Burnout from work is a real problem, especially during a pandemic. I enjoy creating videos. So two weeks ago, I looked forward to producing a 30 minute video. In my mind, I thought it would take one to two days at most. I started with energy and enthusiasm. But I had missed a planned day off the previous week. So my tank was half-empty. Something that was enjoyable, that I was good at, had instead become a drag. Instead of one day, it took me nine days to finish that video.
Have you ever experienced something similar? You look forward to a challenging project, an interesting task or doing work that you are good at. But when you get into it, you hit challenges and roadblocks. The project team members may not see eye to eye. The project leader turns out to be a micro-manager. You don’t have a voice in the way you do your work. You question the decisions being made.
The Pandemic Increases Burnout
All this tends to get worse during a pandemic. You lose co-workers but work still needs to get done. So you keep your job but have to do more than your fair share. You work remotely, on your own, and miss the support of co-workers during coffee and lunch breaks. You may even have lost a supportive boss. All this while, at the back of your mind, you worry that you may be the next to lose your job if you don’t keep grinding out work.
For many years, I had heard about burnout but didn’t truly understand it because I had not experienced it myself. Now I can tell the early signs of burnout. Here are some tell-tale burnout signs.
Work Burnout Sign #1: Loss of Energy
My spouse says I have a lot of energy. I go for my daily run and don’t have much of an afternoon slump. Two weeks ago, I didn’t go for my daily run, partly due to the weather (it was raining) and partly because I wanted to work to finish the project.
Work Burnout Sign #2: Changes in Sleep Patterns
Even though I was tired, I didn’t sleep well. As a result I didn’t feel rested when I woke up in the morning.
Work Burnout Sign #3: Overdose of Passive Entertainment
For someone who didn’t watch much TV, I was spending way too much time on Netflix late into the night, way past my regular bedtime. Since work didn’t give me joy and energy, I looked for it elsewhere, in passive entertainment.
Work Burnout Sign #4: Weight Gain
I am normally on a low-sugar diet. The past two weeks though, my sugar intake crept up on me. I celebrated my birthday this month and had cake–lots of it! Friends brought sugary treats and desserts. I indulged, not just for one day, but for weeks. My body went back on the roller-coaster of sugar-highs followed by sugar-lows. So after my Netflix binge, I would feel hungry at midnight, and go on a midnight supper binge. Early this week, my belt felt tight so I checked my weight. I had put on a few pounds (I won’t tell how many) and decided to stop eating the sugary treats my friends had bought me for my birthday.
Work Burnout Sign #5: I hate my work
I wake up one or two hours later in the morning and find it hard to get out of bed. When I do, I dread going to the office and starting work. When I start, I find it slow going. I have to push to get the next thing done. After one or two hours, I have to take a break and lie back in bed.
My pace of work slowed down to 80% to 50% and then to a 20% crawl. Towards the end, I could only put in half a day’s work. Imagine that! Doing half a day’s work at one-fifth of the pace. That is super low productivity. I had to take sugary drinks in the morning–again, a break from routine–to give myself a lift to get the work done.
According to the Mayo Clinic, here’s a checklist of work burnout symptoms:
|1||Have you become cynical or critical at work?||No|
|2||Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?||Yes|
|3||Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?||No|
|4||Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?||Yes|
|5||Do you find it hard to concentrate?||Yes|
|6||Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?||No|
|7||Do you feel disillusioned about your job?||No|
|8||Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?||Yes|
|9||Have your sleep habits changed?||Yes|
|10||Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?||No|
|Personal Burnout Index = 50%||5/10|
Based on my self-assessment, I was at the mid-point of burnout. It definitely felt that way to me. I knew that if I didn’t take a break, I would head into the danger zone. So I planned to take two days off in the coming week. In the end, I was only able to take a day and a half off. But that was enough to get me back on track to being healthy and more productive.
Immediately after my time off, I found that I could complete takes in 10-20% of the time compared to the week before. That’s a 5 to 10 times productivity improvement! I also started reading tips I had written a year ago about how to rest well in order to work well.
Calculate Your Burnout Index
|#||Question||✔ = Yes|
|1||Have you become cynical or critical at work?|
|2||Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?|
|3||Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?|
|4||Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?|
|5||Do you find it hard to concentrate?|
|6||Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?|
|7||Do you feel disillusioned about your job?|
|8||Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?|
|9||Have your sleep habits changed?|
|10||Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?|
|Your Burnout Index = Number of ticks or yes-es out of 10|
If your burnout index is above 50% please take action immediately and get help. Don’t wait. If you have a low score, check back next week as I start sharing some tips on how to reduce and avoid burnout.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this is not professional advice.