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What to do About Burnout: Identifying Your Sources (Part 1)
by
Dr. Laurie Pearlman
on
November 13, 2012
| Stress & Burnout |

You know the feeling…It’s Wednesday and you don’t feel like getting out of bed. No one seems to appreciate what you’re trying to do, and everyone wants something from you. You feel numb, without much patience for anyone’s feelings, including your own. Nothing seems to make much of a difference. Even the people you’re working for, the beneficiaries, don’t really seem to matter. These are signs of burnout. But you probably knew that already!  So what can you do about it? This series of blog posts will address that question.

Often people who are burning out find that their productivity at work begins to decrease. This is discouraging to them and perhaps to co-workers as well. One possible response at this point is to work longer hours to make up for the lack of productivity. Another response to burnout is to give up, to withdraw. Unfortunately, neither of these responses helps much. Commit to finding a better solution!

The earlier you can address burnout, the easier it will be. All of us have bad days at work or days we really wish we were somewhere else. But burnout is a chronic problem that results from long-term conditions in which we don’t have enough sense of accomplishment in or control over our work, or where expectations and capabilities don’t match well enough. Fortunately, there are many strategies for addressing it.

As with most problems, we can either deal with the situations that created the problem (we’ll call them “sources”) or with the end results (we’ll call these “outcomes”). In many instances, it’s good to work with both, because that can give us more paths to consider.

Burnout can have different sources for national and ex-pat staff, although some are shared. Common sources of burnout in humanitarian workers include:

  • A persistent gap between job expectations and one’s skills, abilities, knowledge, talent, or gifts.
  • A bad match between the job and the person.
  • Not enough signs of effectiveness or progress.
  • Too much challenge.
  • Continual boredom (this can be either a source or a symptom of burnout).
  • Frequent travel, long hours, or difficult/dangerous work environment.
  • Balancing the expectations of managers, co-workers, donors, beneficiaries, family, and oneself.
  • Lack of appreciation, fairness, or feedback. Bias or misunderstanding.
  • Not enough control over one’s working conditions.
  • Responsibility for things you can’t control.

Which of the sources above apply in your situation? Continue to Part 2 for thoughts on what to do next… 

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