I had breakfast with my cousin this weekend and we were discussing work burnout. She is a director of human resources in the Huntsville, Alabama area. We are four months apart in age and while we have never lived near each other, we have a lot in common- including the way we view work. At breakfast we discussed her current unhappiness with her job situation. The bottom line was that she is suffering from "burnout." When I asked her what her top three "kickers" for feeling that way she listed the following:
- Ethical/values misalignment between herself and her employers.
- Lack of growth/intellectual stimulus.
- Poor communication/lack of leadership.
Bingo. Seems right in line with many of the of the top posts when I googled what causes "work burn out" or "workplace unhappiness." At some time or another many of us have suffered from some level of burnout. As educators, our burnout can affect the learning and desire to learn of anywhere from 15-2000 students, depending on what our job actually is and how many students we come into contact with weekly. The question is, how do we pull ourselves out of burnout and recover so that we can enjoy that which we have chosen to do...specifically, how do educators enjoy the journey of education?
I've been there- at the intersection of "Burnout and Apathy" multiple times in my life. I'll be honest, I think it has to do with the fact that I tend to be passionate about the things I believe in. My cousin, Melissa, is the same way. The downside to being a passionate employee is that you burn extra brightly. Your "light bulb" never really goes off, energy is always being used up. You can't shut down the breaker easily. Ok...enough figurative language- how do we prevent workplace burnout outside of leaving the institution or truly becoming apathetic and changing who we are?
- Find your positive. Pull yourself out of your current conflict and imagine if someone was sharing your issues with you as if they were their own. Is it really an issue or are you making it an issue? Sometimes lots of little things lead to "the last straw" and we seem to only focus on the negatives. Find your positives in your situations. For me, this sometimes means seeking out positive people to help me see the half-full glass.
- Find your balance. Your work isn't your life, it's a portion of who you are. Do things that you enjoy when you aren't at work. Don't get so caught up in work that it takes over your thinking both day and night. (This is my hardest thing to control).
- Find ways to feed your inner need for "more." When you don't feel challenged, when you don't feel heard, when you feel stagnant...do something about it. For me, I seek out ways outside of my school building to build my professional learning network. It means looking for opportunities to help elsewhere- whether it be blogging, Twitter chats, speaking events or answering emails from educators outside my school system- finding a way to feel value in your day helps combat the feelings of burnout.
- Find your edu-encourager. Find someone that not only understands what you do but understands you, ask that person to be your sounding board. It's actually probably a better idea that it isn't someone at your school. We tend to gravitate to people that see things the way we do, if you aren't careful this need to vent can easily become a gossip session. Pick someone that you can trust, that you know can look at things logically, and that will give you honest feedback. Buy them coffee and donuts occasionally and just talk in order to let things go.
- Find the real battles. Don't let hard days make everything worth ruining your days. As a mom of teens I often say "I have to pick my battles." We should do this professionally too. Learn what's just smarter to let go of and what is worthy of fighting for.
- Find respect. We are all imperfect. We all have strengths and weaknesses. If we dwell on the negatives of our workplace we lose respect for those in authority over us. Remind yourself of the things your superiors do well and respect them for those things. Remind yourself of your faults too, for humility sake.
Seeking ways to combat burnout is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Burnout can affect us mentally, emotionally and physically. We must choose to do things to pull ourselves away from this predicament. The results of "pulling ourselves away" looks different for each of us, but we must find a way to bloom where we are planted!