Parents are no strangers to burnout because the exhaustion of constantly running on empty is pretty much the status quo when you’re raising humans. However, the general parental burnout puts us at a greater risk of burnout in other areas of our lives, especially our professional lives.
It’s pretty well-known that job burnout happens. However, a lesser-known (or, perhaps, lesser accepted) form of burnout can come as a result of job searching. People usually offer compassion and sympathy when someone is either on the verge of or has fallen into a state of burnout at work because we all know that so many companies demand a lot from us. And, a person who is searching for a new job because they’re feeling burned out where they’re currently working is even more at risk of this.
Still, the only way to get out of a current role is to go through the often aggravating process of searching for, applying, and interviewing for new positions. So, what are you supposed to do? How can you avoid burning out, and what are you supposed to do if you’re long past avoiding it and are deep into it? Since there’s no way of getting around the necessary steps of job hunting, you just have to come up with tools to help you search in a healthy way that doesn’t wear you down or exacerbate the things happening outside of your hunt that is also chipping away at you.
It is, by no means, an easy task, but self-awareness can help.
What Is Burnout
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the 1st Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), burnout is defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” While the official definition focuses only on occupational burnout, it can happen in any area of life where a high degree of stress has gone unchecked (such as parenting, caring for a sick loved one, certain social situations/obligations, etc.). Parents, especially those who work outside the home, are pulled in so many different directions, so to limit the source of burnout only to the workplace is shortsighted.
Regardless of the source of burnout, it can wreak havoc on a person’s overall health. Even if it’s at a manageable level, stress can have severe effects on the body, so when it’s high enough to trigger burnout, it’s especially dangerous. A study published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed journal, looked closely at the health of people experiencing burnout and tracked some of the “consequences” it had on a person physically and mentally. Here are some of the outcomes they found:
Unhealthy cholesterol levels
Musculoskeletal pain, particularly in the neck, shoulders, and back
General mental health issues (intensifying preexisting conditions)
The study also looked at the effects of burnout on job performance and on burnout triggered by the workplace. Still, the results are eye-opening and can give you an idea of how much burnout can disrupt one (or more) aspects of life.
Some of the occupational consequences they found include reduced job satisfaction, increased and often long-term absenteeism (for both physical health and mental health), emotional exhaustion, decreased presenteeism (or engagement).
Signs of Job-Search Burnout
To identify the signs of job-search burnout specifically, you have first to understand how burnout, in general, presents itself. WHO states that burnout is “characterized by three dimensions,” including “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from [the source of stress] or feelings of negativism or cynicism,” and reduced performance. Inputting these in the context of job searching, some possible signs include:
Negative attitude or outlook; consistently telling yourself you’re not going to get a job anyway or that this whole process is worthless
Feeling too tired even to attempt to apply to jobs, or telling yourself every day that you’ll work on applications “tomorrow” when you’re not so tired
Losing interest and motivation in finding a new job at all; becoming content with “settling” for your current job/situation
Putting less and less effort into the search; submitting resumes loaded with known errors, regularly failing to update your resume or cover letter for a specific job, skipping large portions of online applications, not showing up to scheduled interviews,, or showing up but having no enthusiasm
Feeling overwhelmed by the small steps of job searching, like they require far more work than you have the energy for
Inattention to the process; forgetting important events or details, or making careless mistakes regularly
Manifesting some of the physical symptoms of burnout (like back pain), especially if they start to flare up when you think about “having to” or “needing to” apply to jobs that day
Feeling regularly anxious, angry, or depressed over the job hunting process, with these feelings possibly seeping into other areas of your life
Inability to fall or stay asleep at night, with the thought of having to job hunt stressing you out and even causing stressful dreams
Causes of Job-Search Burnout
Usually, the causes of burnout result from persistent high stress. Whether it happens quickly, it’s the culmination of stress slowly building. According to the Mayo Clinic, some common factors contributing to burnout include lack of control, excessively doing one activity, an imbalance of work and fun, not getting enough rest, and lack of results. Here’s how this might look in the context of job hunting:
Spending all of your spare time applying to jobs, leaving no time for things you enjoy
Consistently networking, draining your social battery so that you have nothing left to give your family and or friends
Developing various versions of cover letters and resumes, making small (but time-consuming) changes, and seeing no results
Anxiety over having no control in the process
Going on multiple interviews and being passed over for a job
Receiving dozens of auto-generated rejection emails, having no idea what disqualified you from the jobs
Staying up late or waking up early to job hunt, cutting into your sleep hours
Preventing & Overcoming Job-Search Burnout
When it comes to burnout, prevention is vital because it’s much easier to take a break to regroup than it is to dig yourself out of full-blown burnout. However, to prevent burnout, you need to be proactive and self-aware. By being proactive, you can avoid burnout from developing, period, and by being self-aware, you can quickly change your behaviors if you start to see signs of burnout developing. Either way, the prevention tools remain the same (but you may need to invest more time into them if you’re showing signs of burnout):
Create a realistic job search schedule that allows space for both work and fun; modify it to make more time for fun if you’re starting to show signs of burnout
Regularly switch up what you’re focusing on in your job hunt; network one day, apply to jobs in one industry the next day and another industry the day after that, etc.
Take frequent breaks from hunting and interviewing; skip the hunt at least two days a week
Manage stress in other areas of your life; if you’re experiencing high external pressure, adjust your job searching schedule so that it doesn’t exacerbate your situation
Take care of yourself mentally and physically (all the time, because it will help you in every aspect of life)
If you feel like you’re past the point of prevention and need to focus on getting yourself out of a burnout state, you’ll need to be more extreme. Take a break from the job hunt completely, or at least limit it to one or two days a week (especially if stopping completely only adds guilt to your overwhelming stress). In this situation, the best thing you can do is to rest, whether that means making more time for things you enjoy again or laying in bed for a day watching reruns of your favorite TV show. You need to get yourself back to a place where you feel dedicated to the job search again. Truth be told, when you’re putting a half effort into your job search because you’re too burned out to give it the attention it needs, it will show either in your application or in the interview process. Seriously, get some rest.
Go Easy On Yourself
You already have a lot on your plate, and the amount of time it takes to search for a new position can feel like a part-time job. It’s a lot, which is why it’s so incredibly frustrating when you feel like you’re not making any progress. As difficult as it may be, go easy on yourself because the right job will eventually come along, and you don’t need to burn yourself out to find it.
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