Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Better to burn out than to fade away

Well, probably not.

People who know me would probably suggest that the statement that I am a very emotional person who feels things deeply and has trouble hiding what I'm feeling would be an understatement. I wear my heart on my sleeve. It's just how I am.

It can be a bit of a double-edged sword. There are undoubtably benefits - I think I've gravitated to the sort of job I have, which I consider a sort of highly analytical customer service position, because I care deeply about making people happy (it just happens to be a job where I make people happy by keeping their software working properly). I take it to heart when I can't solve problems, or can't enable my team to solve them, and this leads me to learn, and to fight for the right solution, and to work hard to fix problems for our customers.  I try hard to understand the feelings of my customers which encourages me to build good relationships with them. Without these relationships, I don't think it would be possible to do my job.

There can be serious problems inherent in it as well. I take things personally, which means that I take it to heart when things don't go well. Unfortunately this is not uncommon in my line of work. Usually I can deal with it and just try to put processes in place so that things go better next time. When I'm tired, that's harder to do and it tends to pile up on me.

The other thing that tends to happen is that I have trouble saying no, and I take on too much. I have a very supportive team but I don't like to overload them so if I've taken on too much then I try to do it myself so I can protect them from it. As it turns out in my job as in so many others, this approach leads to tears. There isn't a nice natural barrier on the amount of work so it stops when you've got enough. It just keeps coming.

And what's happened lately is that too much work and too much going wrong (thankfully, not much of it my fault) and too much taking everything to heart and trying to keep making people happy in a rather impossible situation has ended up taking advantage of the fact that I'm naturally prone to burnout.

I'm a bit disinterested in work, I'm getting irritated and snapping at people, I'm not as productive as normal, I'm tired and my short-term memory is failing. I make it through the day but I'd rather be elsewhere. Classic burnout symptoms.

Luckily, I've recognised it and I can try and do something about it. Granted, I've probably left it a little longer than I should have done, but it's recognised now. I'll be taking a couple of days off next week to try and recharge. If that's not enough then I can take more time off, and I can get some help.

I strongly recommend anyone who is feeling this way in their work to talk to someone - a close friend, a family member, possibly a doctor or psychologist if you are comfortable with that. Most large workplaces in Australia provide access to Employee Assistance Programs where you can get free, confidential, professional advice from specialist Psychologists. I know it's really hard to admit that you're having trouble but it's better to do it early and get a handle on it than to allow it to dig you a great big hole that you can't get out of. Left too long, burnout can have serious consequences. It can leave you questioning your own sanity, can lead to mistakes at work and home and can destroy relationships, careers and lives. Caught early, you can prevent this, and learn how to recognise it in the future.

[eta: our title today comes from the inimitable Mr Neil Young, from his song Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the black)]

(I'm not an expert and I'm only talking from my own personal experience. I recommend that anyone having emotional issues that concern or worry them in any way should seek professional advice.)

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