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(I'm a contributor here already but created a throwaway account because I don't want it to be associated.)

Background:

I've worked here for about 18 months as a 'subject matter expert' in Technology X (a role that's new to the company, as technology X is central to their strategy but they didn't have a single person to be the design and architecture 'authority' about that, so people from other teams with various levels of interest and experience in X were muddling along).

As such I am expected to be the 'Subject Matter Expert' for most things related to Technology X and to work on various strategic and tactical projects related to Technology X (not really as a developer myself, but more like e.g. "investigating and then rolling out new features of the new version of Technology X to help the dev teams move forward with their developments".)

My issues:

  • Although I am enjoying the job in general and feel it is a good fit (culturally; matches what I can contribute to the role and so on) I feel like I'm "slacking off", "unmotivated", can't seem to get anything finished or to properly push people for things I need them to respond to, I can't contribute as much as I think I ought to be, or that I would like, to team discussions where they need the 'expert' (which should be me) to guide them and make a decision / give my opinion on what to do.
  • In the past I've almost always been a high performer and gone above and beyond expectations and all that. But now I feel like I'm underperforming.. (I have had that discussion with my boss, who didn't agree particularly, but I think he has relatively low expectations as I know I am capable of a lot more.)
  • so I'm low-key worried about PIPs (an officially documented process with HR whereby you have to shape up or ship out, ultimately), not sure if it's warranted or not.

Ultimately.... I just don't care about any of this. I just can't bring myself to feel anything about that -- when everyone else has the privilege to take 2 weeks off to visit the coffee shops of Vancouver (or whatever) and I was lucky to take 1 day to go to 'seaside resort 20 miles from me but better keep my phone switched on and dial in to emails and so on'.

Context:

Prior to this role... I've come from a background of about 15 years, give or take, of never actually taking a real break.

I have never in 15 years taken more than a week off at a time, and those weeks were pretty rare, and even when I was away made myself available. I've been called in to work (in previous companies) on a day I was supposed to be moving house and agreed to go in for an hour that turned out to be a day, been called back from a (rare) actual trip away to go in to the office, and so on and so on.

But none of this is the fault of my current company.

Right now I'm at the end of a period of about 4 years (previous company + this company) over which I've felt I could never really take more than a couple of days off at a time, had to be "on call" on days I did take off (not at my current employer, but at previous ones, etc).

Ultimately it has all now come to a head and taken a toll on my mental health and I feel like I can't carry on this way.

I am exhausted every day, I feel like "what's the point in anything", every day is just yet another day to get through and there's nothing to look forward to and nothing will ever change and I'm just so tired...

... but I can't go off "sick" with my current company with this, because it really isn't anything to do with them, it's just the accumulation of everything that came before.

I still haven't been able to take time off with this company because of projects which would normally be fine if I'd had a break before (I guess normally people take a break between jobs -- I could have afforded an unpaid break but didn't get the chance).

Each day now I go to work, step through the motions, do the minimum I need to do to get through... and this isn't me at all, I've always been enthusiastic about these things (I'm a Technology X geek!) but nowadays all I can do is the minimum and I feel constantly irritable, on edge, tearful (!) overly sensitive to anything people say as a joke and anything like that.

People here talk about holidays, their plans etc and I can't help thinking "must be nice!" (in a snarky way) and feeling resentful. I wish they'd be more considerate but I realise that isn't a reasonable response (it's just an emotional one as I feel angry and embittered every time I hear yet another person going on about their own holiday, how relaxing it was, how "you really ought to visit New England in the autumn!" or whatever it is. Yeah, I wish I could!)

Question:

How can I address burnout with my current company, when it isn't really my current company's "fault" but is rather the accumulation of things that have been going on for years but finally reached a head?

[I can't help thinking that it's come to a head now because I finally have a position I feel comfortable with and have 'breathing space' but I think that is just speculation].

And are there strategies I can use to recover from what I described above without having to take extended time off or call in 'sick' ?

PS. I really hope someone can help and that it isn't off topic, I think it is about "navigating the workplace" in this circumstance. I don't know where else to turn for rational advice!

