Dawn was excited, her manager had FINALLY asked her to help with a big project. She knew it would mean working more hours to fit it all in with her current workload, but she was less concerned about that and more excited about the prospect of finally getting her boss to see what more she can do. Dawn was elated by this recognition of her abilities at work.
Dawn was sick. Again. Probably another migraine. Her head was throbbing. She didn’t feel like dragging herself out of bed, but today was an office day, and not only did she have to get up, she had to commute. She struggled to get moving, but managed to find a desk and log in just before 9:00. That’s when she saw the e-mail. Her boss wanted her to take on more files; not asking her, but telling her. She instantly felt worse – she couldn’t work more hours than she was already putting in. Three other members of the team had recently quit. Dawn had a sneaking suspicion when she was asked to join this project it wasn’t a way to recognize her abilities but to put a warm body in a seat.
Dawn and I are talking. She needs to make a job change and wants to know how to position her skills. We talk about why she wants to leave her current job. Dawn explains her family doctor wants her to take 6 weeks off work, but she doesn’t think she needs to stop working, just find a better job. Dawn asks if she can turn her camera off for this meeting because using the screen is making her migraine worse. As we talk, I can hear a hitch in her voice. Dawn is on the edge, but because she thinks escape (in the form of a better job) is right around the corner, she’s hanging in there.
I ask Dawn to tell me where she is on the burnout ladder. I can hear her tears as they fall near her microphone.
Dawn was trying to make it work, committed (even passionate) about doing a good job. Supportive of her team and organization, she didn’t want to abandon them for weeks on end with no replacement for her (and she was worried a leave of absence would get tied to her reputation at work). When something became unsustainable, she figured out the solution. While that helped to ease her conscience, it did nothing to acknowledge how long she’d been under persistent stress.
Just because you can see a light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t mean it’s there in time to avoid the well-being impacts that signal burnout risk. Seeing the end in sight doesn’t lessen the stress you’re under until you get there – and new work, or additional deadlines, keep the stress cycle going. So often professionals like Dawn justify what they’re going through (thinking its’s not burnout) because it’s “short-term”. But when they look back, they see the stress has been there a long time. Long enough to put them on the burnout ladder.
Where are you on the burnout ladder? Wherever you are, there are ways to move you up a rung (or two, or three) that don’t have to include quitting your job. My clients work towards making their roles, their careers, something that supports their well-being. They build skills and develop strategies to ensure they stay off the burnout ladder, creating a work life they can love. Dawn’s job used to make her really happy. She and I talked about what it would take to make her happy there again.
Working together, Dawn identified the things making work more stressful than it needed to be. Not all the stressors were coming from work, but many were. Dawn identified the ones within her control, and we came up with a workable plan to take back her power over her work, supporting her well-being. All without making any career limiting moves, or employment changes. And the best part? No more debilitating migraines.
No one thinks they’re actually burning out, but then you don’t always get to choose how stress at work is impacting your well-being. Just ask Dawn.