Office Space resonated so well with ..." /> Office Space resonated so well with ..." />

The Rut: How to Cope with Job Burnout

Close-up of real life messy desk in  officeOffice Space resonated so well with disgruntled workers everywhere that even people who haven’t seen the movie can identify Milton or recognize the scene where they finally destroy the chronically jammed fax machine. Almost all of us have been at a job past the point where things like a receptionist’s overly loud and perky greeting or the person who insists on delivering every piece of junk mail straight to your desk goes from merely annoying to insufferable.

Then the weekend comes, and you look at your house or your apartment and see all the stuff you have because of the paycheck from that job. Or you get sick and need expensive medication, and think, “I wouldn’t be able to take care of this without my job.” Even worse: maybe you have friends who have been unemployed for months and they envy you for having that annoying job.

After a while, it’s easy to believe them. It must be good to have a job for the sake of having a place to go every day, to contribute to society even in a limited way, have a steady paycheck, and health insurance.

It doesn’t help that many people are in organizations that have experienced major cuts in the workforce over the past few years. If you are in such an organization, you might be experiencing a feeling like survivor guilt because you’re there when other colleagues didn’t make the cut.

All of these negative feelings make it that much easier to sink into that rut, and stop trying to see out and evaluate other career opportunities. It can start seeming like what you have now is all you deserve, and it’s not worth even considering other options, but just because you feel stuck doesn’t mean you’re destined to stay there forever.

Take these stirrings of discontent as a challenge to evaluate your current situation. Set aside some time on one of those weekends before the Sunday blues set in and ask yourself some questions:

  • Why do I work? What do I need out of my job to feel like it is worthwhile?
  • If I could have any schedule I wanted, what would it be?
  • What kind of environment would I like to work in? Do I really like office work or would I be happier outside?
  • What skills do I truly delight in using?
  • What do I want to spend more time doing?
  • What are my biggest accomplishments?

Taking the time to understand and acknowledge what matters to you is a good step toward feeling more empowered about your career. Based on what you learn about yourself, it may be helpful to consider additional values or skills assessments. You can also research careers on the Occupational Outlook Handbook or America’s Career Infonet.

Another activity that can be helpful is connecting with other people in your professional network and learning more about what they do. You can do this in many ways. Professional development through conferences and workshops in your field or industry can be an excellent way to meet people. Other options include interacting with groups through sites like LinkedIn. Reaching out and getting involved will help you get out of your routine, and connect with people who can support you in the transition to more rewarding work.

As you continue your journey, keep in mind that being dissatisfied with your job does not make you bad, frivolous, ungrateful or a poor planner. Theorist Donald Super developed his Life Span Life Space Theory based on the fact that we all participate in multiple roles at each stage of life, and the extent of our participation varies as we develop. Consequently, our needs and values shift over the course of our development. Most of the time, jobs don’t do well when it comes to growing with people, so people tend to grow out of jobs. Take this as an opportunity to find something that delights you where you are now.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC, MCC, LPC, Career Counseling Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Grady m

    March 10th, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    It is hard to be unsatisfied with your job at a time when so many other people would be thankful to have that job!
    You may feel like you can’t take it for another day but then there are all of those fears about saying something because of the economy and the fear that if you say something to anyone about it then you may lose that job altogether, which most of us can’t afford to do at any point in time.
    One of the best things that you can do is to have someone that you know you can vent to, let those feelings out in a way that will be safe and confidential. It’s better than holding it all in and you may hear from someone who has a different perspective on it all than what you may currently have.

  • Logan

    March 10th, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    Just remember that the job does not make the person, this is not what has to define you in life. It might be a means to get certain things but it doesn’t have to be the end all and be all. It’s nine to five- there are plenty of other hours in the day to make your life fabulous!

  • Amy Armstrong

    March 11th, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    Grady and Logan, Thank you for your insights. It is so true that a paycheck is a necessity most of us do not have the luxury of going without. Also, yes, it is true that a little compartmentalization can be your best friend when it comes to a nasty job. In other words: you aren’t defined by your work.

    Unfortunately, the job just being 9-to-5 is not the reality for many people due to all the cutbacks employers have made. A lot of employees are subject to mandatory overtime requirements and putting in those extra hours at an unsatisfying job can be even more exhausting than it normally would be.

    It’s important to find a way to see what your options are. If you have the option of tuning work out completely after you leave at 5 p.m. and you can do that every day: fabulous! Make those off hours amazing. When that is not an option, grind through, take your breaks, take your vacation time when you can, and remember that all is not lost.

  • maurice k

    March 13th, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    For me, and I know that I am lucky, but I have never stayed with a job that I felt like was bringing me down.

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