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I’m Burned Out. Should I Quit My Job?

businessman burned out laptop coffee
Ellyn Schinke Photo
Burnout + Stress Management Coach
Coach Ellyn

9 minutes

The short answer is no.

Reprinted with permission from the original.

I read something really interesting the other day ... 🤯4 million people quit their jobs in April.🤯

If that’s not an appropriate time to use the mind-blown emoji, I don’t know what is….

That number is staggering and crazy to consider because, well, it’s the largest number ever recorded by the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, and it represents 2.7% of the US labor force. 

This period is being called the “Great Resignation,” which is kind of scary.

It’s also not that surprising. In the healthcare industry, there’s essentially a nationwide shortage of nurses who are calling it quits in droves as the pandemic drags on and on and on. Several states, including Iowa, have severe nursing shortages that are putting patient care at risk, with many hospitals offering sign-on bonuses, opening the door for nursing students. 

I get it, though.

As I write this, I’m preparing to speak to the Canadian Association of Critical Care Nurses. And though I can advise them on best practices and things they can do which they’ve perhaps never thought of, I cannot possibly understand the level of stress and over-exertion they’ve experienced during the pandemic. I work from the comfort of my home wearing yoga pants and with the ability to take a break essentially whenever I want to. So, it’s hard to judge their decision to quit.

But, that being said, should we quit?

If we’re burned out, is quitting a good fix?

Short answer? No.

Tendencies of Overachievers

That may not have been what you wanted to hear, but I say that because most of us cannot afford to go without consistent income. You don’t get unemployment if you quit, and a job search comes with its own forms of stress and burnout. 

Uncertainty about whether our decision to quit will work out can cause burnout just as much as a rough work schedule can, which is why my first instinct here is to say “no.”

The types of people I tend to work with—high-achievers is what I call them, based on the Enneagram type 3 personality profile—have some tendencies that may mean that they won’t do well in this environment. 

  •  They’re perfectionistic, which might keep them from applying to jobs unless it’s the “perfect” one or they feel they’re “perfect” for it.
  • They’re people-pleasers, so the exact same things that drove them to burnout (saying “yes” to too much for example) will likely be the same things that drive them to burnout in their new job as well.
  • And, well, they’re achievers. They like being productive, contributing and knowing that they’re moving the needle in their projects and in their lives. Submitting job applications? It might not provide them with enough fulfilment…

The Burnout Cycle

But, more than any of that, in my experience, burnout is a cycle. And this is an important thing to think about when you consider quitting your job due to burnout.

When I say that burnout is a cycle, this is what I mean: It repeats on a cyclical basis anywhere from every three to six months.

In my experience working with high-achieving clients from corporate environments like Amazon, JP Morgan and Visa, these people go through a cycle of burnout, which ramps up over time as they get in more and more over their head. 

Once the burnout gets completely unbearable, they break down. Depending on the severity of the burnout, this breakdown might look like a weekend spent in their pajamas with no social contact or it can be so substantial as requiring a full-blown, multiple-week stress leave from their job, which is something I directly experienced with a client back in 2020 (just after the pandemic began).

After they break down, they bounce back. They return to their lives as normal, and if they’re lucky, they take some important lessons and self-awareness with them.

But this is where things start to vary, because, well, not everyone does learn. Not everyone does experience this burnout to breakdown and emerge with some important lessons about what triggers them and what leads to their burnout.

And that’s why the cycle repeats. Because—ultimately—burnout is the result of a pattern of repeating behavior. If we don’t intervene in that behavior, make significant changes to how we operate and how we work, it’s likely that the burnout will come back.

That’s why I say “no,” you shouldn’t just quit your job.

Because unless you have some awareness about what’s leading to your burnout, it’s likely that you’ll be in the same situation after you go through all the effort to change positions, and that’s just a waste!

