Ironically, as I write this blog post, Burnout has just been classed as an official medical diagnosis according to ICD-11. After battling my own experience with burnout, I wanted to write something that would (hopefully) help others going through the same thing know that it’s okay to decide you need to leave your job due to burnout.
WHAT IS BURNOUT?
Burnout, as per ICD-11, is characterised by the following symptoms:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- reduced professional efficacy
Burnout, as per Grandiose Days, can also be defined as:
- being really really really fucking unhappy in your job
- so unhappy that you spend your evenings and weekends dreading going into work and you start each and every working day by crying in the toilets
- oh, and you also feel really empty and deflated, like you just don’t even have the energy to drag yourself to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee.
- Everything. Is. Too. Much.
The Importance of Being in a Job that You Enjoy
You’re going to spend an average of 90,000+ hours at work in your lifetime. Sometimes, it probably feels like you’ve already served those 90,000 hours. I know I have days where I’m convinced I’ve worked 90 hours in that 24 hour period alone.
Every week, you likely spend 5 days out of 7 at work. The other two days are left for cramming in everything else that’s non-work related. Be it fun, side-hustles, family commitments, home renovations… whatever it is, you’ve got 48 hours to get it done before it’s back to work you go for another 5 days. Keeping in mind how long you spend at work, I truly believe in the importance of finding a job that positively impacts your life, instead of being an energy-vampire.
Contrary to what society leads you to believe, work shouldn’t diminish you, or leave you feeling depleted and empty at the end of the working day. It shouldn’t cause you endless sleepless nights due to work-worries and it shouldn’t make you cry out of sheer frustration, anger or sadness.
I’m not saying every day working opening the door to work should be met with a chorus of angels singing as though you’ve opened the gate to heaven or that the sunshine should shine out of your bosses arse. That’s unrealistic. Work should, and most likely will, challenge you. The people there might also prove to be a challenge at times. But, the positives need to outweigh the negatives and those challenges should be levelled out with a decent amount of support.
Yet, so many of us put up with shitty jobs.
Sure, you can come up with 347 reasons to justify why you’re still working a job you hate but really, is it worth it? Is a job truly worth more than your own happiness?
Don’t let the ~cool~ benefits trick you into thinking you’re in a good job
These days, it’s common for employers to shout to the high heavens about all the cool benefits that you’ll receive if you choose to work for them. From a generous 30-day paid holidays (28 days is tliterally he law. Two extra days off isn’t ground-breaking…), a pension package (y’know, because they care about your future… oh and it’s the law), dress-down days and maybe even the potential of a pool table or the opportunity to go out days/nights out with your work colleagues that you already spend 50 hours a week with.
Whenever I’m job hunting, my eyes light up at the sight of a job that has ~cool~ benefits. Include that you have weekly pizza-lunches and you’ve got my interest. However, I don’t let those quirky benefits to cloud my judgement of what actually matters when it comes to my work happiness. Those benefits shouldn’t be an excuse for your employer to pay you less than you deserve. Those benefits shouldn’t take priority over working somewhere that is an autonomous, civil and positive work space where you are trusted and respected.
A Friday drinks trolley might sound great but it shouldn’t be your manager’s go-to solution if you are unhappy at the workplace. Because, believe it or not, you can have all the crazy work benefits in the world and still be unhappy if you aren’t treated with the trust and respect that you, as a hard-working employee, deserve.
Make sure you work at a company that gives a shit – about their business, about their employees and about you.
Talk to Someone Before You Decide to Quit
If you can feel the weight of your work responsibilities piling up, blurring any sight of the light at the end of the tunnel, then it’s time to talk. I know, you probably talk to your other half, your family or your closest friends all the time about how much work is getting you down. But, have you actually told your boss? If not your employer, have you told your line manager or HR department or someone at work who’s in a position of responsibility to help you?
Confide in a loved one about your work worries
Talking to your loved ones about how you feel is all well and good but, unfortunately, they can’t really help you solve your work problems. Sure, they can talk through things with you and help you see your options but they can’t actually do anything to change the factors that are causing you to feel burnt out. If you are feeling as though you’re drowning at work, talk to someone who’s in a position to help.
With that said, confiding in a friend, or loved one, is still really important. You shouldn’t bottle your feelings up and keep everything to yourself. It won’t help. So, talk it out. Get your feelings off your chest and hopefully, it will allow you to see things more clearly. Don’t feel embarrased to say what’s going on, it’s likely that your friend will understand and they might be able to help you talk through what your next steps should be.
