Mark Albion frequently works around the clock. It’s also not unusual for him to put in 16- or 17-hour workdays. Although it sounds like Albion is a compulsive workaholic speeding toward burnout, he disagrees. “I love what I do, so why shouldn’t I work long hours if it makes me happy?” he asks.
By the same token, there are occasions when Albion, the author of Making A Life, Making a Living (Warner Books; $13.95) and president of Boston-based career-management company You & Company, will knock off for a week to go skiing.
Albion has figured out how to mix work and relaxation, but not everyone is so lucky. That’s why burnout is prevalent among career-builders, especially techies hell-bent on staying one step ahead of the hot technology.
Symptoms and causes
The term “burnout” was reportedly coined in 1974 by New York psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger in his book Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. Freudenberger defined burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Burnout symptoms include short attention span, body aches, insomnia, irritability, impatience, alienation, emotional and physical exhaustion, and most noticeably in the early stages, a lack of motivation to get out of bed in the morning to get to work.
The causes? Distorted goals can trigger burnout, according to Albion. Working for the money rather than loving what you do often heads the list. “Money doesn’t talk, it swears,” he insists. Many fast-trackers feel they have a short time window in which they can make a lot of money. The race to be a millionaire is enough to trigger the symptoms of burnout.
What you can do
Jeremy Robinson, a psychotherapist and executive coach in New York City, insists burnout is a signal that something is seriously wrong with your personal life that has nothing to do with working insane hours. He cites a high-level executive client who discovered his life had little meaning because he lacked companionship and meaningful relationships. “Once that realization sunk in, the burnout symptoms began to slowly fade,” Robinson explains.
Among professionals who are most susceptible to burnout are IT workers who spend a lot of time writing code or doing other highly technical tasks for long hours, according to Robinson.
Finding the right solution to the problem depends on whom you ask. Robinson says most burnout victims lack balance in their lives. “A yoga class once or twice a week won’t cut it,” he explains. “What’s needed is overhauling your entire life.”
Albion says Robinson’s solution is too simplistic. “Finding equilibrium in your life is a myth,” he says, “because often it’s impossible. If you’re working in a seasonal industry, for example, balance cannot be achieved. It’s hard to find balance when you’re forced to do the bulk of your business in six months.”
His solution to burnout is “integration.” “This means making everything in your life work,” says Albion. “If you’re living an authentic life, it shouldn’t be difficult melding work and relaxation. Once you notice the symptoms of burnout, it’s often as simple as finding ways to recharge your engine. Sometimes, three weeks away from the job will do it.”
Don’t be afraid to ask your boss for some time off. “Many people are reluctant to mention the word burnout,” adds Albion. “Most bosses will not only understand but will encourage you to take a breather.” Ultimately, company and employee both benefit.
Any solutions Albion, Robinson, and dozens of other experts offer are just food for thought. No panaceas exist for coping with burnout. It can take time to find the causes and solutions. But it’s well worth the effort.
What’s your burnout story?
We all have one. Start a discussion below and let your peers learn from your hard-won experience.