Take Back Your Life From Burnout

So, instead, here are some other things to think about to build that self-awareness muscle, take back your life from burnout, and keep out of the burnout cycle:

Do a weekly review and start becoming aware of your triggers and bad habits. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my job make me a version of myself that I like? If the answer is “no,” that’s something that’s likely leading to some emotional burnout.
  • Does my job align with my values and interests? If the answer is “no,” a values disconnect likely will burn you out while something that doesn’t align with your interests will lead to boredom burnout.
  • What does your future career look like? Do you like what you see when you look up the ladder? Is it something you want? Sometimes that’s all you need to know about if a career path is right for you. Ultimately, do you see a life you want or a life that sounds like it sucks?
  • What are the costs of staying? What would you be giving up? Are you okay with that? Is it something you’re not willing to sacrifice?
  • How much control do you have over making a change? And I don’t mean the fear-based, “I’m scared of asking for what I need.” I mean the actual control you have. Are you capable of saying: “Hey, I cannot handle this and I need to take something off my plate” to your supervisor? Do you have any control over the projects you take on? Is your supervisor receptive to that feedback?
  • Focus on self-preservation and daily minimums. Perhaps you’re simply in a busy season and you just need to focus on the minimums in your life. Perhaps this isn’t a time to make big fixes. It’s simply a time to focus on you. Get up, go to work, and do what you have to do. Then come home and give yourself rest. Have few expectations outside of work and see if doing that for a while helps. If it seems like it will help, take a sick day to hit the reset button.
  • Mix it up and see if doing something different helps. See if you can work a different project, go to a different team for a bit, work in a different department or learn a new skill. Maybe variety is what you need to reinvigorate you, especially if you’re bored.
  • Find someone to talk to about it. Whether with a family member, a peer, or—if you’re comfortable—a supervisor, talk it out. Sometimes that is exactly what we need. It externalizes all of what we’re keeping inside. It helps us connect with others so we don’t feel so alone. It’s actually cheaper for a company to keep you than it is to replace you. So, I would encourage you to talk to your superiors. See if they can help you in some way or take something off your plate because, honestly, they probably get it.
  • Set boundaries and be unavailable. No job should put us on call 24/7. No job should keep you chained to your laptop or inbox at all hours. No job should require you to sleep with your iPhone. Many of us feel like our workday can never end but honestly, it’s probably best to just start setting a precedent here. Tell your coworkers and clients, “Hey, I’ve been really struggling with boundaries and having a life outside of work, so I’m trying to set better boundaries.” Honestly, they might admire it! When I had a client do this, she set the standard for her team and others on her team started doing the same.
  • Take the darn vacation. Some of us don’t because we feel bad for the people who have to pick up our slack. But here’s the tough love: You cannot shoulder everything because someone else isn’t willing to say “no” and set their own boundaries. You are not responsible for taking everything on just because your company doesn’t have systems to handle the workload when you’re gone. So, take a break. Take that vacation. And unplug completely when you take it.

These are all fixes to helping you manage your burnout. They’re uncomfortable. They’ll challenge you.

When Quitting Is the Right Option

Then, if push comes to shove, yes—quit!

Ultimately, quitting is entirely a possibility. Quitting might ultimately be the best move. The point of this post is that quitting may not fix the issue. The point of this post is that there are tons of other things you can and should do before you just quit. 

It took me 1.5 years to finally make the choice to quit working on my PhD in 2016. There was a lot that contributed to why it took so long for me to do so. 

I was emotionally and physically burned out, but I had wanted that degree for a really long time and didn’t want to make a rash choice.

I wanted to try adding new elements to my project to make it more interesting.

I wanted to talk it out with people to see if they had any advice for me on what to do.

I tried a ton of stuff, but ultimately, the biggest thing that convinced me to move on was I did that step that I mentioned above: I looked up the ladder. I looked at the people that were above me and asked myself if I wanted their work and if I wanted their life. And once I did look up the ladder, that’s when I realized that it just wasn’t the right path for me.

You’ll hit a point where you’ll realize that there’s no point in pouring so much of yourself into the work you’re doing because ultimately it’s not the right work for you anyway. 

If that’s where you’re at, by all means quit, but if it’s just a tough season … if you love your job and are just tired … if you don’t have the self-awareness to know what’s triggering you and if those triggers can be taken off your plate, I don’t think you’re quit ready to quit yet.

Can quitting fix burnout? Yes.

But quitting should be the last resort.

I’ve been there. I’ve done it myself.

And I know from experience that quitting comes with its own stressors and that quitting may not fix the problem. So, put in your due diligence, and if push finally comes to shove, then and only then should you flat-out quit.

Ellyn Schinke is a former scientist and certified professional coach. After spending over a decade in academic and corporate environments, she's on a mission to help busy, burned-out corporate professionals free themselves from burnout and find their balance. 

 

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