It’s fair to say that this is a difficult year and we’re under a lot of pressure, so Capsule has decided to bring you a three-part mental-health check in series, with Dr Lucy Hone, co-director of New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing & Resilience. We’ll be covering the cause and symptoms of burnout, how do you know when you should quit your job and the power of post-traumatic growth, how surviving hard times can make you stronger. This week, we’re asking how do you know if you should quit your job?
As we mentioned last week, burnout is becoming a real problem for people who feel overwhelmed by their jobs, who are at consumed by a seemingly never-ending work load and doubt that even their efforts aren’t enough to pay off. But how do you know if it’s your job causing your misery, or just low mental health. Dr Lucy Hone, co-director of New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing & Resilience (NZIWR), says there can be a key indication.
“The difference between burnout and depression is that if you’re feeling terrible and exhausted and you really have no more to give… but you only feel like that during the week, and then at the weekend, you’re back to feeling energetic, then that’s a pretty good indicator that it’s burnout you are dealing with, not depression,” she says. “Sadly, depression stays with you at the weekend. So, if it’s a Monday to Friday malaise, it’s more likely to be just the job.”
If burnout is becoming more common place because of work load, then it can be easy to assume that changing jobs is the silver bullet you’re looking for. But there is plenty you can do without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Before you hand in your resignation, Hone recommends taking a closer look at your existing job, noticing which aspects of it are working for you and which are dragging you down. “[At NZIWR] we do these fantastic sessions on job crafting, teaching people how they can tweak their existing jobs to make them more meaningful or more suited to their strengths and skills so that at least they feel more enjoyable.”
“Sadly, depression stays with you at the weekend. So, if it’s a Monday to Friday malaise, it’s more likely to be just the job.”
As examples of ‘micro-job crafting’, Lucy cites a school principal she worked with last year who shared how just getting out into the playground at break times to actually talk to the kids had made them feel so much better about their role. Similarly, another workshop participant recently got in touch to say how much better they felt about their job since they’d started writing down a list of all the people they’d helped that day.
“Because they spent so much time out on the road, as a rep, we suggested they add a list of names to their diary each time they got back in the car after an appointment, and looking back over several weeks, he said this was such a good way of actually seeing the difference, noticing how much their job contributed to other people’s lives,” she explained. Making an effort to see how the various aspects of your job benefit other people is a key defence against burnout, explains Hone.
But there are certain situations where, however hard you try, and however good are your tools, you can’t change the systemic issues that make for a bad work environment. “If you’re working with a toxic boss, or extreme workloads that are unsustainable, then you might want to be looking around for a different job if you can,” Lucy says. “We’re constantly hearing that the talent pool is really small right now, because of Covid, so good people are finding their skills are much in demand, making it easier to move.” If this is you, Lucy recommends you share your reservations and challenges with people in your support network you trust. “Sometimes we can slog on in a job (or a relationship!) when everyone around us can see it’s doomed. This is another example of how relationships build our personal resilience”, she explains.
“When you’ve been a victim of circumstances that are beyond your control, you can feel really powerless and helpless, which is horrible.”
For people who are in new jobs or different positions after the thousands of job losses or job restructures that have happened in the past 18 months, there can be other psychological challenges to work through. “When you’ve been a victim of circumstances that are beyond your control, you can feel really powerless and helpless, which is horrible.”
Helplessness is closely associated with depression, Lucy says, and so it’s important to give yourself time to come to terms with the trauma of sudden redundancy or other enforced unforeseen changes. Going through highly challenging circumstances can bring on a sense of existential crisis, says Lucy. ‘Trauma makes you revaluate everything because your whole world – your life schema, as we call it in psychology – has been smashed apart. The way you think the world should operate, what should happen and how the future will unfold, crumbles apart in front of you.”
Covid-19, Lucy says, has had exactly this effect on some people and, sadly, is still currently doing it to many people around the world. “The fact that the world isn’t working as it should any longer, can really challenge people’s thinking, making them wonder: ‘How am I meant to go forward knowing that someone can rip the rug from under me at any given moment? How are we supposed to assimilate these kind of events?'”
“Having something change really quickly that’s outside of your control leaves us feeling powerless, and there’s grief and loss in that. Living with uncertainty is tough and it takes time to rebuild your confidence and trust in life afterwards,” Lucy says. “My advice is that people cut themselves some slack, give themselves some time to adjust and all the while work hard to notice what they have managed to do. Tune into where you have prevailed, what you’ve kept going and what’s still good in your world – that helps return a sense of control and agency, which in turn builds our confidence and hope for the future. Sometimes this advice sounds obvious, but it really does work.”
Next week, we’ll be covering post-traumatic growth and how we can rebuild our lives better and stronger after trauma. For more information on the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience, including resources, visit here.