Don't Burn Out ... Get Fired Up!

Don't Burn Out ... Get Fired Up!

By Carla Perrotta

Are you feeling under-appreciated, underpaid and overworked? If you find that you have lost your motivation and enthusiasm and feel emotionally exhausted most of the time, you may be facing a condition that is increasingly rearing its head in the healthcare industry: burnout.

Burnout begins with small warning signs: not caring about the job, certain tasks growing increasingly arduous; or declining performance. Symptoms include feeling drained at the end of each shift, boredom on the job, repetition, lack of stimulation and not wanting to go to work. If not addressed appropriately, these symptoms can progress rapidly to the point where they can seriously affect your state of mind, health and spread to other areas of your life.

Burnout affects each of us differently. It can happen sooner, later or never, depending upon your personality, whether you are in a career that supports your interests and the amount of repetition in your job.

It is far easier to cope with burnout when you understand the signs and make changes in the early stages. Following are some sure-fire ways to create positive momentum and get yourself fired up.

  • Understand the symptoms. Take a personal inventory. A problem well defined is one that is already more than halfway solved. Oftentimes we blame the job for problems we are dealing with in our personal lives. You can't find happiness and fulfillment, even when working the coveted day shift, if the other 16 hours of the day are dragging you down. Your life is like a table supported by a number of different legs -- health, spiritual, family, romantic, social, career and personal development. If just one of those legs is shorter than the others, the table will be uneven. Carefully evaluate all areas of your life to identify the cause of your consternation.

  • Dig deeper. If you have narrowed your source of dissatisfaction to your job, look for the telltale warning signs of career fatigue: Do you drag yourself out of bed in the morning, dreading another day of work? Do you look at your watch every 10 minutes awaiting the end of the shift? Are you spending more time complaining on the job? Do you have less patience with patients? Has your outlook become more negative or cynical? Are you bored most of the time (not just a day here or there) and running low on enthusiasm? Do you feel like your talents are not being put to their best use? Are you having problems concentrating? Individually, these behaviors do not evidence job burnout, but if you answered "yes" to three or more, you may be in danger of burning out.

  • Make a list of all the things that are bothering you regarding the job. Has your job changed in ways that you don't like (or maybe it has not changed at all)? Do you have new reporting responsibilities? Have budgets or lack of resources constrained your ability to do your job? Does your supervisor help or impede resolution?

Now, separate those items on your list into categories you can do something about and those over which you have no control. Where you can affect changes, get to work. Where you have no control, recognize your limitations and change your response to them.

  • Fire yourself. If things are really that bad at work, as you finish your next shift and before your next day off, fire yourself. That's right, give yourself the old pink slip. Go home and complain that you lost your job. How are you going to make ends meet? Why did this have to happen to you? Bemoan your fate for the rest of the day. The next day, resolve to do something about it. Get up and comb through the want ads. Eventually, you'll come across a listing for your old job. It requires the skill and experience you have. The job description sounds like something you can handle and the pay is pretty much what you would have expected. Bingo! You hire yourself back. The moral: sometimes things are not as bad as we make them out to be.

  • Fire yourself up. In today's fast-paced healthcare environment, success belongs to those alert for and acting upon new opportunities. Jump on new and expanded assignments. Think outside the box, pressing your comfort zone and driving some of the change internally. Get involved in industry committees and organizations where you gain exposure to the latest trends and developments, and increase your exposure. Backed with credibility and hard work, this enhanced visibility and involvement will attract attention and start priming the "networking" pump.

  • Look sideways. Today's healthcare environment offers a wealth of opportunities. Once you have isolated the reasons for your discontent (hopefully reaffirming why you entered the profession in the first place), look for and evaluate any other possibilities including different shifts, different floors, or a different institutional setting. Make sure that the opportunity and the culture aligns with your interests.

  • Make sure the grass is greener. If you're down about your prospects, it's always easy to look across the fence and see greener pastures. Other jobs look more interesting, have more challenge, and pay more. But appearances can be deceiving. The warts and blemishes are rarely visible from a distance. Talk to friends, colleagues, and family; you may indeed find that the same frustrations you are experiencing in your current job are present elsewhere.

Add richness to your life. After all, for you, a job may just be a job. If you're looking for meaning, you may have to make your mark beyond traditional institutional walls. Get involved in local service work. Most companies have community service projects such as Habitat for Humanity and blood drives that are crying for champions. Beyond the corporate confines there are ways to plug in and make an impact. Coach your kids. Take a course, or better yet, teach one. Get involved and make a difference. It will create topspin in other areas of your life. All of these strategies have one thing in common. They force you to take ownership of the situation and to take action.

Carla Perrotta has more than 20 years in the staffing industry and is responsible for all business operations related to Kelly Healthcare Resources, a business unit of staffing provider Kelly Services Inc., based in Troy, Michigan. Kelly Healthcare Resources provides staffing solutions to a variety of healthcare facilities including hospitals, clinics, labs, and HMOs, as well as manufacturing facilities, insurance companies and clinical research organizations. For more information, visit