Creatives: What to Do When You Feel the Flames Go Out
Imagine this: You are in a great place in your career. You make great money, have a positive work environment, and interact well with your coworkers. You’re getting projects done left and right. Your desk is always tidy. You’re using your creativity. No complaints. The boss is happy.
…Then, the unthinkable happens.
One day, your workload feels never-ending, your pay is suddenly not enough anymore, and talking to clients is making you want to pull your hair out. These feelings seem random, but we assure you, they’re not. At some point in your career, you’ll face the worst nightmare of every employer and employee alike: burnout.
What is Burnout?
According to helpguide.org, “Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” It is that point where your mindset changes drastically in your life or career, also known as a “make it or break it” point. Once the signs of burnout emerge, an employee will either find motivation to fight through it or give up completely. It’s important to be aware of the causes of burnout so you can prevent it from happening.
Employees face burnout for many reasons including (but not limited to):
- Role ambiguity
- Job demands
- Lack of support
- Lack of feedback
- Personality or role conflicts
- Lack of resources or training
An employer can help mitigate burnout in the beginning by learning more about what motivates their employees. By having employees fill out detailed surveys about their work personalities, they can gather data that may help retain the employee in the event of burnout. I once had a supervisor who had her team fill out questions to get to know us better. By doing this, she was able to motivate us to work our hardest and always be open to talking to her if we had any issues. This open door policy made us feel comfortable with her, keeping us all on the same page. Not only did this increase employee morale and participation, it kept us more focused on our goals.
Impact of Burnout in the Workplace
As an employer, burnout can impact you since it means higher turnover, lower productivity, and less commitment to roles in the organization. Employers need to be aware of the signs of burnout so they can act quickly to overcome it. If they wait too long, they may have staff shortages at peak times of year or fewer projects completed within a set deadline.
When an employee succumbs to burnout, you’ll notice changes in their behavior. As they contemplate leaving the job, thinking there’s no solution to these new feelings, you’ll be left with the byproducts of their decisions up until the moment they leave. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to deter this burnout:
- Encourage employees to speak up.
- Send them home early once a week.
- Show them your appreciation.
- Let them manage a new work project of their choosing.
- Provide flexible time off.
We asked Vivio’s web developer, Will, his thoughts on burnout and here’s how he replied:
How to Approach Burnout
Let me begin by just saying that burnout happens. It’s absolutely a reality, and is never a simple matter of “tough to deal with PMs” or “so-and-so has been a dev for too long.” I’ve seen the spark go out in both younger and older devs –so it’s not an age or experience issue either. However, it can be universally dealt with by answering the very personal question, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” For me, answering this question starts with going after a position or a gig, the goal of which is bigger than the project itself. I’ve always viewed what I do as building tools for people. The art, the architecture, the engineering, dealing with bosses, project managers, lazy coworkers; none of it matters to me as long as the focus from the start is to create something that makes tasks easier for people to do. So despite the good, the bad, the accomplishments, and pitfalls–it all comes down to my answer: “I develop because I want to make tools that enable people to do things easier.”
However, there are some obstacles on any technical or creative career path that are unavoidable, the most-common of which seems to be “dealing with people.” I try to keep the following in mind: learn to take things in stride, and try to see situations in a broader sense. Perspective is an invaluable resource, and patience is a virtue. More often than not there will be more behind the demands and requests of a boss/clients/etc. than just the meaning of their words. If you try to listen from the perspective of “what’s important to them,” you’ll get a better sense of what they’re looking for. Further, applying an approach of trying to see the “bigger picture” will help with most every other obstacle.
The other side of “dealing with burnout” is when to recognize and accept that it’s genuinely happening, and dealing with it directly. If the lofty goals of a project are no-longer “worth it” to you to keeping climbing through crap for, don’t. Get out, and don’t look back. A job or gig does not define your career unless you let it, and often both parties will in the long run benefit from the separation for their own reasons. You’ll never regret not sacrificing yourself for something that your heart’s not in.
Ultimately, my advice is this: if you feel like you may be burnt out, ask yourself, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” If your answer is the same as what it was when you started, and that’s still good enough for you, learn to better manage your expectations and try to gain some perspective. However, if it’s an answer you’re not happy with, accept that you may be burnt out by the job/gig, and gracefully step down before you lose yourself in something you’re not happy with.
A quick summary:
- If you’re facing burnout, remember your “why.”
- If it’s too much, cut losses. If it’s worth fighting for and making a career out of, you know what you need to do.
What is your advice for dealing with burnout? Share in the comments below. We’d love to hear it!