Burnout at Work

Are you among the 60% of us that are burned out at work? If so, here are some suggestions:

First, the Gallup Organization reports that burnout occurs after only 20 hours when you are not using your strengths. Apparently, the majority of Americans go to work and engage in tasks that do not involve use of their strengths.  To improve work satisfaction, Amy Wrzesniewski, Professor at Yale and callings expert, recommends that you increase the use of your interests, passions, values along with strengths for your main work tasks.  A strengths (e.g., Gallup StrengthsFinders or VIA) or values inventory (e.g., LuckStone Igniter or others) might provide ideas or insights for you to do this.

For example, one aspect of my job that I least enjoy is annual program reporting.  I have to crunch the data that someone else has requested.  Since the numbers are by and large pretty similar each year, the task is boring and requires considerable effort on my part to stay focused. However, by using my strengths of strategic and input, I can determine the most efficient way to gather the information and report it accurately and efficiently.  I can even look back over years of data to see if there are interesting trends (though usually there are not) or whether I should try to use this data to justify the creation of a new trend.  Using my strengths (with a bit of caffeine and sugar as a reward) to approach the task improves my performance and mood for the task.

Second, identify the meaning of your work.  I once did a mini-workshop on job crafting and asked participants to consider what is the meaning of their work.  Much to my surprise, there was laughter in the room, as if to say:  my work is completely pointless.  If you would’ve laughed too, then this task is even more important for you.

Seriously.  Ask yourself:  Why is your work role important?  Who relies on you to do a good job?  What unique contribution do you make in that job, compared to others who are in or who have been in that role?  If you can’t figure out at least one meaningful role or outcome in your job, that observation is also revealing.

Perhaps you really do have a job that is completely devoid of meaning. However, even mundane or dirty work can be highly meaningful.  Researchers Bunderson and Thompson studied callings among zookeepers and found that despite the hard work and dirty tasks (feeding and cleaning), zookeepers tend to have a high sense of calling with their work.  They find much meaning in what in what might be considered mundane tasks because they believe that they provide for the wellbeing of the animals, a high calling indeed.

In addition, consider whether you can identify a common theme across job tasks.  For instance, you may have to deal with problem customers and co-workers as part of your job.  A common theme is relationship management.  Is that something that you enjoy and would like to develop? Or perhaps you enjoy the problem-solving aspect of those tasks, which may be an area for further growth and development.

Finally, pay special attention to the most important and largest tasks on your list.  Can you tweak some of your duties so that you can increase use of your strengths, values, interests and passions?  Is there professional development available that can help you move more into those directions?  If not at work, what type of activities at home or in the community can provide that outlet and opportunity for you?  Who knows, your volunteer activities can help segue you to the job of your dreams and fuel you through your day job.

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