Nip your burnout in the bud be­fore your ca­reer goes up in flames.

Men's Health (Singapore) - - FRONT PAGE -

There’s this story psy­chol­o­gists tell that goes like this: You’re on a river­bank. A drown­ing per­son comes drift­ing by, so you jump in and save him. An­other comes flail­ing along. Same thing. Then five more. Ten more. You and dozens of other Good Sa­mar­i­tans are fran­ti­cally res­cu­ing them. They keep com­ing. You’re los­ing your abil­ity and your mo­ti­va­tion now. You’re burn­ing out on sav­ing peo­ple. Sud­denly some­body starts run­ning up­stream. “Where are you go­ing?” you yell. He replies, “To see why all these peo­ple are fall­ing in!”

That guy is not burn­ing out. Un­less you go up­stream and change the cause of the prob­lem, you’ll just keep do­ing more and more and see­ing fewer and fewer re­sults un­til you fi­nally can’t take it any­more.

That’s when you, a cham­pion swim­mer, drown. Right next to mil­lions of other Sin­ga­pore­ans. 60

per­cent of us say we’re men­tally ex­hausted due to work, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey by

While there’s no tidy clin­i­cal def­i­ni­tion for burnout, most re­searchers say you’re in that over­cooked state when you’re liv­ing in the tri­fecta of con­stant ex­haus­tion, cyn­i­cism, and re­duced ef­fec­tive­ness. “Alot of peo­ple who think they’re burned out are re­ally just com­pletely phys­i­cally ex­hausted—they still like their jobs and could do them well again if they could just recharge,” says Michael Leiter, Ph.D., a pro­fes­sor of or­gan­i­sa­tional psy­chol­ogy at Aus­tralia’s Deakin Univer­sity. Gen­uine burnout, how­ever, can’t be rested away—as most fried work­ers learn when they’re wiped by 11:00 a.m. af­ter their first va­ca­tion in a decade. While you prob­a­bly won’t be able to fix every prob­lem that’s lead­ing to burnout, you can fix some of the root is­sues. Tackle these be­fore you’re to­tally toast:


“Over the last decade, it has be­come in­creas­ingly clear that burnout is a eu­phemism for de­pres­sion,” says Renzo Bianchi, Ph.D., a psy­chol­ogy re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Neuchâ­tel in Switzer­land who’s pub­lished reams on the burnout/de­pres­sion en­tan­gle­ment. Many long­time burnout re­searchers hotly dis­agree with this (un­der­stand­ably). But whether burnout and de­pres­sion are one con­di­tion or two, it’s smart to get screened.

De­pres­sion has well-known, ef­fec­tive treat­ments (burnout doesn’t yet), and ac­cess­ing those could give you a clear-cut frame­work to at­tack the prob­lems that are mak­ing life grey and joy­less—in­clud­ing what the hell to do about the work sit­u­a­tion.


A WIN­DOW. It’s in­fu­ri­at­ingly easy to con­stantly check out what ev­ery­one else is do­ing (work­ing on a deck in Ber­muda, re­tir­ing at 35)—and sub­con­sciously cal­cu­late how you stack up—given that your peers now in­clude 700 peo­ple on In­sta­gram and LinkedIn you’ve met once or haven’t seen since 1995. Add to that the bumper-sticker no­tions of “fol­low your pas­sion” and the like that are far more present in our pe­riph­eral con­scious­ness now than they were in your dad’s work­ing prime, and it all takes the sheen off your par­ti­cle­board desk, mak­ing your 24/7 toil­ing seem mean­ing­less and woe­fully in­ad­e­quate. The ob­vi­ous but still help­ful so­lu­tion: Limit so­cial-me­dia dip-ins and cre­ate a mantra that gives you a psy­chic lift (e.g., At least I’m not a com­pany drone/ BS-talk­ing con­sul­tant!).

FIND A NEW EAR. Most burned-out peo­ple feel iso­lated and alien­ated, and they are— strong re­la­tion­ships are the great­est buf­fer against, and rem­edy for, burnout. Seek­ing emo­tional sup­port from a buddy and bend­ing a sym­pa­thetic ear will make you feel bet­ter—for a while. “You get some cathar­sis, but it doesn’t solve any of your prob­lems,” says Irvin Schon­feld, Ph.D., pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at CUNY in New York.

Of course, the ideal per­son to talk to is your man­ager. But as­sum­ing you’ve al­ready tried work­ing with them to set pri­or­i­ties (maybe some­thing’s not ur­gent every once in a while?), and you’ve set lim­its on work (no check­ing emails on the week­ends), find some­one to talk to who can help. That’s no small feat, nat­u­rally, since you’re prob­a­bly cer­tain that every drop of help from every vi­able, non-shitty per­son has al­ready been wrung. Pos­si­bly true, but pri­ori­tise spend­ing pre­cious so­cial time with any breath­ing hu­man who can help you fix a work prob­lem to last­ing ef­fect. It’ll give you the dou­ble ben­e­fit of feel­ing less alone and less pow­er­less.

DON’T WAIT. “There’s a point of no re­turn in burnout,” says Leiter. When the neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tions tied to your work be­come too strong, he says, “peo­ple reach a point where they just have to get out.” Re­cov­er­ing from burnout can take a painfully long time. “Re­search shows it takes about two and a half years if a per­son doesn’t get any pro­fes­sional help,” says Wil­mar Schaufeli, Ph.D., a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Utrecht Univer­sity in the Nether­lands. By then, of course, you’ll have likely kissed your pay­check and pro­fes­sional mo­men­tum good­bye. So stomp­ing out a flame be­fore it torches you can be one of the best ca­reer—and per­sonal— moves you ever make.


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