me, talking about burn-out

I’m on the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast this week, talking about burn-out — how to recognize burn-out, what to do if you’re burned out, my own experiences with burn-out, why it might be different for women, and more. The episode is 52 minutes long and you can listen here.

{ 45 comments… read them below }

  1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Ooh! Will there be a transcript for this one? (I don’t listen to podcasts but would love to read this.)

      1. AK*

        Alison I’d be happy to put this together if you’d like to/are able to post a transcript. I’m a bit busy today but could email it to you around Wednesday? No cost/no strings, just a little help for my fellow readers if you want it :)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Thanks so much for offering it. I don’t feel right about creating and hosting transcripts for someone else’s show since it’s their intellectual property rather than mine, but it’s kind of you to offer!

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        You made me laugh! Yes, indeed. Here’s to time off. (Otoh, for me, I need a month somewhere, or more. Like serious downtime.)

          1. OlympiasEpiriot*

            I’m listening. I think I’m burnt out more because I just don’t have much downtime. I have medical stuff that requires maintenance exercising that I must stick to or I end up in a lot of pain…and that, plus my job, plus keeping my home running means I have to schedule the pleasurable times (by sacrificing something that actually also needs to get done). However, my spirit needs a pretty high level of spontaneity in my leisure AND I have very little time for any. Coupled with this is that although I earn what I think is a good salary, I feel so insecure economically, trying to save for retirement, carving out the time to plan, trying to figure out how to set aside more money for my kid’s education (and they don’t have expensive educational ambitions AND they work a pretty good summer job that they save from), and, dammit, I need a serious change of scene. I’m overwhelmed and bored.

            Still listening, maybe that combo will still come up.

          2. Elaine*

            I’m so glad to hear this. I love reading all the updates and was feeling a little bad, thinking you’ve already got too much on your plate, and now tons of updates on top of it. I’m so happy to know that you actually feel it is easing the load somewhat. Thank you for all that you do.

  2. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Any recommendations for those of us on android devices? I’d listen to this one in the car tonight but I don’t have itunes on my Samsung.

    1. LawBee*

      The podcast is available on all podcast systems. You should be able to find it; they’re not operating-system specific.

        1. CastIrony*

          I saw the RSS feed! Thank you so much from the bottom of my Android user heart!

          I hope your respite does you well, Alison.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Thanks….I first looked from my office PC and only saw the iTunes link. And of course that’s all I saw, because the office firewall would have blocked the streaming media components!
          To quote the immortal Homer, “D’oh!”

  3. Nony Mouse*

    I have been experiencing the mighty burn-out for over 6 months, and it has been obvious, and I have told my manager point-blank that I am burned out and that it is impairing my performance (painful to witness one’s own declining performance but feel helpless to fix). Me: female, 40s, senior manager. It was a revelation when I started researching this on the internet and read what amounted to this:

    Dear Employer:
    This is not working out. It’s not me. It’s YOU.
    — Sincerely, your burned-out employee.

    I kept thinking that somehow I could compartmentalize my work stress, and deal with this as if its my failing and under my control, but it’s not me—I can’t fix my burn-out because it’s the work environment/job situation. I thought the reference to authority in the podcast was interesting because one of the problem factors in my work environment is how disempowered I am–how I lack authority. Being a workaholic perfectionist detail-oriented person dug my burn-out hole really deep.

    The major causes of my burn out are: (1) having too heavy a workload, (2) working long hours in vain to try to keep up, (3) my employer’s unrealistic expectations of work output and speed, (4) not taking vacation time because I feel like I can’t–the work just piles up and there’s no coverage, (5) my employer’s poor workload management skills and intentional under-staffing, (6) feeling devalued, like no one cares about what I do, (7) being in a frustrating dysfunctional work environment, with contradictory directives and poor decision making at an organizational level, (8) feeling like what I value in my work (quality, thoroughness, customer service) is *not* valued by my employer. I could go on and on… hard to limit my list!

    I feel exhausted, stressed, unfocused, disengaged, demotivated, defeated, devalued. All the bad “D” words. To my manager’s credit, he tried to address my burn-out, but doesn’t really have the authority to provide a lasting solution in this dysfunctional environment.

