Work has finally torched your mood for good. You’re ready to jump off a cliff. You start typing up a feisty little resignation letter that’s sure to burn a few bridges. But wait. You have no idea how deep the water is down there. There’s still a chance to recover.
How do you undo burnout?
First, let’s face the problem. Burnout involves a lot more than mere exhaustion from long hours. We hit a wall of futility every day, for months. We tire of having to redo work that someone else messed up. We grow irritated at our unproductive colleagues and coworkers and bosses. The ones who watch YouTube videos and plan their vacations while ignoring our emails. Or they answer our emails with the infuriating, “ok.”
Seriously, you can’t even get a capital letter?
You start to wonder why you even bother coming into work any more. A toxic cloud forms above your head. Negative thoughts take over. You think about how your hard work has gotten you nowhere. Not really.
Burnout makes you unemployable.
There’s one big reason why you need to beat your burnout. It will ruin your career. Even if you quit your job, you’re going to need a new one. You’ll have to go on the job market.
And you’ll have to lie about how much you love your current job. You’ll even have to make up a fake, palatable reason why you’re leaving.
But it’s the truth. So if you allow yourself to sit around thinking about how much you hate your job, it’s going to seep into your job interviews. Your future boss will taste it in your voice.
Everyone has to deal with a bad boss.
Let’s assume all of your complaints about work are valid. So what? You can’t just start phoning it in because your boss does. He’s the boss. Maybe he’ll stay in that job until the company goes down in flames.
Then he’ll lie his way into a new job.
That’s what bad bosses do. We’ve all seen it many times. A friend of mine has kept up with a former bad boss. Nothing ever caught up with the guy. He just kept destroying things, making enemies, and then moving on.
Stop daydreaming about slacking off.
There’s no point in harboring jealousy or malicious thoughts toward your bad boss or colleagues. You don’t really want to be like them, even if they seem to get away with everything that you can’t.
Don’t beat yourself up for having standards. You’re not a good liar. You actually give a shit. Your own standards won’t let you lie your way into a new job if you’re slacking off at your current one.
You won’t allow yourself to half-ass important projects. So stop pretending. Stop daydreaming about doing a bad job.
I’ve been guilty of this. Then I finally realized what I should do instead — don’t just quit, don’t fantasize about slacking off, but actually redefine my work and my responsibilities. So far, it’s working.
Do more than just complain.
Your spouse is tired of listening to you list off all the things you hate about your workplace. So are your friends. You’ve finally realized that you’ve started repeating yourself.
In your defense, the same things keep happening. You start to build back some trust with your first boss, then they knife you again. They cancel a promise. Dump more work on you. And yada, yada.
You can’t just keep complaining. Maybe you can’t exactly report your boss. And you definitely can’t continue doing their job for free. But you can try some other strategies.
Do your boss’s job in a public way.
Some people burn down their own house. Others manage to set the whole neighborhood aflame. At some point, you actually have to take action. But don’t let your extra work remain invisible.
Do it in a public way, so other people see that you’re stepping up. Your boss might remain oblivious, but some of your coworkers will notice.
Your boss’s boss might also see what’s going on. They’ll become your allies. Bitching about your boss can backfire. But doing their job in full view of others will lead somewhere. This is how bad bosses get replaced. Play the long game. Document your extra work. Show it.
Show your bosses better ways to get things done.
It’s not exactly your job to teach your boss how to use email filters and dashboards. But sometimes you have to, so that you can save yourself a little time. Teach a boss to fish, and they’ll stop stealing your lunch.
At least you can hope.
Of course, you can’t spend all your time teaching people how to do their jobs. But occasionally, it’s worth the time.
You don’t have to always teach them explicitly. Sometimes just modeling smart work strategies does well enough.
Don’t let people think you’re lazy.
So you’ve started skipping out on some meetings. Why? So you can get actual, real work done. There’s just one problem. When people don’t see you at meetings, they assume you’re playing hooky.
Don’t let your boss or coworkers think that about you. It’s not true. You’re actually working your ass off.
You don’t have to brag. And you don’t have to announce to everyone how pointless you think their meeting is. Take a middle approach. Email the chair of that committee and tell them what you need to do instead of sitting around chatting over Starbucks.
You can even use this beautiful phrase, “I’m running behind on a project.” And when you finish said project, maybe accidentally cc them on the work you turn in to whatever supervisor.
Develop your own agenda.
So your company has stepped into some deep sh*t. You know what needs to happen to get things back on track. So stop doing the busywork they saddled you with, and just solve the problem.
Do some research. Come up with a plan. Draft a memo. Send it to your boss. If he doesn’t care, send it to the next level up.
You might be surprised. A few of the big bosses actually know what they’re doing. They’re looking for competent people. They might not even know you exist. Show yourself to them.
Make some bold moves.
You’re about to quit anyway, right? You’re not the kind of person who walks away without a fight. So try some last ditch efforts. Say what you actually think at that meeting.
You don’t need to play the role of cynical, burned out employee. But you can cut through the B.S. You can get things moving.
You can explain the problem everyone else can’t see. And you can be the one who actually does something about it.
Don’t just throw your hands up.
It’s possible that none of your work will make any difference. Your boss and his boss will humor you for a little while. Then they’ll go back to playing games on their smartphone and planning vacations in their office.
So you may wind up quitting after all. That’s too bad, but put yourself into a position with options.
Don’t be one of those people who quits without notice. That’s not a noble move. It’s a cop out — no matter what. If you’re smart, you’ll start looking for your own replacement and training them.
That’s the kind of thing you can talk about at a job interview — how you transitioned out of a position responsibly, even while your boss was pouring gasoline all over the place and lighting matches.
Nobody wants to hire a burnout. So don’t let yourself go up in flames. Rediscover what attracted you to your career in the first place. Focus on that. And let someone else put out the fire for once.