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Avoid job burnout with this advice

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Think you might be dealing with job burnout?  Wondering what the signs might be and if it’s possible to improve your relationship with work? If so, join the UC Alumni Career Network for Addressing Job Burnout.

This dynamic conversation, which aired Oct. 21, 2020, features Ann Wang (’13, UCLA), co-founder and CEO of Enrou, with Dr. Christina Maslach, professor of psychology (emerita) and a core researcher at the Healthy Workplaces Center at UC Berkeley. Professor Maslach is a pioneer of research on the definition, predictors and measurement of job burnout. Learn her insights on how to recognize job burnout and strategies to help you improve your relationship with work.  

Don’t have time to watch right now? Here are some key takeaways.

What is job burnout?

People who experience burnout have a combination of three interrelated experiences, says Christina:

  • First, they experience a sense of incredible exhaustion — AKA the stress response.
  • Then, they begin to develop a growing negative, hostile and sinister mentality towards their job — not just towards the work, but also about their coworkers. This leads them to change their behavior in negative ways — like doing the bare minimum, making errors and not making any effort to perform well.
  • Finally, they begin feeling negative towards themselves, both for the stress of feeling burnout and for their own negative behavior. They believe that there’s something wrong with them and punish themselves emotionally.

Today, the burnout experience has been recognized as a phenomenon by the World Health Organization. It’s a legitimate problem that deserves recognition and positive action.

What age group experiences burnout the most?

Despite years of research, Dr. Maslach’s research has not identified a specific generation — i.e. Millennials — that experience burnout the most intensely. Still, the environment we’re in now is like nothing before. And many of us haven’t been prepared to deal with it. The modern workplace has not been designed to make people thrive, says Dr. Maslach.

What’s changed with burnout since the COVID-19 pandemic started?

A “silver lining” of the pandemic, says Dr. Maslach, is an increased recognition of the burden that unhealthy workplace roles and environments place on the human psyche and our overall wellness. “We’ve known for a long time about how long hours and big imbalances between demands and resources create an unhealthy environment that has a negative impact on employees and productivity. But COVID has forced us to think way out of the box to make our workplaces safer — to think creatively to make people feel comfortable wherever they’re working.”

How can I overcome feeling ashamed about burnout?

“There’s a lot of shame attached to feeling burnout,” says Wang. People are aware that they’re lucky to have a job and/or a family that requires their attention; when they are struggling, they may feel like they are being ungrateful.

If you’re feeling ashamed about burnout, try to remember that your feelings of being overwhelmed are valid and that you’re likely not the only one experiencing them, says Dr. Maslach. Take a risk and be forthcoming; reach out to your colleagues and support network and be honest about your feelings. You’ll likely find that you are not alone, and by connecting with your colleagues you may be able to collectively develop solutions to make your shared workplace experience more positive.

What can upper management do to help employees deal with burnout?

There is no single cure for burnout, but the concept of “walk-around leadership” is key, Dr. Maslach says. When leaders take the time to meet and interact with employees, to personally listen and understand what is happening in the workplace, they can use this input to make changes that benefit employees and build a more engaged workforce. Once changes are identified, it’s important to define goals and measure progress. 

How important is finding meaning in your work?

“It’s critical,” says Dr. Maslach. People who care about their jobs are vastly more likely to feel satisfied in their careers and to be able to navigate challenging features that would typically lead to burnout. 

How can we solve burnout?

There isn’t a simple solution, but there are things that make a difference, says Dr. Maslach. Work with your colleagues and team and work to identify where there are areas of mismatch between a person and the responsibility. One key action you can take right now: Get to know your colleagues as people, not just coworkers. By finding opportunities to connect and building trust with your coworkers — whether remotely or in-person — you can boost resilience together and deepen connections.

For more topical career advice, connect with the UC Alumni Career Network! Save the date for our next livestream, The Future of Travel, taking place Thursday, Nov. 12 from 12-12:45 p.m. (PT) on the UC Facebook and LinkedIn pages. Subscribe to the UC Alumni Career Network to receive updates and a link to the recording.

And, check out a UC video featuring Dr. Maslach’s research!

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