When the Stress isn't Worth it

When the Stress isn’t Worth It: How to Realign with What You Want in Your Life and Job and Prevent Burnout

Everyone does something for a payoff.

In our job, money is the obvious payoff, but there are other ways we get ‘paid’ for doing what we do.

Being valued and respected, being made to feel equal and welcomed, are also ways we get ‘paid’ from our place of employment.

In our relationships too, we expect to get paid with honesty, friendship, and loyalty.

But what happens when the payoff doesn’t meet your expectations? What happens when the only reason you’re in the job is because of the money? What happens when the stress of your job or relationship isn’t worth it anymore?

There is a vast bank of research on why people leave their jobs and seek out new employment. Surprisingly, money comes about 4th or 5th on the list. Remuneration for our work is important, but it isn’t the most important reason why we stay.

Other more important reasons include feeling entrusted, inclusion in decision-making, and realistic promotional opportunities.

But the number one reason is, in fact, appreciation. We like to feel appreciated for the work we do and the person we are.

The sense of belonging is a natural human need. When we are valued and made to feel as though we are of worth and importance to our employer and family, we feel empowered. When we don’t feel valued or worthwhile, we feel disempowered and isolated—which is the recipe for stress and burnout.

As a doctor in Australia and the UK, I have seen the impact of burnout in fellow doctors, nurses, and other health workers. The signs are easy to spot:

  • perpetual lateness
  • regular sick days
  • high stress
  • laziness and procrastination
  • quickness to anger
  • arguments with co-workers
  • negativity and carelessness towards patients
  • disregard for authority, protocols and rules

It’s as if institutional bureaucracy and chain of command has destroyed their essential humanness. They feel powerless to make a difference. They feel their job is futile. They cannot see a positive future for themselves or their family.

It’s as if a sickness of the mind has taken root. Unfortunately, burnout can happen when the stress gets overwhelming and they just can’t face turning up for work anymore. It can happen after 5, 10,15 or even 20 years, depending on how long they can hold out for.

But however long it takes, the end result is always inevitable if the underlying cause of the stress isn’t addressed.

The health system, though, isn’t the only institution prone to burnout. It happens in all workplaces: retail, hospitality, manufacturing, finance, defence, education, construction, mining, law, government. Not industry is immune to burnout of its staff.

It’s a big problem. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), stress has become “a worldwide epidemic”.

So what should you do if you’re feeling the signs of burnout in your job? What should you do if you’re an employer and you think your staff is suffering the signs of burnout?

If it’s severely affecting your state of mind and wellbeing (e.g. if you can’t face turning up for work anymore), you should first seek help with your GP (even if you’re a doctor yourself). If you are an employer, it’s your duty to ensure your staff receive professional medical advice.

If, however, you feel empowered to work through your issues and heal yourself, there is a simple 3-minute exercise you can do to improve your situation enough for you to either meet the demands of your work or seek another employer.

The point to remember in this exercise is that the job isn’t going to change.

If you’re holding out for the job to change, then you’re already defeated. The job is the job. That’s what it is. Only you can change. Either you change your attitude to the job, or you change jobs.

The 3-minute exercise is a simple but powerful realignment exercise:

  • Take a piece of blank paper and draw 2 lines dividing the page into 3 columns
  • Head the first column ‘Criteria’, the second column ‘Yes’, and the third column ‘No’
  • Divide the first column into 3 rows: Vital, Important, Bonus
  • Divide these 3 rows by 3 into 3×3 rows (so 9 rows in total)
  • List in order of importance, from top to bottom, this list of satisfaction criteria: Remuneration, Empowerment, Alignment (with your personal values), Loving what you do, Influence, Greater Good, New opportunities (e.g. promotion), Enthusiasm, and Direction

You will now have 3 Vital, 3 Important, and 3 Bonus criteria. For instance, you might list remuneration (e.g. income), promotional opportunities and alignment with your personal values as Vital criteria for you.

Then you might have direction, enthusiasm and loving what you do as Important criteria.

Lastly, you might have personal empowerment (e.g. flexible work hours), doing work that’s for the greater good, and having influence in decision making as Bonus criteria.

You have now created a value list for your job satisfaction. Now consider whether these criteria are being met in your current job. Put a tick or a cross in the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ columns next to each criterion.

Now assign a numerical value of 6 to the Vital criteria, 3 to the Important criteria, and 1 to the Bonus criteria.

Add up how many ticks you have in the ‘yes’ column that correlate to your Vital criteria and give yourself a score out of 18. For instance, if you have 2 ticks in this field, then you score 12/18. No ticks is 0/18.

Do the same with the number of ticks correlating to your Important criteria and score it out of 9. For instance, if you have 1 tick in this field, then you score 3/9.

Do the same with the number of ticks correlating to your Bonus values and score it out of 3. For instance, if you have 3 ticks in this field, then you score 3/3.

Finally, tally up your 3 scores and give yourself a total score out of 30. For instance, 1 vital tick, 3 important ticks, and 2 bonus ticks gives you a total score of 6 + 9 + 2 = 17/30.

The score you achieve the first time you do this realignment exercise represents your standardised score, the score that you compare to when you do this exercise again at another time in the future.

There is no right or wrong with this exercise. It’s simply a gauge as to where you see yourself in this moment.

If you scored 24/30 or more, that’s fantastic. It probably means you’re on the right path. All you need to work on is satisfying your Bonus criteria.

If you scored 16-23/30, you’re probably comfortable with where you’re at. But you would do well to sit down with your superiors and colleagues and work on how to satisfy your Vital and Important criteria, or even re-evaluate the level of importance of your criteria.

If you scored 15/30 and under, however, this could indicate a malalignment with who you are and what you do. It is an indication that your values and expectations are not being met. You owe it to yourself and your employer to sit down and discuss your current role, and whether there is scope for your Vital and Important criteria to be met in your current role, or even in another role.

The payoff for doing this exercise will be worth it.

 

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