Talk to your employer about burnout
Too many times, an employer will continously pile work ontop of their best-performing employee instead of sharing that workload out amongst other members of the team or looking for new resources. Of course, it’s flattering that your employer trusts you and believes in your capabilities but they also need to remember that you are only human. And, you’re only one person. So, you should only be given enough work for one person to cope with. As more and more work gets piled on top of you, you’ll eventually buckle and collapse under the weight.
But, it shouldn’t have to reach that point. If you feel as though you are starting to struggle due to work pressures, then speak to someone. Ask your line manager if you can have a meeting in private so that you can outline what’s going on. Once you’ve got some alone time with your line manager (or whoever it may be that you report to) , take a deep breath and use this time to explain to them how you currently feel.
It isn’t going to be easy or comfortable. In fact, it’ll probably be the opposite and that’s the exact reason why you need to do it. Set the conversation up right by framing it as necessary. Start things off by opening the conversation with “This is really hard for me but…” or “I wouldn’t have asked for this meeting if I didn’t think this was necessary…” and you should find it easier to open up about how you feel.
When I reached out to my employer regarding burnout, I didn’t really go about it with as much tact. But I still managed to get my point across and explain what was bothering me and try to discuss some solutions whilst also telling my boss that I “really want to quit but unfortunately, I’m not a quitter”… If only I knew that 2 months later, I’d be walking out that door having finally admitted “defeat”.
What happens if you still feel burnt out after talking to your boss?
In an ideal world, you’ll tell your boss you’re feeling burnt out and they’ll do everything within their power to appease the situation. In a fair world, your boss may shift some of your responsibilities to someone else, help you reprioritise projects/tasks and work with you to find a solution. They might offer to allow you take some time off to recover.
Whether your employer cares about you (I really hope they do) or not, trying to prevent employee burnout is within their interest as much as it is within the interest of their staff. Due to leading to reduced work efficacy, burnout can cost employers 34% of an employees annual salary. It also may not be a surprise you that burnout is often reported as a reason for people leaving their job and can be often be accountable for 20-50% of staff turnover. Based on those figures alone, by ensuring their employees are happy and healthy within their job, employers can reap the benefits.
If you feel like you need to take time away from your job in order to recover from burnout, there’s no shame in that. You do what you have to do for your health. Ensuring your heal and recover from burnout should be your number one priority. If your employer pushes back on your requests for time off or a consistent working-from-hom day, do not compromise. Stand your ground on what you need to do in order to recover. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my experience it’s that burnout recovery is filled with difficult conversations.
Now that burnout has been classified as an official medical condition, you can get signed off work by your Doctor without any complications or issues due to ambiuity of ‘work stress’. The great thing about burnout being classified as a medical diagnosis is that it means your employer needs to take it seriously and they need to address is accordingly.
Knowing When It’s Time to Quit Your Job due to Burnout
If, after trying all of the above, you still feel burnt out and unable to perform your job in the way that you want or need to, it might be time to start looking for a new venture. Simiarly, if your employer does not treat your burnout with the seriousness it deserves, please take that as a sign to go elsewhere and find an employer who will respect you and your health. A company that cares about your success and your growth would try to accomodate your needs and if they don’t, you shouldn’t be burning yourself out for them.
After trying everything within my power to improve my work situation, I felt like I was fighting a losing battle. I was exhausted mentally, emotionally and physically. Having to perform two different job roles (Marketing Manager and Project Manager) and still having to hold everyones hand, wipe their arses and also do their job when they didn’t do the work allocated to them exhausted me. My passion and voracity for success was drained as a result of feeling like the only person who wanted to steer the company to success. Rectifying people’s mistakes and receiving nothing but negativity whilst they bathed in congratulations over their “hard work” left me feeling numb. I was running myself into the ground whilst being disrespected and belittled by colleagues. Everything was exhausting and I’d just about had enough.
Despite my attempts to resolve my situation and turning to authoratatives at work for help, it was time for me to find a new job. Burnout was starting to take it’s toll on me. I couldn’t remember the last time I went to the gym or wrote a blog post, things that I enjoyed doing for myself, and when I wasn’t working all I wanted to do was sleep. My personal life was suffering. My brain felt empty other than a constant wave of dread whenever I thought of work.
Sound familiar? Then I really do hope that this post helps provide you with some clarity on how to handle the situation you’ve been thrown into.
Finding a New Job
So, you’re burnt out and after trying to improve things at work, you’ve decided it’s time for a new job. That’s okay! If truly feel like you have done everything you can to recover from your burn out, finding a new job might be just the thing you need.
When I was experiencing burnout, I reached a point where I decided I couldn’t carry on working like this. My health and wellbeing was suffering and it was time for me to put a stop to it. So, I sat down one night, gave my CV a refresh and hit up Indeed on the most determined-fuelled job hunt of my life.