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      I think your “(4) not taking vacation time because I feel like I can’t–the work just piles up and there’s no coverage, (5) my employer’s poor workload management skills and intentional under-staffing,” are hugely common. I know that is my biggest reason for not taking time off a lot of the time as well as the reason that a lot of other folks at my company and friends at other offices don’t take more than a day or two at a time.

      Taking two weeks off is going to result in just having to do all that work as soon as you get back ON TOP of the work still coming in. Even if other people want to help you out they can’t because departments are so short staffed coworkers can’t absorb a significant enough amount of another person’s day-to-day work to keep the Return From PTO Landslide from happening.

      I’ve started taking time anyway, because I keep maxing out my PTO and to a certain extent I’ve just come to decide the landslide is worth it, but this really is a plague in current work culture.

      1. Been There, Done That*

        Yes. And pushing myself (like now, during our year-end mob rush, which unfortunately coincides w/ the holidays) just results in getting run down and so sick I wind up taking days off from work. Which adds to the stress, because even with dr. notes, I worry that the time out will adversely affect my evaluations or otherwise give my boss ammunition against me. And the time off isn’t enjoyable, like a real vacation, because I feel so awful and I worry so much.

      2. Nony Mouse*

        Yes, Gus, exactly right, the landslide. Taking time off just means working super-long hours when you return to work, in order to catch up. No net benefit! And that horrible first day back at work, with hundreds of emails to deal with, all the people demanding immediate attention upon my return– *shudder* I have also maxed out my PTO currently. I have given up on taking more than one day off at a time. Even one day off causes problems every damn time.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I took a week off last year and the year before, and the stress of managing the absence took more out of me than the vacation replenished.

    2. Jasnah*

      Your issues 1-8 are really helpful. Personally, I feel like 1-4/5 are possible to push through if you have enough support in other areas, like a good office environment, helpful and capable coworkers, good pay and benefits, room for growth, aka if you suck it up and push through the workload, you’ll be rewarded–you can take those skills to a cushier job, or coast in the off-season, or retire early.

      But 6-8, even if the workload is OK, those are pretty big deal-breakers. And most importantly, it’s easy to see how one problem causes/results from another. You can’t fix staffing if people are too busy to hire/train and the environment is too dysfunctional to attract newcomers. You can’t fix the workload if you don’t have enough people to do all the work. And you can’t address employee job satisfaction in the abstract (6-8) if you’re doing nothing about the concrete, daily work (1-5).

      Hope you get out of there Nony and on to greener pastures!

      1. Nony Mouse*

        Thanks, Jasnah! I should be able to find a new job fairly quickly if I tried, but part of the insidiousness of my burn-out is that it has made me feel so defeated, worthless and unmotivated, that I have only made half-hearted attempts at looking so far. I know that leaving is the right thing to do.

      1. Venus*

        I admit that my holiday-related stress has reduced greatly since I decided to pick and choose what I want to do, rather than treating all gatherings as obligations. This includes family events, and – even more importantly in my family – I get everyone a gift card as a present. I realised some years ago that my gifts will always be criticized, so I assume those family members will be disappointed and now I find them something which is least effort for me! I used to spend the month of December in a state of stress, and now I have a day or two on occasion, mostly related to winter weather and too much darkness, and a family member who is strongly atheist yet gets really weird about having to observe christmas traditions.

        My partner has no holiday-related stress, but their family is in a different country. My holidays were much better when I lived out of town. My male sibling is quite stressed at the holidays, but mostly related to the atheist-traditionalist mentioned above. I would be curious if it’s a gender thing, or a family thing?

  4. NYC Nonprofit*

    Thank you for doing this. Listening to this as I’m working from home at 11 PM (after having worked a full day in the office and heading to a doctor’s appt right after that I had been neglecting for a year).

    So much of this is true for me, but especially the part about being more prone to take work personally and become emotionally invested in the work. Sometimes I find that certain tasks actually don’t take me as long as I think they will — but because the project may be dysfunctional or objectively stressful in some way, the sheer stress and emotional effort it takes to do it is what my brain is responding to when I just can’t get out of bed some mornings. Trying to figure out ways to lessen this aspect of it for myself…

  5. Almost Partner*

    Alison, do you or your expert contacts have any insight on distinguishing burnout from depression? So much commonality – and it seems to me they might feed off each other.

