Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Burnout Series: Office Limited Agoraphobia

I've decided to do a little series on job burnout. I have it- big time- and I think it would be helpful for people to know the symptoms so if you spot an employee with some of the characteristics of burnout, you can stop it in it's tracks by offering some helpful advice. I've read a couple of books that have some great insight for those future and current managers of people. One is called I Quit But I Forgot To Tell You which is all about burnout and the other is Make Every Second Count which has a little blurb about burnout. I think the "I Quit" book should be required reading for every manager new and old- she is spot on about cases where burnout has gone to the point of being irreversible. I think it's a little too late for me actually following her book- but maybe some of the insights catalouged below can help someone else. Instead of providing book reviews (read those on Amazon if you are interested), I figured I walk through some common symptoms of burnout and catalog my experience.


Burnout: Cubically Agoraphobic

Can I unplug the phone? My last job required me to manage a team that was half-way across the country. The tasks weren't hard and the people were easy enough to get along with but I was continually finding ways to avoid people, meetings, phone calls, and business trips. I literally felt like I was becoming agoraphobic. I didn't want to get cake, meet folks for lunch, or discuss my personal life- at all. Facing the water cooler started being a chore and I realized that it wasn't me- it was the job. I was so demotivated by the tasks I was starting to withdraw myself from the office social scene. I had completely detached my personal self from my workspace. You would no longer find family photos, kid art, or computer background that had any element of my life outside of the job. When I'm engaged and excited about a task I can envision myself popping around to different people to get their inputs, voraciously absorbing information nuggets in targeted meetings, and getting excited about a customer meeting out of state. At least- I can remember that person. If you are burning out and the only motivating part of the job is the consistency of the paycheck, you may find yourself making strange and silly excuses to avoid trips, meetings, and verbal discourse with your coworkers. Don't clam up- schedule some time to figure out a plan to find that motivating tick again.

Coming Around: Navigate Your Minefield

Sometimes you end up getting just what you asked for. In my case I really wanted to manage a new project. I always thought I could do a better job at managing a program than my management. Turns out- I probably wasn't right for the job. I'd much rather be doing the work than monitoring the progress and the direction. While I enjoy charting the course, I really avoid the parts of the job related to monitoring and scheduling the team's tasks. Talk to your management about restructing your current assignment. Maybe there is a new hotshot that you could mentor on the task management part while you focus ont he strategic course setting. If it's the technical work you miss, you could take responsibility at a level that works across multple projects to organize resources. Perhaps your comany as a whle could be improved with a new proposal management software. Volunteer to write and implement the solution- that way you can be seen as a leader in your field without giving up the technical spects of the job you originally started in the field to get.

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