Before applying for a new job, take some time to consider what you want out of your next job. If there were certain aspects of your job that you felt heavily contributed to your burnout, make note of these. In a similar fashion, if there are certain requirements you need your next potential-employer to meet in order to prevent burnout, don’t compromise on them. You want to make sure you don’t end up in a similar situation so it’s worthwhile having a think about what you do and don’t want out of your next job.
The above advice is all well and good but sometimes, all you know is that you need a new job and that’s okay too. When I decided to find a new job due to burnout, I applied for each and every job I could find in my field. I had an idea of my desired career level, responsibilities and salary expectations but other than that, I didn’t care where I worked as long as it was somewhere else. It was a risky move but it was one that I deemed necessary.
As a result of my determined job hunt, I received 4 interview requests and I actually sat 3 interviews in one day. Normally, I find interviews a breeze but this time, I was nervous as hell. The truth is, burnout can really knock your confidence. So, make sure you do you pre-interview prep then go ahead an paint on a brave face and fake that confidence when it comes to interview time.
During the interviews, you should get an idea of what the company you’re applying for is like and whether you deem them to be a suitable fit for you or not. Trust your gut, it’s usually right.
Dealing with the emotions caused by burnout
As a self-proclaimed high-achiever and someone who wants to progress up the career-ladder and be successful at everything I put my hand to, burnout made me feel like a failure. Admitting that I was burnt out and it was time for me to find a new job was harder than I ever imagined.
In fact, it’s only now looking back that I realise that I truly was burnt out. I’d taken on way too much work for one person to manage and the person at the other end of the rope had simply let go, leaving me to wade through all the shit on my own. It was tough. But as a result, I’ll make sure I speak up earlier and do what I can to prevent myself from being overloaded.
But, do you want to know something? Deciding to quit your job due to burnout doesn’t make you a failure. In fact, it’s the opposite. Your choosing to put your mental health and wellbeing first and that’s something that’s far more important. The truth is, you don’t owe your success to your job. That shit comes from within. It might not feel like it right now because your confidence has likely taken a serious hit but you can and you will go on to grow and succeed in another job.
Burnout leads to an almighty cacophony of emotions – feeling like you’re not good enough, you’re a failure, you’ve let everyone down, your colleagues are going to judge you, feelings of embarrassment, anger, frustration… seriously, you’re going to feel it all. It’s a whirlwind of emotions and that’s okay. Accept that you’re going to feel all of the feelings and ride each and every emotion instead of trying to stifle them.
I spent my last couple of working weeks crying. A lot. I cried every time I had a meeting with someone to discuss my burnout and my decision to leave. I hid in the toilet and cried the moment before I even turned my computer on in the morning. Tears were a part of my daily life. We all cry at work sometimes and whilst it may not be deemed as a very professional thing to do, it’s sometimes necessary.
Take your time, breathe slowly and if it helps tell people that “this isn’t an easy decision to make” or let them know that it’s a “really emotional and difficult time” for you right now. Oh and do as I did, and always make sure there’s paper towels or tissues nearby.
Whatever emotions you feel, please remember that it’s not your fault this is happening. But please take comfort in knowing that it’s an experience that will teach your great things. You’ll learn from this and you’ll stand taller because of it. Things will get better.
Reflecting on your decision to quit your job
Once you’re settled into your new role, take time to reflect on your decision. It’s important to look back on your experience with a clear mind to see how far you’ve come. Hopefully you’re in a better job where you have the respect, support and trust that you need to be able to perform optimally.
But more importantly, hopefully you are proud of yourself for making the move. Accepting and overcoming burnout isn’t easy but in a world that prioritises work over anything else, it’s no surprise that burnout is on the rise. Therefore, it’s important that you recognise the signs early and do what you can to take control of your situation.
Sometimes, I feel like I took a step back by leaving my last job. When I told my Director I was leaving, I turned down the £7,500 pay rise that he offered me to stay. I also turned my back on pursuing a career in Project Management to return to focusing solely upon Digital Marketing. Luckily, Marketing is something that I am passionate about so I was happy to be back in the field without any other distrations.
I’m now in a job that is comfortable and whilst it may not spark fire in my soul, it’s what I need right now. Something that will let me take control of Marketing activity, put my stamp on the business and all without having to worry about burning out due to carrying the weight of the company on my shoulders.
Fingers crossed, I’m back on the path to growing myself and my career without putting my health and wellbeing at risk. Whatever you decide to do, remember that the road to success isn’t straight… that’d make things waaay to easy. Everything you go through is a learning curve. Each and every situation you’re in will help you grow and develop personally and professionally. You’re exactly where you’re meant to be right now.