Management

Identifying Burnout

David and I got married 5 years ago this October. With the help of TimeHop, I’ve been reminiscing about the festivities — wedding showers, bachelorette parties, and the big day itself of course. Then today I was reminded of the added work stress I endured during that transitional point in my life.

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Now, this tweet may lead you to believe that I was actually having a great time at work. But as with many things put on social media, this is misleading. The “message behind the message” was: I had to wake up early and put on a stupid polo shirt to work a l-o-o-o-o-n-g morning at an event put on by company, and now I have to go back to the office and do real work for demanding clients that don’t care that we are hosting an event today.

And that was pretty much my attitude at work in the months leading up to my wedding; I was stressed, I was overloaded and overwhelmed, I felt under-appreciated,  and I was questioning some of the work I was assigned.

In a nutshell, I was burnt out.

Did I mentioned I was going through all of this while planning a wedding?!

Needless to say, there wasn’t much balance in my life. I was going to work early, staying late, getting home late and doing more work at home that I wasn’t able to finish during the work day. It was great that the company had so many clients and so many exciting projects. But I was bearing the brunt of a lot of client work, with a boss who had no idea how to manage the services we provided. On top of that, the owner of the company decided we needed to put on a multi-day conference. Events take a lot of work to plan and market. First-year events take even more work to plan and market. I got roped into the marketing side, partially to clean up some of the mess that was made by the event coordinators that had been contracted. I had no experience marketing first-year events, but was expected to generate excitement about it, and sell tickets so the company didn’t lose money on it — on top of keeping up with ever-growing task list of client work and trying to squeeze in wedding stuff on my personal time (of which I had little).

It got to be so bad that I actually broke down and cried at the office on afternoon. It was a Friday afternoon, and I had to finish up client work before heading to the airport to fly to Florida for my bridal shower/bachelorette weekend. One of my (many) supervisors (I had 8 different bosses! Not really but hopefully you get the reference…) asked to put together a graphic for a survey (I’m not a designer in the least). I had no one to delegate to or ask for help. And then I was told that the owner of the company wanted me to post at least 2 tweets per day for the conference we were planning. I remember saying to my co-worker, “OK, I have XYZ client projects I have to finish, this stupid graphic to do, and if I’m going to work this weekend it’s going to be on client work, not this conference.” The final straw was when I got reprimanded for the graphic I was asked to create. What did they expect from a non-designer?! I did the best I could under the time constraint I had. I finally went off on one of my supervisors and said “this isn’t my job!”

Now, “this isn’t my job” is not a good thing to say to someone who manages you. Refusing work is never good. And I wasn’t one to display that kind of attitude. But under the circumstances, I felt like no one understood what I was dealing with. I didn’t get paid extra for overtime, and I didn’t get paid enough to work 80+ hours a week. And no one in management had picked up on the signs that I was beginning to get overburdened.

The lesson in that, for me, is twofold:

  1. As an employee, you have to take care of yourself.
    Looking back on that moment, I realize that I — as an employee — was responsible for the lack of balance in my life. I was overly eager to prove myself; I wanted more projects and thought that taking on more tasks would help me move up in the ranks. I never let myself realize how exhausted I was. In D.C., you’re supposed to be overworked. It seemed to me like the more you have to do, the more important you are. I also thought that talking to someone in management at the company about how I was feeling would make me seem weak — and that doing so would mean that I wouldn’t be seen as a go-to person on new projects. My career, and my work, is important to me. But it’s not as important as my health, my sanity, or my family. 
  2. As a manager, you need to be aware of your employees.

    Now that I have a team of direct-reports, I also see this as a learning experience for managers. You have to know your employees. You have to know their strengths and weaknesses — both in terms of their skills and their personality. In my case, a weakness in my personality was that I was afraid of missing out, and I felt the need to constantly prove myself by taking on more and more. As a manager, you HAVE to pay attention to signs that your employees are overworked, stressed, or even just going through a rough time — ideally well before are on the brink of burnout.

 

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