COVID-19’s arrival changed the way we work — and our attitudes about work.
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If that shiny, new job has lost its luster or you feel like those long hours and the endless stress aren’t worth it anymore, you’re not alone.
Millions of people have walked away from their jobs during the pandemic for a variety of reasons. Some have decided to start their own businesses. Others have seen the value of being at home for their families. And if you’re in the camp that’s still trying to figure it all out, that’s just fine.
But how do you know when you’re ready for a new career or just need to hit the reset button for your existing one? Clinical psychologist Becky Tilahun, PhD, gives some helpful tips for sorting through what you might be feeling.
Also known as “The Big Quit,” “The Great Resignation” refers to the record numbers of Americans who have left their jobs during the pandemic. In September 2021, the number was up to 4.4 million workers. It dropped down to 4.2 million in October — still not too far from September’s record high.
People aren’t quitting their jobs to sit at home and collect unemployment. Instead, many are seeking better opportunities. They’re looking for positions that offer convenient options such as work from home, better pay or a good work-life balance.
The pandemic has forced a great deal of us to examine our current situations and caused us to change course.
“When people go through a life-altering experience, they get new perspectives and question existing norms and their engagements,” says Dr. Tilahun. “The COVID-19 pandemic, with all the far-reaching healthcare, economic and social life impacts, may have caused a paradigm shift for a number of workers.”
Dr. Tilahun says for some, in-office work became even more stressful, as they feared being exposed to COVID-19 on the job. Others found working from home less than ideal.
“Some people preferred the safety and convenience of working from home. Others found working from home stressful, as they struggled to find a quiet and private space to work, felt isolated from their peers and felt like being in the office was more advantageous for their productivity and career development,” says Dr. Tilahun. “Nonetheless, the pandemic forced people to experiment with different ways of working and some had a change of heart in terms of where and how they like to work.”
There isn’t a simple explanation. Dr. Tilahun says that without controlled studies, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons why people are quitting their jobs. However, the high number of resignations could mean a few things.
“The fact that people are leaving their jobs in high numbers is likely a combination of several factors. For example, older people and those who are in the at-risk group for a severe COVID-19 illness may have decided to leave their jobs out of concern for their health,” Dr. Tilahun notes. “For others, it could be that they are not amenable to receiving COVID-19 vaccines as required by their employers. Furthermore, the pandemic-related health crisis may have led individuals to prioritize their life values and put more weight on family and relationships than careers.”
The last few years have been quite stressful. With stress and uncertainty piled on top of daily demands, it might be even tougher to enjoy home or work roles. It’s quite possible that many of us are feeling the burn of burnout. According to Dr. Tilahun, burnout is the result of experiencing chronic stress from a demanding role or responsibilities.
“Parents can experience parental burnout, caregivers of people who are living with chronic illness can develop caregiver burnout and employees can experience job burnout. Burnout manifests itself in three ways: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment.”
Dr. Tilahun says emotional exhaustion is a feeling of being constantly depleted and overwhelmed. Depersonalization is a feeling of “compassion fatigue” or being emotionally disconnected from the people you live or work with. A reduced sense of personal accomplishment can stem from feeling like you’re always behind or that you’re inadequate.
“In a nutshell, burnout is a feeling of constant emotional fatigue caused by chronic stress that makes you lose your passion and energy for your job, as well as the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that you get from your engagement,” explains Dr. Tilahun.
If you’re having difficulty in the following areas, you may be dealing with burnout:
It takes self-awareness and self-discipline to manage burnout. If you’ve lost interest in your job and feel emotionally exhausted a lot, Dr. Tilahun suggests reevaluating the demands of your career and taking a break if possible. And if you’re spending too much time at work in an effort to meet the responsibilities of your job, try balancing expectations by establishing boundaries at work.
Here are a few more strategies from Dr. Tilahun that can help.
No matter what you do, your contribution is significant. Recognizing that will help you find meaning and job satisfaction. Studies show that workers who liked their jobs were not those who were in their ideal positions. Instead, they were employees who molded their jobs into careers they loved. The attitude toward your work can make a difference, especially when you find meaning and purpose in it.
Have a system for prioritizing your duties and assignments. Also, try minimizing distractions. Say no to requests that you cannot do and be intentional with how you use your time at work.
Regularly scheduling projects and tasks without enough time can eventually lead to burnout. If you’re doing this, try to manage projects better. You can also delegate or ask for help if it’s available. Embracing your limits and accepting help when you need it isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s being self-aware and proactive. If your job duties feel excessive to you, write down your responsibilities and discuss with your manager whether they can get you some assistance or maybe reassign some of your duties.
At times, people’s high standards may contribute to overwork. The unrealistic expectations you put on yourself can lead to burnout. When you don’t have control over what is expected of you at work, be gentle with yourself at home and minimize stressors. Listen to your body. And when you reach your limit with tasks at home, it’s OK to let things wait until the next day.
Taking time out to take care of yourself is a very important step in preventing burnout. Engaging in restorative activities at home can offset the feeling of burnout. Whether it’s traveling, learning a new hobby or trying new recipes, make time to enjoy pleasant activities during your downtime.
Also, get enough sleep. Aim for at least eight hours per night. If you struggle with getting sufficient sleep, try learning some behavioral sleep hygiene tips or ask your healthcare provider for help.
There is nothing wrong with talking to a counselor or psychotherapist if you’re having a tough time. Psychotherapy can enhance your emotional health and it’s much more accessible these days with virtual services. A therapist can teach you effective stress management skills, like relaxation exercises or assertive communication, so you can more constructively address issues that come up at work.
Working a job that’s not the right fit or staying at a job that has an unhealthy environment can make you susceptible to burnout. If you attempt to improve your situation and it doesn’t get better, it might mean you should look for something else.