Burnout and the Workplace; The Quest for Balance

by Fr. Christopher Rowe

Everyday something new reaches our desk.  Email is demanding attention and, of course, we all have a boss who demands more than anyone can possibly achieve.  Goals are unrealistic and after a lot of overtime, burnout starts to overcome us.  What in the world is burnout?  Or more to the point, what are the symptoms, physically and spiritually?

Burnout has been defined as a general wearing out or alienation from the pressures of work.  It could also be defined as what happens after one works too hard, too long with too little down time.  I went to Wikipedia to do a little research on the topic of burnout.  And I found a number of things there that started my thoughts process.  What are the components of burnout?  I think most people know when they are tired and ineffective – I am not so sure most people really know what to do fix it though.  Mostly because it is really hard to heal yourself!

According to Wiki, here are some contributors and indicators of burnout:

  • The Compulsion to Prove Oneself – Often found at the beginning is excessive ambition.
  • Working Harder – Because they have to prove themselves to others or try to fit in
  • Neglecting Needs – Since they have devoted everything to work, they now have no time and energy for anything else.  Friends and family, eating, and sleeping start to become seen as unnecessary or unimportant, as they reduce the time and energy that can be spent on work.
  • Revision of Values – The work consumes all energy they have left, leaving no energy and time for friends and hobbies.  Their new value system is their job and they start to be emotionally blunt.
  • Depersonalization – it’s possible that they no longer see themselves as valuable.

Does any of this sound familiar?  These are fairly extreme and most of us will not get to these stages of psychological distress.  However, some of these things affect us all at some level when we become insensitive to our own needs.  When we become unaware of the Lord’s presence in our life.  We suffer when we loose our balance!

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

The problems we face in the working world are many and they can easily overwhelm.  We want so much to do a good job, to help others, to advance to the next job, or whatever.  But we forget about balance.  Unless your batteries are recharged, you won’t be able to do anything.  The quickest way to recharge those batteries is through caring for your spiritual self through prayer.  Probably one of the most common confession themes deals with prayer – or the lack of it.  We are all beset by a lack of time.  But it isn’t so much about time, it is really about a lack of planning.  We have time to pray.  We just don’t do it with any kind of discipline.  But to remain balanced spiritually and emotionally, we need to feed our soul.  Prayer!  Find the time!  Set up a routine.  Many people wake up early to exercise.  They say that they feel more alive and ready to take on the day after a workout.  Prayer does exactly the same thing for your spirit.  Take a moment or two and reach out through prayer to the saints; to our Lord and acquire the peace of the Holy Spirit.  Burnout avoidance is really all about balance.

Then you get to work…  OK, now the real challenge starts.  How do you maintain the peace that you had just before you walked into work?  Again, the bottom line is balance.  Always remember that you are generally not in it alone.  Rely on others to get you through the tough times.  Reach out to your priest when the going gets tough.  When you are convinced that you are indispensable – that is about the time the organization figures out that you are dispensable!   That sounds harsh, but we know not to ”˜put your trust in Princes, nor in a son of man’.  The advice is ”˜it’s only a job.’  Take that seriously.  When you maintain balance and perspective you protect yourself from the stresses of the world.  Good advice for a lot of different occasions.  Don’t invest yourself so much in the ways of the world.  “What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?  One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever.  Ecclesiastes 1:3,4.  Balance!

So much to worry about. So many things can go wrong.  It’s hard to know where to turn sometimes.  Probably the best advice is don’t worry!  Live your life.  Love the Lord.  Work as hard toward building a relationship with Him as you do anything else in your life.  The rewards of that kind of balance are beyond value.  And lastly, I’ll put in a word for that ”˜old fashioned’ spiritual healing tool – confession.  Go to confession.  Unburden your spirit from all the weight of sin.  OK, you missed the mark, now go confess it and let the Lord take it from you.  Let Him give you rest and refreshment.  And above all keep balanced.