Bouncing back: Ways to find your footing after a burnout

  • Living
  • Sunday, 19 May 2024

Anyone who feels they can hardly cope at work and can no longer relax in their free time should be taking these symptoms seriously. Sometimes a time-out can help. — dpa

JOB burnout has got a lot of attention in recent years. What is it exactly, and what can you do if it has crept up on you?

It's not classified as a medical condition. The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes burnout as a syndrome "resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed," characterised by energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.

"I often deal with people who either feel burned out or don't want things to go that far," says personal development coach Nathalie Krahé, a member of the Professional Association of German Psychologists (BDP). She counsels them on managing stress and preventing burnout.

How best to do this depends on your individual circumstances. One option is to take a hiatus from your job to decompress, so to speak, or perhaps even pursue a different career path. You're well advised to take action in a timely fashion and not wait until you're at the end of your tether.

You could go on a sabbatical, for instance, typically by accruing holiday time and/or saving money for a break from work, after which you return to your job. It's fairly common among teachers, civil servants and church workers, but there's no general right to it – it must be negotiated with your employer.

One variation of this is to accumulate unpaid overtime over several years and then take time off – say, a quarter or half year – in lieu. Another is to work for a certain period at reduced pay, allowing you to take reduced-pay leave.

Sabbatical coach Andrea Oder gives an example: "You receive 83% pay for three years, during which you work full-time for two and a half years and have six months off."

The solution is often simpler, as Oder relates: "Many a person has walked out my door and realised they still have some unpaid overtime saved up, which they could combine with their annual holiday the following year to get a few months off work."

Extended holiday

And if you can schedule the extended holiday when there's somewhat of a lull in the company's activity anyway, your employer may be more amenable to the idea.

Whatever form your break from work takes, you should use it to restore your depleted energy levels. How you choose to do this depends on you, and it doesn't have to be something spectacular like an ocean cruise.

"Maybe certain practices such as yoga or meditation will do you good. Or you could get involved in a community social project as a change of pace from an office job," suggests Krahé.

Sometimes a few weeks are enough to recharge your batteries and resume work refreshed. But you might come to the realisation that your job is no longer right for you.

Depending on labour market conditions, finding a new job may be easy. If you hand in your notice straight away and don't quickly get a job elsewhere, you'll automatically have downtime to recover from work stress, during which regulations in your country may mean you're eligible for unemployment benefits or a jobseeker's allowance.

A pointer from Susanne Eikemeier, spokesperson for Germany's Federal Employment Agency: Whether you simply need a break or leave your job outright, your eligibility for benefits, their amount and duration, could require a medical certificate attesting inability to work at your present job or for your present employer on account of burnout or other health reasons. – dpa

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