Making any changes in your work life requires effort, deliberate thinking and preparedness. Sometimes it's hard to see if change is even necessary and why we should bother with making any changes at all in the first place.
However, the thing about change is that it will happen no matter what. It is completely up to us to take control of it and transform it into a positive result.
But how do you know that you are ready to start making changes? And even more so, when has the need for change become urgent?
Here's how to tell if you must make a change immediately:
You struggle to be productive: You find it harder and harder to concentrate and you get easily distracted. It's almost impossible to maintain your focus and even simple tasks are becoming difficult and time-consuming. You feel constantly tired and your mind has become sluggish and irresponsive.
You're no longer in control: Things seem to happen to you and you have lost your sense of power over your circumstances. Other people seem to be making your decisions for you and you have lost your will and energy to fight for things that you considered important.
Your work isn't rewarding: There is no sense of pride in what you do anymore. You're unable to recognize your accomplishments but you also feel like your hard work is being taken for granted by others. On the one hand you don't feel appreciated and on the other, you don't spend time celebrating or reflecting on your own achievements either.
You're not connecting with others: You're finding interactions to be draining and you lack the energy that forging relationships requires. You feel isolated, misunderstood or judged so you don't open up to others about how you feel. You spend most of your time in a numb, disassociated state of mind.
You feel like you're being mistreated: You see injustice everywhere and you constantly perceive others' behaviors towards you as aggressive, unfair or disrespectful. You feel like everyone is out to get you which makes you feel even more isolated.
You can't find meaning in what you do: You've lost your sense of purpose and you can't see the meaning behind your daily tasks and how they might serve a higher goal. You feel like you're working without a direction and your work no longer aligns with your personal values.
You've become cynical and irritable: You're struggling to keep a positive mindset and your approach tends to be more and more pessimistic. You've become short-tempered and you're losing your patience even over simple things. Your responses tend to sound a lot more ironic and your thinking is flooded with negative bias.
The behavioral signs listed here are part of Christina Manslach's Burnout Inventory (MBI) and refer to the main areas of work life where burnout manifests in (Leiter & Maslach, 1999).
It's important to note that even if you don't notice all of the above behavioral signs in yourself, it doesn't mean that you haven't reached the burnout threshold. Positive changes are more effective in preventing burnout rather than curing it - but in both cases, change is really the only antidote.
What to do about it:
All change starts with awareness: Start noticing your triggers and keep tabs on them. When do they appear? What is causing them? The more information you have, the easier it will be to know what to change.
Reduce the source of the triggers: Make an effort to reduce exposure to your triggers by taking time to meditate in the morning, taking a lunch break away from all screens, going for an afternoon walk, turning off your phone after 8pm, etc. Regardless of what the trigger is, by making it smaller, you take back some of the control it has over you.
Open up to someone: You are not alone in this. 1.3 million people struggled with burnout symptoms in the Netherlands last year according to the National Working Conditions Survey. The sooner you get yourself the support and help you need, the faster and easier change will become for you.