High Octane Women

How superachievers can avoid burnout

Is Your Job Killing You?

8 work situations that put you on the fast track for burnout.

It's common knowledge that chronic stress puts you at a higher risk for developing serious medical problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, and chronic fatigue (as well as equally serious emotional conditions, including severe depression and anxiety). However, in a world where stressors abound, pinpointing specific sources of stress so that you can lessen their deleterious impact on your mind and body can be quite a challenge, especially when you're already feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. 

To help identify particular hot spots for stress in the workplace, Kristin Koch, writing for Health.com, has identified eight specific work situations that put workers on a fast track to burnout. After each one, suggestions are offered to relieve the stress and lessen your risk for its debilitating consequences.

1) Overworked Underlings

  • Profile: No down time, no autonomy, no control. Such is the work life of overworked underlings. These employees are expected to work from clock in to clock out, do exactly and only what they're told, and be a slave to someone else's schedule.
  • Relief: Seek out opportunities to get involved in some aspects of decision-making at your job, even if they are small decisions. This can help you feel more invested in your company and more a part of the team. It may also help your boss see more of your skills and strengths, which may help when it comes time for promotions that can move you up and out of the underling role.

2) Frustrated Go-Getters 

  • Profile: These are high-achievers who work until they drop, but feel as if they don't get enough recognition or financial reward for their efforts. Koch refers to these work situations as "effort-reward imbalances" and they're the perfect recipe for burnout, especially among high-achievers.
  • Relief: Communicate with your boss regularly about your goals and your boss's vision of where the company is going and how you fit in this vision. In other words, get on your boss's radar screen. Try to find out from these conversations what you can do to improve your situation. If, over time, you don't see any improvement, you may want to consider transferring to a new division in the company or moving to a new company where you think your talents and skills will be better appreciated and rewarded.

3) Castaways

  • Profile: Alone on an island surrounded by sharks. These workers are left alone to work out any problems that arise. They get little to no help or guidance from supervisors or bosses, and they have no one to turn to when they need to vent.
  • Relief: Share your concerns with the person in charge. Be specific as to what you need help with and when you need that help. Be as persuasive as possible in expressing what you feel is happening and how you think the situation can be improved. You also should try to connect with coworkers to reduce your isolation. If you can't get any relief from inside the company, share your frustrations with a friend or family member. Not only can venting (within limits) help reduce stress, you also may benefit from the experiences of your friend or family member who may have suggestions on how to improve your situation at work.

4) Doormats

  • Profile: Used and abused. These workers face demanding and abusive clients or coworkers on a regular basis and are expected to take it and fake it (suppress their feelings and be courteous, calm, and professional). 
  • Relief: Ask for training on how to handle difficult people. Practice tried and true stress relieving and anger control strategies, such as deep breathing and counting to ten. And make sure you find a safe outlet to vent, if not at work then outside of work. Think of a pressure cooker with a broken release valve. You can only keep so much steam contained under your cover before you explode.

5) Targets

  • Profile: Used and abused by the boss. These workers are subjected to impossible demands, insults, and abuse by their bosses, or they see these things happening to other workers and live in fear that they'll be next. 
  • Relief: No one should be victimized--on or off the job. Although it's impossible to find a completely stress-free workplace, you shouldn't have to remain in one that's abusive or so stressful that it affects your health and well-being. If you aren't able to resolve the problem(s) by communicating with the person in charge, report your experiences and concerns to Human Resources, your union, or law enforcement and/or an attorney (in cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment).

6) Tech Prisoners 

  • Profile: Constantly connected. These workers are expected to be available 24/7 through cell phone, lap tops, or other electronic gadgets that cause boundaries between personal and professional life to fade, or in some cases, completely dissolve.
  • Relief: Schedule a gadget-free break into your day. Turn off all of your electronic devices to give yourself a chance to clear your mind. If your boss complains, have her/him read Connection Overload! to learn more about how productivity suffers when workers are overconnected.

7) High Stakes

  • Profile: These are highly involved and invested workers who work in emotionally and/or physically charged environments (emergency room workers, lawyers, doctors, therapists, police officers, EMS workers). Over time, the demanding nature of their jobs often cause these workers to feel physically and/or emotionally exhausted.
  • Relief: Make sure you advantage of time off. Take vacations and mental health days whenever possible. If you aren't able to take actual vacations, take mental vacations by meditating to rest your mind and body. If you feel you've already reached burnout, take a look at Overcoming Burnout for other suggestions on how to survive burnout.

8) Wronged Victims

  • Worker Profile: Victims of organizational injustices. These workers feel victimized by unfair workplace practices, such as playing favorites, arbitrary or immature decision making, and a lack of transparency. 
  • Relief: Communicate your concerns to the person in charge, using specific situations that exemplify your concerns. If nothing changes, you may need to consider transferring to a new division in the company or moving to a new company where you're on a more even playing field.

Don't let stress make you sick. In addition to the suggestions offered above, there are many ways to combat stress. For more information, check out the following sources:

© 2012 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved

Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).

Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., psychologist and author of "High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout," specializes in the area of women and stress.

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