Can You Reverse Burnout?

An attorney friend and newsletter reader asked me if I could write an article on reversing burnout.  At first I referred her to an article I had written many years ago on how to avoid burnout.  She was insistent however that avoiding burnout and reversing it were two different things.  Her question really was if a person is really burnt out, what can he or she do to come out of it?

The short answer is that once you have hit the point of real burn out you must get out of the situation that is causing it.  If  someone’s job is literally making them sick then the person will likely avoid work each day or drag him/herself to work each day only to make mistakes on the job or not complete assignments on time.  The person is in danger of being put on a performance plan or even being fired for performance reasons.

A person who feels physically ill on the job, is depressed and/or is exhibiting poor job performance should seek help from a professional therapist. The therapist can help that person see the alternatives open to him/her. Lawyers are fortunate to have the resource of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers in many places.  Check out the website for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers for the location in Massachusetts,  It is important for someone experiencing burn out to get some help.

When a person is really burnt out then reversing it is not possible.  The person must leave the job situation at least temporarily and get help.  There are many however who may be on the way to burnout and then if the person wants to reverse it, it is possible.

What my newsletter reader has noticed is that in these difficult economic times, after many lay offs the few who remain are doing the work of those that left as well as their own work.  Working 60 or 70 hours a week is the new normal.  It is exhausting and stressful.

With jobs still hard to find those lucky enough to have one are reluctant to scale back their hours for fear of losing the job they have even though they are miserable.  To them there appears to be no solution.

A coach can be helpful  to the overworked attorney helping him/her to sort things out.  With the support of the coach the attorney will set some goals and boundaries. The coach then will hold him/her accountable for following through.  An attorney who is feeling burnt out must want to make a change in order to successfully work with a coach.  No one can help a person unless he/she wants to be helped.

Some of the suggestions on my list of 10 Ways to Avoid Burnout can also help to identify the changes he/she needs to make.  Setting a reasonable time to leave the office each day is one change to implement.  It is important to get a full night’s sleep.  What is amazing is how much better the world looks when a person consistently gets a full night’s sleep.

My clients often resist setting firm times to arrive and leave the office each day.  Certainly the employee must think about the risks involved in working very long hours versus the risk involved in setting some solid boundaries for him/herself in relation to the work.   The culture of the firm may be such that working fewer hours does not appear to be an option.  Here the person needs to weigh the two risks ie illness, poor health and burn out versus getting fired for working too few hours.

My friend who asked about this did recall a friend who after having a baby did negotiate a more reasonable schedule with no repercussions.  Sometimes people make assumptions that something is impossible when in fact no one has asked if it is possible.

There is always a risk that your employer will not be willing to allow the change.  Continuing in a difficult work environment is however hazardous to your health.  Making a change may be the only “safe” thing to do although it probably won’t feel that way when you do it.


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