How to Deal

To Combat Burnout, Start by Accepting the Things You Cannot Change

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 26, 2008; 12:00 AM

Simple question, which I'm sure will meet with a complicated answer! How do I deal with total work burnout?

I've been with my current company for more than four years now, and in that time, I've watched the company morph, change focus, not to mention change its name so many times that I often feel like I don't know who I'm working for anymore. A lot of my burnout also has to do with how my own position has become overloaded. We've grown in size so much that people in my position can barely handle the workload being thrust upon us, yet we're constantly expected to take it all with good grace and magically turn things around in an impossibly short amount of time. Our pleas for help (i.e., additional staff) have fallen on deaf ears (always for the same reason -- money) and as a result, I honestly don't care anymore about this company. I'm not against working hard (what kind of worker would I be if I didn't have a good work ethic?) but since I'm constantly being shown that the higher-ups could care less about me and my work needs, my work ethic has plummeted substantially. I'm searching for other jobs, in the hopes that I can get a fresh start, but am having little to no responses, which is unbearably frustrating (and is taking my morale down further). Again, what can I do to combat this kind of burnout?

You are overworked and underappreciated, which has demoralized you and led you make the decision to leave your job. Yet, you are having a harder time than you expected finding a new opportunity. I assume you don't have the luxury of quitting without something else lined up. So what do you do, in the meantime, to keep your sanity? The answer is actually not so complicated.

Stop caring so much. Your disappointment and frustration come from the fact that you have not abandoned all hope of things being different. What I mean is that if you truly accept your work situation for what it is, if you relax into the place you are in, you will find that it is far less stressful. Accept that people in your position are not going to get help with your crushing workload. Accept that this might mean that your work ethic will not meet the high standards you have set for yourself. Accept that the leaders of your organization are motivated by money at the expense of good employee relations and that they do not care how hard things get for you and others like you as long as the business remains profitable. Finally, accept that you might be stuck there for a while.

I am not suggesting that you give up trying to find another job or that you become apathetic or deliberately sloppy in the performance of your duties. But I think that you will be better able to manage your frustration and resulting burnout, and you will be happier, if you dwell less on the shortcomings of your professional life.

If you are able to do this even a little, you will find greater mental clarity to guide your job search, you will feel less injured by the exploitation of your employer, and you might even be able to find occasional humor in the absurdity of how bad things have gotten.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, July 8 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washington.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


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