Remember how you felt on the first day of your exciting new job? If that glow has faded, you might be experiencing workplace burnout or brownout. What’s brownout? While burnout is extreme enough to make you totally check out, brownout might be a creeping drop in your energy and motivation — making it harder to get work done.
“For many, liking your job more means doing work that is either meaningful or challenging, or both,” Julie Cohen, an executive career coach and CEO of Work. Life. Leader. said in an email interview. Following these tips can help you find more meaning and enjoyment in your career — and life.
1. Don’t let the minutiae get you down
When dealing with the daily grind, sometimes all you can think about is the next report to file. “So often we can get caught up and over-burdened by the day-to-day stresses and we can become disconnected from the greater purpose of what we’re doing,” Julie Lynch, founder of Uncommon Consulting, said in an email interview.
Her recommendation: “See the bigger picture — and if you don’t know what it is, find out. Connect to the larger purpose of the work, whether it’s delighting customers, innovating new products, surpassing last year’s goals or — more personally — providing for your family.”
2. Become a seeker
Do you spend most days on boring tasks? Try asking for a bit more work that interests you. Bosses are often happy if you take the initiative, offering to pitch in and share your talents.
“Even though it may seem counterintuitive, the best way to get back into the groove may actually be to take on a new project.,” Rita Friedman, a certified career coach at Philly Career Coach said in an email. “By doing a different type of problem-solving, you get to use your brain in a different way.”
What projects should you seek out? It depends what inspires you. Find out if you can be in on the big presentation if you like public speaking, or ask to be a mentor if you like helping others. “The critical piece is figuring out what gets you excited and ask for it, or find ways to make it happen,” Cohen said.
3. Put your talents to work
If you spend the bulk of your days doing stuff you’re good it, work goes much better — so ask for assignments that play to your skills.
“Know your strengths, and look for opportunities to use them more. You’ll likely enjoy the work more, get great feedback and have more impact,” Cohen said. If you’re great at talking to customers, ask for more face-time.
4. Practice job-crafting
When your work style and job tasks are a mismatch, burnout is inevitable, studies show.
For example, if you thrive on socialization but you have no opportunities to collaborate, you may feel frustrated and dissatisfied. To fix the problem: Craft your job to fit your preferences. Instead of working on individual reports, talk to co-workers about teaming up.
“Examine where you are spending most of your time, and look for ways to shift some of the tasks you don’t like off your plate and ways to take on more of the responsibilities that make you feel proud of what you’re doing,” Friedman said. “You may need to volunteer to help with tasks that fall outside your job description.”
5. Find your clan
Having good friends — or even a “work-spouse” — makes your job better. “Research clearly shows that the single most important factor related to job satisfaction is your relationship with your co-workers. Lisa Marie Bobby, founder and clinical director at Growing Self Counseling and Coaching said in an email interview. “When you’re working with a team who likes, respects and cares about you, everything you do will feel more meaningful and pleasurable.”
How do you build strong relationships on the job? “Make it a point to get to know your co-workers. Start friendly conversations, invite colleagues out to lunch and initiate team projects that give you the opportunity to develop supportive relationships with your group,” Bobby said.
Joining outside groups — like a public speaking group, industry trade group or a group for female leaders — can also boost energy.
6. Turn negative energy into positive initiatives
Do you find specific things, like a co-worker who doesn’t pull her weight, a drag? Acknowledge your feelings and look for ways to improve the situation.
“Briefly, start by naming the things that are draining your energy — the things about work that are making you tired or frustrated or drained. Pick one of those things and vent for five or 10 minutes, writing down everything that comes to mind: What should be happening? How are you being impacted? What do you expect people or the company to be doing that they’re not. Let the complaints fly!” Lynch said.
Once you’ve noted everything wrong, list a desired outcome and ways to achieve it. “This is a great exercise for turning negative energy into positive initiative,” Lynch said.
7. Fill yourself up
Self care — including eating right and getting enough sleep — is key to fighting burnout, according to the Harvard Business Review.
Not finding time to decompress? Track your time and cut back on nonessentials that don’t boost your mood, like volunteer work you no longer enjoy or endlessly scrolling through Facebook.
And, make sure you’re not stressing about work during off-hours. “Leave your work at work,” Friedman said. “Whether that means turning off email alerts on your phone so you don’t accidentally see a crazed message from your boss at 2 a.m. or whether that means you plan to get there a little earlier or stay a little later to finish everything, compartmentalizing the job so it doesn’t take over your life can make it seem more manageable.”
8. Develop the right daily routine
You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t have an organized plan for your workflow. “The biggest mistake we find our career and executive coaching clients make is expecting that they’ll be productive without intentional structure and boundaries,” Bobby said. “Hours of their days get taken up by meetings, random side conversations and last-minute ‘fires’ they need to put out. They may work their whole day through, and yet leave feeling like they didn’t accomplish much.”
To fix the problem, plan your day. Schedule uninterrupted blocks of time for challenging work and time to decompress. Be strategic. “If you leave a difficult project for just before you leave the office, you may move more slowly to procrastinate or you may be depleted and unable to focus after everything else you do in a day,” Friedman said.
“People who are mindful about structure and set boundaries around their priorities get important things done,” Bobby said. “You’ll get everything done, and feel pride in your accomplishments.”
9. Find ways to feel your work is meaningful
Burnout is virtually absent in professions like religious care centers and Montessori schools where people feel their work is a calling, not a job, according to research by Cary Cherniss and David Kranz that is cited in Eric Barker’s Barking up the Wrong Tree.
If your work isn’t inherently meaningful, find purpose in it anyway. Answering phones in a call center? Think of it as making customers’ lives better. Making job tasks more important to your organization also makes work feel more meaningful.
“Seek out projects that expand your impact, that stretch your skills and that make a difference to the team or organization you’re a part of,” Cohen said.
10. Consider whether the grass is really greener
If you’re still finding yourself frustrated, it may be time to do a job search. Maybe you’ll end up finding a great job to switch to or use the offer as leverage for a promotion or raise. A higher salary can do wonders for your motivation and job satisfaction.
Even if you decide not to make a switch, the search is illustrative. “Consider what you might do, how you might go about it, who you could connect with. Notice how you feel about the idea. If you feel relief or yearning, it’s time to really consider making a move,” Lynch said.
“Even if you don’t take a new position, sometimes just knowing you have options and you could leave can be liberating,” Friedman said. You may even fall back in love with the job you already have.
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