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In our “Leading Together” series, we’re bringing together women who carved out new career paths, harnessed their skills, and overcame the burnout of managing competing priorities. They’re sharing their insights and the tools women need to say “yes” to career advancement and “hell yes” to that next leadership role. Hosted live on the Booz Allen Facebook page every third Thursday of the month, tune in live, view previous episodes, or read our key takeaways below.
In early 2019, the World Health Organization announced that burnout is now a diagnosable medical condition with symptoms including feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance, negativism, or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. For ambitious individuals trying to advance their career rapidly, the risk of burnout is even higher. A study conducted by the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence found that nearly 20 percent of “highly engaged” U.S. workers reported experiencing some form of burnout.
Taking on a heavier workload or more responsibilities is often a tactic to advance your career, but it can also increase risk of burnout––which isn’t ideal for either you or the organization. We talked to Booz Allen’s Chief Diversity Officer Marlene Aquino, Fannie Mae’s Vice President of Talent Acquisition & Staffing Programs Teresa Green, and the Leadership Center for Excellence’s CEO & President Karen Coltrane about how they took on more responsibilities while mitigating––or recovering from––burnout. Here are their tips:
If you’re looking to take your career to the next level, taking on a heavier workload is sometimes a rite of passage. Before you add more to your plate, “check in with your internal values system first,” Teresa advises, reflecting on when she agreed to more responsibility at work right after maternity leave. “I took the leap, but I didn’t excel initially.” Don’t be afraid to make a decision that’s best for yourself at a given point in your life or career.
Are there recurring projects that don’t excite you like they used to? Try Karen’s suggestion of “delegating and giving others the opportunity to step up.” Karen added, “a lot of times, I think burnout happens because perfection is a core value of some people’s lives. I try to challenge that and question whether the task at hand is even in line with their long-term goals.” Give a junior employee a new opportunity to shine, while freeing up some time for you to do tasks that keep you feeling fresh and motivated.
Many people find it hard to completely disconnect from work. In fact, a recent study found that more than half of Americans don’t use all of their annual vacation days. If you’re at risk for burnout, start with simply using the valuable days you’ve earned. While it can be hard for some to fully sign off, rest and rejuvenation will make you stronger to take on new challenges when you return. “Start to recognize how you react to stress and when you start burning out,” Marlene said. “If you feel like you’re getting to that point, plan to take a day off for a long weekend, schedule a fun evening with friends, or do something you enjoy that will help you feel rejuvenated.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to talk to your boss about making sure your workload is resourced appropriately. Before moving into a new role with a broader portfolio, Marlene initiated a conversation with her manager for help narrowing her focus. Now, she says, “I can focus on one thing, go deep, and have a lot of impact.”
Karen suggests bringing solutions to the table when you’re feeling overwhelmed––not just complaints: “Bring solutions, even if they’re not the best. You’ll get so much further with leaders if you’ve given all you have in trying to solve the problem first.”
One of the symptoms of burnout is feelings of negativism or cynicism toward one’s job. If you’re working for a company with values that don’t align to your own, consider if that misalignment is the root of your burnout. It may give you the clarity you need to chart your next steps.