Burnout is more than a catchy word. If you haven’t been in the workforce long, let’s hope you haven’t actually experienced burnout. There are real symptoms to watch out for, and if any of these sound familiar, you are due to take a vacation. Expert career coach Joanne Meehl of Joanne Meehl Career Services advises her clients to watch for “a severe imbalance.” The symptoms of burnout that she has seen are “frustration out of proportion to the problem at hand, a drying up of creativity and increasing reliance on ‘the way it’s been done here before’, increasing isolation or rejection of the team, and micromanaging for control.”
Sound familiar? Time to take a vacation, and we’ll get to that. If not, we recommend you preempt the burnout and make sure your work doesn’t take over your life.
Meehl tells a story of two different clients who burned out after immersing themselves completely in their jobs for about two years. Both of them quit without another job lined up. “One landed a new one two months later, another is still looking 1 1/2 years later. Both, however, say that leaving the company was the only way they could “re-set” themselves in their career. They’d seen the error of this lack of balance and would not make the mistake again”.
The employee who lives for work is not necessarily the one who advances their career.
That’s your dad’s philosophy. Your company needs your creativity and innovation more than they need your butt in a seat for 60 hours a week. It is encouraging that the millennial generation, if I may generalize, isn’t jumping to eat, sleep and breathe work. Meehl sees it too: “I’m not seeing millennials adopting their parents’ philosophy (“work, work, work!”), and I’m glad for it! Otherwise, they will lose perspective on their work being part of their lives instead of driving it, and will burn out.”
Taking time away can provide clarity around your career path.
Since you’re early in your career, you are likely still wondering what path is the right one for you (as if there were just one “right path”). Recharging away from the office can also stimulate your motivation to look for something else that you think you deserve. Or, just being in a different environment for a week can stimulate new ideas that you can bring back to your team. Dedicating time to just being you (not the “work you”) can remind you of your values and what is important to you. So when you’re back in the team meeting, you might find yourself pushing for ideas you actually believe in, as opposed to agreeing with everyone else or just going with the status quo.
Most employers give entry-level employees two weeks of vacation time. You may have additional paid time off that allows for sick days or personal days. Make sure you know what your policy is, and be smart about planning time off. Planning ahead does two things. First, you avoid the burnout, as opposed to having to recover from a bad place. Second, you can leave at a time when it would be least disruptive to your team.
Don’t follow your supervisor’s lead if it’s a bad example.
You can work hard and prove your worth by producing real results without putting in overtime. Your company’s leadership craves data, and if you can prove how you’re making an impact in your department, that speaks volumes more than the person who is the first to arrive and the last to leave.
If your leadership doesn’t appreciate the impact you’re making, and keeps rewarding the seat-warmers more than the real producers, maybe this employer is not for you.
Many companies, however, recognize the value of taking time off and may even enforce the use of vacation days. “Company leaders see this time off as a way of recharging, and regaining balance,” says Meehl. “So the manager who never takes off is thankfully getting much rarer.”
When you go on vacation, set up expectations.
Tell coworkers you are not going to be checking email (even if you think you might be—we’ll get to that later). Write a nice but firm out-of-office message that states that you won’t be checking, and more importantly you won’t be responding, to emails until you get back. Make sure you have a go-to person listed and their email address so that if the sender feels their message must be attended to, they know who to ask. That person can also be the point-person on your team if they need something that can’t wait for your return. And this should be a no-brainer, but make sure you give that person a heads up that you’re listing them in your out-of-office message. Then they won’t feel resentful when they receive additional email about random things.
Meehl has seen a pattern in the clients she serves. “Most people I know who are good managers of their own careers will clearly state how they simply will not be checking email or taking calls. And then they stick to it.”
About the temptation to check your work email. You will be tempted. Meehl advises to “be prepared to shut it down (literally) so you can truly enjoy your time away. Your reward will be a return to work that has you in a deeply refreshed state of mind.” Give yourself permission to unplug. If it causes you anxiety to turn off your phone or at least stop checking emails, I challenge you to an experiment. See if you can go a half day. Then check in, and just delete anything that’s unimportant. Make it a goal to not actually respond to anything, but at least you’ve seen that there are no emergencies, and your team is doing fine. Now, try to go a whole day without checking, and repeat.
If there is an absolutely urgent message from your boss, like “If I don’t hear from you by the end of the day, bad things will happen,” then of course you should respond. Fortunately, the likelihood is low that you’ll hear about a serious or life-threatening emergency for which you alone have the solution.
Even when you establish a healthy work-life balance, you will find that every once in the while you will be called upon to “go the extra mile” and burn the midnight oil. All the more reason to save your energy for when it’s actually necessary.
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