In the career world of 2018, employees find themselves encouraged — actually, expected — to give 110% during work hours. Many justify their intense efforts with the old adage of “paying your dues”... but once you reach a certain point, the long hours and arduous workloads can become dangerous. For advice on what to avoid and how to bounce back, we spoke to three working women about their experiences with career burnout.
“‘Burnout’ results in mental incapacitation.”
Melanie, a writer and former retail employee from New Jersey, described her personal burnout as the result of an aggressive, unreasonable, and verbally-abusive boss. Melanie told Fairygodboss about a culture of long work hours with an unhealthy lack of work-life balance. “I was working 6-7 days straight at a minimum of 80 hours/week. Sometimes, I would work 40 days straight and stay in a hotel. I would not eat breakfast or lunch because I didn’t have time. You had to be available 24/7 in case there was an emergency. I missed holidays — working on Thanksgiving and Christmas — birthdays, and other milestones in my loved ones’ lives,” she explained.
In addition to the stressful scheduling, Melanie endured insulting and hurtful treatment from her supervisor. “[My boss] would call me “slow”, among other nasty things. One time [after a long stretch of poor treatment], I had a nervous breakdown. I had to leave and ask my doctor to add more anti-anxiety meds to my arsenal to make it through. When I went home afterwards and came back to work the next day, I and was “made fun of” and was called “crazy”. I was working 6 days a week from 5:00am-5:00pm, and was expected to be a pillar of sound mental health,” Melanie told Fairygodboss.
Melanie’s toxic work environment caused serious mental-health concerns, which she continues to address even several years after leaving the job: “Burnout results in mental incapacitation, and I am on 6 medications for depression and anti-anxiety. All because of my job. I feel as if I can go off of them now, but being in that position and having that man as a boss for 5 years, I am afraid to go off of the medication because [I’m now] very content in my life. [My] burnout made me feel snippy and miserable all the time, and it destroyed romantic relationships and divided friendships.”
Now that she’s had the opportunity to focus on her own well-being, Melanie encourages companies to make their employees’ mental health a top priority. “I believe that companies need to look at mental health. 1/3 people either have anxiety or depression, and [much of that] anxiety is situational, [sometimes] due to corporate cultures,” she cautions.
“I started hallucinating and seeing things that were out of the ordinary—like a purple dinosaur.”
Long hours and work burnout frequently go hand-in-hand, and in extreme cases, the stress, exhaustion, and emotional strain can cause dramatic mental irregularities. For Alisha, a Georgia-based therapist and social worker, her demanding night-shift schedule led to hallucinatory experiences. “I was working the night shift, and it wasn’t consistent at all,” Alisha told Fairygodboss. “[I worked] constantly-rotating 12 hour shifts. Many times, I didn’t even take a full lunch break because I was so busy. I knew that I was [reaching burnout] when I could no longer focus on one thing at a time. I would sit down to write a paper at my computer and end up in tears because I literally couldn’t think.”
Eventually, Alisha’s burnout led her to a breaking point: “I knew I needed to quit the high-stress job when I started hallucinating and seeing things that were out of the ordinary — like a purple dinosaur,” Alisha described. “Looking back, I probably should have resigned sooner.”
“The stress and burnout led to me literally just passing out one night.”
The negative aspects of career burnout don’t just affect one’s mental state. Lengthy stretches of time spent under stress can also have unpleasant physical repercussions, as in the case of Emily, a Fort Lauderdale publicist who shared the following story with Fairygodboss: “About 7 years ago, I was doing PR at a corporate firm and working the longest hours of my career. [I started] many days at 5am and [stayed in the office] until 10 or 11 at night. After commuting home and g to bed at 1am, I’d wake up at 4am the next morning to do it all again. The stress and burnout [ended with] me literally just passing out one night and hitting my head and face on the way down, leading to stitches in my face and a stint in the hospital for exhaustion.”
Luckily, Emily took this as a sign to change her ways, resulting in a major career shift. “It was a big wake up call to me and a large part of why I decided it was time to open my own firm,” she happily told Fairygodboss.