    1. Birch*

      +1 also interested in the combo of burnout, depression, anxiety, and imposter syndrome. Currently trying to figure out what combo I have….

    2. Doc in a Box*

      In the health professions, at least, burnout is defined as emotional exhaustion leading to cynical detachment and learned helplessness. There is a fair bit of overlap with depression, but the way I see it, depression is an individual issue, whereas burnout is a systemic issue. It’s the difference between a kitchen fire and a wildfire.

  6. Disgruntled*

    Has anyone felt burnt out, taken a vacation, and then had the burnout get worse? I took a week off, and when I came back, the catcalling, constantly fending off inappropriate contractors asking me out and undressing me with their eyes,long hours, unpredictable schedule, and general sense of isolation and lack of value (I worked as a field technician at construction sites) went from irritating to unbearable.

    1. KatieHR*

      Me! Minus the catcalls…yikes! I went away over Thanksgiving for a week and it has been so hard to go back to work. I told my boss that I am starting to feel jaded and “over” 2 specific days in my work week. I run a new hire Orientation for entry level production and the groups are getting worse and worse. No one wants to work and pays no attention to anything said to them. Thank goodness it is only 2 days out of my week. And thank goodness I have some time off in 2 weeks but it will be hard to come back in January. :(

    2. Jam Today*

      Yes, absolutely, on two occasions. The vacation away from the horrendous work environment only served to crystallize just how bad that environment was, once I got back into it. You get acclimated to a bad environment and just kind of absorb it, but once you’re removed from it, it becomes much easier to see once you’re back in it.

    3. Nony Mouse*

      Yep. If a vacation fixed a person’s burn out, that person wasn’t actually burned out–that person just needed a break to refresh herself, and that isn’t burn out. As everyone points out, vacation can put a bright spotlight on the burn out factors and make you even more aware of how intolerable it is.

    4. Jane*

      As a former construction monitor, the job sucks and is basically designed to give you burnout. Feeling worse after vacation seems reasonable to me, as you didn’t have to deal with the tremendous emotional labor of not flipping someone off for sexual harassment or pretending you’re invisible and/or unclothed on a daily basis, and now you do again.

    5. Glimmer*

      Absolutely! I was already feeling burned out and then I took 4.5 weeks off for carpal tunnel surgery. It was amazing how much better I felt not being at work. I came back to things being even worse than before. I’m doing my best and things are finally improving a bit (getting more staff for our department when we’ve been understaffed for at least a year) but there is nowhere for me to go. So I am doing my best until I can find something else.

  7. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Excellent episode and thank you for giving me another excellent podcast to add to my list!

  8. hayling*

    I didn’t realize this podcast was still going on! Glad that new hosts have taken it up (and I am enjoying Cristen and Caroline’s new show, Unladylike, a ton!).

  9. No 1 Cat Parent*

    Moving burnout is so real! I recently moved 2,500 miles and I remember just feeling like abandoning all of my belongings several times.

    As far as fish in the microwave goes… At my first real office job I was in the kitchen eating lunch with several other new employees and one person was eating cold fish. We were talking about how we knew you should not microwave fish but did not know if it would /really/ be stinkier than anything else. So… My coworker decided to try it out and oh wow did it smell terrible and for so long! People kept coming in and being scandalized someone would do this. The list of suspects was narrowed down pretty quickly, but I was the only new employee that escaped suspicion because everyone knew I am a vegetarian. Add that to the list of risks in hiring someone for their first professional job, they might microwave fish out of curiosity.

    1. Piano Girl*

      I am in the process of moving (and have been for quite some time) and I am so burned out. There are days I feel like I want to light a match and burn it all to the ground. I feel like I’m gritting my teeth half the time and pushing one foot in front of the other.

  10. anon 4 this 1*

    Ugh this is so depressing but also helpful. This time of year is tough for me already (for some of the reasons you folks discussed, and some others!) and work has been incredibly hard for the last six months. I took on more responsibilities, including a couple of direct reports, and am ramping up for big projects in the spring and summer. Journaling and vacations, both present and future, have helped, but I appreciate all the advice in this podcast. Especially the reminder that if the amount of work has gotten too large and despite some tweaks it’s still not working – (because it’s enough work for 2 or 3 people cough cough) maybe it’s time to move on!

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