Steve Blank’s oh-shit moment came during a Friday afternoon sales meeting.
He’d been dividing his time between two Silicon Valley tech jobs, one for a company outside Palo Alto serving the defence and intelligence communities, and the other for a microprocessor producer called Zilog.
He was good at his work – necessary, even. He put in six or seven 16-hour days a week, and accepted the crazy schedule.
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At the Friday meeting, “about three-quarters of the way through my work week,” as Blank puts it, a colleague reminded him about upcoming classes he needed to teach.
“The devil is in the details,” the colleague advised. Blank nodded, and went for the obvious defence contractor joke: “I’ve got it under control, as long as the devil coming at me isn’t an SS-18.” (He was referring to a Russian ICBM dubbed “Satan”).
Expecting at least a chuckle or two, Blank saw only uncomprehending stares. Weird, he thought. Then it hit him: these weren’t his defence contractor co-workers. He wasn’t even at his defence gig. He was at Zilog; and to his growing horror, he realised that he had no memory of driving across town to get there, no recollection of greeting his colleagues, no idea how he’d got through most of the afternoon without even knowing where he was.
Blank later left the meeting and sat in his office looking befuddled.
“Take it easy this weekend,” the VP of sales told him.
“You look a little burned out.”
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Most of what you think you know about burnout is probably wrong. Occupational burnout like Blank’s is not a simple matter of fatigue or boredom. Nor is it tied solely to level of compensation.
Severe burnout can be debilitating.
You may find yourself growing profoundly cynical and feel like you never accomplish anything at work; you may hate your clients and colleagues and struggle to find the courage to get out of bed; you might feel detached from your life, almost as if you’re operating on autopilot.
Burnout syndrome, at its worst, can ravage workers and even entire companies.
According to psychologist Michael Leiter, 25% of workers he’s studied suffer from at least one symptom of burnout, and he suspects that’s also true of the workforce at large.
Burnout doesn’t discriminate, and it affects people across the board – blue-collar and white-collar workers, entrepreneurs, call-centre employees, tech pros, teachers.
In this always-on age, when reading a new email from the boss on your smartphone may be the first and last thing you do every day, it’s not surprising the problem seems to be worsening.
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“It’s cultural – real men work till they drop,” says Blank. “I learned it from my boss, who learned it from his boss, who probably learned it from some Neanderthal.
But it shouldn’t have to be that way. Take this test to find out if you’re suffering from job burnout?
Are You Fried?
We all hate our jobs sometimes – but how can you tell the difference between a rough month and serious burnout?
Psychologists have questionnaires for employees and work teams that gauge such things as emotional exhaustion, satisfaction, and cynicism. Paula Davis-Laack, a former lawyer (who, incidentally, became a “stress and resilience expert” after burning out), suggests asking yourself these questions.
1. Are you chronically – that is, more often than not – physically and emotionally exhausted?
2.Do you feel a persistent sense of cynicism? That everybody and everything bugs you or rubs you the wrong way?
3. Have you started to lose empathy for your co-workers or clients?
4. Do you often feel a sense of ineffectiveness, that you can’t process or handle work the way you used to?
5. Are you feeling physically ill more frequently? Do colds and flus come on after the adrenalin from big assignments wears off?
6. Is every curveball a crisis? Do you overreact to minor last-minute changes to plans or assignments?
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If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, you may be more than just annoyed with your job, says Davis-Laack.
That’s okay, though.
“Help can come in a variety of ways,” she says. Depending on your comfort level, you could talk to your boss, find a work and stress coach, or reach out to a licensed therapist.
Signing up for a company provided training course or even a single-day workshop can teach men how to cope with – and beat – career burnout.
Whatever you do, don’t just stew.
This article was originally published on www.mh.co.za
Image credit: iStock