it couldn’t end well, I couldn’t think, I lost my sense of humour, I lost motivation…but I still carried on until eventually I started crying uncontrollably in front of my boss office and was sent home. It was only then, when I realised that I couldn’t power through everything no matter what, that I slowly started getting better. I had five weeks off entirely, worked part time for a few more weeks, and had a lot of support. The firm coped, nobody held grudges against me, all the things I feared about loss of respect didn’t come to pass. And a couple of years later I got my dream job, left with an excellent reference, and now work somewhere I love. I’ll always push myself harder than some, but there is something freeing from getting to the point you’ve feared for so long (when you’re the person who always copes, is always unflappable, who is the safe pair of hands, admitting you have a limit is so scary) and the world not ending.

    Please ask for help. Please believe everyone who says your work will move heaven and earth to help you. And please know you are a valuable person and deserve to be taken care of. I wish you all the best.

  35. Life after burnout*

    Dear Letter Writer, i’ve been where you are and i can tell you it is no fun at all. But the good news is, you will survive. I fought for two plus years to get extra help, doing the work of 3 people and got totally burnt out. I went to HR with a 12 page document, used EAP, followed every procedure and policy, chain of command, cried and begged my manager for help. Unfortunately, by the time they employed someone with no experience and left all the training up to me, it was too little too late. So i resigned. Best thing i ever did. There was no way they would have given me time off as they were depending on me to keep everything running, train the new person and work on a major system upgrade and I got to the point where i just couldn’t. My work was suffering, my marriage suffered and my health did too.

    So i resigned. Best thing I ever did. 11 months later, they are finally realising the massive hole I filled. i have been begged to come back by a number of staff, headhunted by another organisation for the same work, told by many staff how much they miss me and not just for my work. The project they wanted me to do has now had its go live date postponed for the third time and they have tried to replace me with 3 consultants/people and are still struggling.

    The fact is, my reputation hasn’t suffered at all, if anything, it seems to have gone up a few notches as people have come to realise how much i did, how quickly, effectively and how far reaching those positive little steps were for so many people. I’m still recovering from the burnout, but I feel so much better and I am happy.

    There is life after burnout, your reputation will not suffer, eap programs and talking with your doctor are essential. You will survive. Good luck!!

  36. Rebecca*

    I’m burned out. I’m looking for another job, but haven’t found a full time job with the pay scale and benefits I need. The job market here is pretty bad, so I’m stuck.

    I told my manager that 18 months of handling my job plus another person’s job is too much, and I’m really struggling, but her solution is to tell me when the company makes its next acquisition, I’ll have more work to do. Oh, and she thinks I need to take on other tasks from the home office, as they are very busy. But she is going to hire another person, that will take time, blah blah blah blah. Oh, and don’t expect anything more in the way of compensation. Others don’t make as much, and it’s not fair to them. And those paid holidays we took away? Why, it’s only 3 days. That doesn’t mean anything.

    My solution is to work 8 hour days. Period. I take every minute of the breaks I’m allotted. Every single minute, no matter what there is to do, and what doesn’t get done waits until tomorrow, or the next day, or the next week, whatever. I’m in the middle of a mess now, but I’m going to use a vacation day to do outdoor activities while the weather is still nice. I’m taking care of myself. I’m just so frazzled, I hope when I do drop some of the things I’m juggling, and the excrement hits the fan, that the company will treat my departure as a layoff and allow me to collect unemployment instead of firing me for incompetence. It’s sad. I used to be a great employee, but too many straws have broken my back.

    1. F.*

      Working 8 hour days is exactly what I’ve decided to do, too. And to use some of those 12 days of PTO that I have left for the year (out of 13), with the dang phone turned OFF! When the excrement does hit the fan, then they’ll finally understand that we just can’t run this lean in the management/administrative areas.

    2. BeenThere*

      Bingo, this is exactly what I’ve been doing, averaging out to 8 hours a day. Their failure to plan is not a cause for me to permanantly work unpaid overtime (I’m exempt).

  37. NDQ*

    Burning out is a terrible feeling and makes work dreadful for everyone. I’ve seen it happen too many times and then good people go elsewhere because there is no relief.


  38. Ruffingit*

    I’ll read an email and be unable to make sense of the words, or unable to figure out what to do with it – it’s just a blank white fog in my brain where I should have words and ideas and next steps.

    That’s my life right now. I’ve been at my job for 14 months and the burn out is unreal. I’m taking Friday off this week and looking hard for the next gig, but right now it is what it is and I can absolutely totally relate to the OP. Burn out is real and it’s rough.

    1. Windchime*

      Me, too.

      I can relate to this kind of burnout. I’m not feeling it now, but when I left OldJob, the pressure was intense. Like OP’s job, it was in IT and I was the only person doing my particular job during an implementation of some major billing software. I did get some last-minute help from a colleague that basically meant our go-live was merely a chaotic mess instead of a total disaster. Everyone on the team was working 60-70 hours a week, 7 days a week. People were crying and smoking and living on junk food from the nearby Walgreen’s. Vacation was a pipe dream. A month after go-live, things were still a horrible mess but when a friend reached out with a job offer at a different organization, I bailed. Yes, I felt guilty but the pressure and burnout was too strong and I bailed.

      And guess what? OldJob survived. Someone else moved into my position and it was soon clear that it was too much work for one person (gee, really?) and so now two people are doing that job. And at current job, Boss has approved every vacation request I’ve made. Because he doesn’t want us to get burned out.

  39. Purr purr purr*

    I wish more companies would pay attention to this situation. I do 60% of my department’s projects (used to be 65% until recently) and the other two people in my position share the remaining 40%. Despite my high workload, my manager still gives me additional work. A recent project with a tight deadline saw me working 8.30-8.30 AND coming in at weekends. After that, it was straight into two other important projects with tight deadlines. I’ve asked for help numerous times but the new hires get put onto something else every time. I’ve asked for my workload to be reduced and my company makes all the right soothing noises and then does whatever they want. I’ve never understand why a company thinks it’s a good idea to load a highly motivated, quick working employee with work so that they burn out. Surely they’re the employees that most need protecting?

    It’s got so bad for me in the last 15 months that I’m going to be leaving this company. I want to move back to Europe. At least 23 days annual leave allows a person to feel slightly more rested than when they have 10 days annual leave as it is in Canada. The sooner companies realise that a good work-life balance helps them, the better off we’ll all be!

  40. Alplily*

    I could have written this comment/question myself. I am completely fried. My own job had an impossible workload, and I am now also trying to do the job of someone who left the organization two months ago (without leaving notes on procedures, etc., so I am having to figure it out with no training, and no help). I am a strong, capable person, but I am ready to crumple into a ball and cry (and I rarely cry). I have a brand-new, very green Executive Director, and I am afraid to tell her I have too much on my plate, because I may appear to be a lazy whiner. I’ve given her an overview of what I am dealing with, including a few options for solving it, or at least lightening the load. but she has not addressed it.

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