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    You've been working in your current company for 18 months without a vacation, and for 15 years before that while never taking a break? And you think that you can't actually afford one now, why? I would understand if you only just joined this new company, but you've already been there for a long enough time that in my country you'd be mandated to take a month long vacation by law. Have you tried negotiating a vacation? – bpromas Oct 25 '19 at 19:53
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    I think the problem with not taking breaks for 15+ years is that you don't know how to take a break and have no idea what to spend that break on... Is that guess correct? Do you have someone (non-virtual close friend) who could take you along for their holiday (or whichever activity they know you'll be enjoying)? – Igor G Oct 25 '19 at 20:09
  • Many companies have a confidential "employee assistance plan" who can refer you to personal performance coaches and other people qualified to help you with this sort of problem. It might make sense to ask for help from that direction. And, remember, you're not alone in this. – O. Jones Oct 28 '19 at 14:31
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    It's also well past time to talk with your boss about preparing some of your colleagues so that they can cover for you while you take a holiday. I know it can feel like you can't justify time off because things will fall apart without you, but you absolutely need them to know that they have a very small bus factor right now and must do something about it. You could even start informally coaching your more trusted and enthusiastic colleagues to pick up the bits of your role which keep you tied down most. – Julia Hayward May 27 at 12:15
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And are there strategies I can use to recover from what I described above without having to take extended time off or call in 'sick' ?

If you are indeed burnt out, then you absolutely need to take time off. Whether you take it as vacation or sick time is irrelevant, if you do not rest then things will spiral downward.

If I were you I would, seek the help of a psychologist so they can understand the entirety of your situation and offer you the best advice as far as taking time off from work. I would then follow whatever their recommendation is and if that means taking time off from work then do it. Your health is more important than any job, take the necessary steps to stay healthy.

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You are not the only in these case of having a delayed response to being long-time overloaded. I'd say that after long time of bending, you allow yourself from breaking, now you are in an environment that makes it possible.

This doesn't make the need for a rest less necessary. If you are financially comfortable, have earned vacation days (I hope you have, after all this work !), or if somehow burnout is covered by your medical insurance, you should definitely look into the possibility to take a long time off. Do so without guilt toward your current employer. Provided you give them a notice, they will be just fine.

While you are in this long time off, reflect on your relationship with work, and how you could improve it. Taking appointment with a therapist could help you in that regard. You probably need to break preconceptions and die hard habits that are poisoning your well-being.

And are there strategies I can use to recover from what I described above without having to take extended time off or call in 'sick' ?

None that I would advise. How you currently are, you'd work at a reduced rate for quite some time, and possibly repeat accidental mistakes. Your employer would not be very pleased.

All the best for your recovery.

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If your boss is happy with your work, there is no reason you should be worried about PIP's and things.

There's not many people who can write such a detailed, well edited chunk of paragraphs about burning out - are you taking adderal/vyvanse? That could be responsible for your feelings.

Vacations are nice, and you should take one. Tell your boss that you are burning out and you need to go.

When you get back, change your habits. Every day, try and accomplish something that is not work related. It doesn't have to be big - some days, go to the gym, other days, try and pursue a hobby.

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How can I address burnout with my current company, when it isn't really my current company's "fault" but is rather the accumulation of things that have been going on for years but finally reached a head?

A company that doesn't make you take a break in 15 months is at fault. Where I live, they'd be legally liable if you were to burn out and become unable to work as a result.

And even if the company weren't at fault, taking a break before you break down is in the company's best interest. I am not a trained psychologist, but from what you write I see only two possible outcomes: Either you stop working voluntarily, or your emotions will make you stop. If you stop voluntarily, the company can plan for your absence. If your emotions make you stop, it will likely be at the worst possible moment, surprise everybody, and take you far longer to recover.

So take that break. In June. At least two weeks. Without interruptions. You deserve it.

Going forward, I recommend seeing a psychologist about how to better set boundaries in the workplace, because it seems to me that it is very easy for a company to guilt trip you into sacrificing yourself, and it would be good for you (and ultimately the companies you work for) to learn how to better stand up for yourself.

In particular, having also worked as a technology expert, I can tell you that it is possible to take vacations in that role. Just announce them up front to everyone you're coaching, so people know to bring pending issues now, take care of the major ones, and go. Also, my work phone is turned off during vacation.

As an aside, vacations are not just indispensable for maintaining mental health. Just like absence makes the heart grow fonder, your absence will remind your company of the value of your contributions. In addition, vacations serve as an important fire drill for unplanned absences of any sort.

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  • Feel free to explain downvotes - how would I learn anything if you don't tell me what's wrong? – meriton May 27 at 12:15
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I’ll let you in on a secret: Your company won’t be thanking you one bit for your donation of 15-20 working days every year to the company’s bottom line. It doesn’t make you a valued employee, it makes you a mug.

Take two weeks off. Without a phone. If they don’t like it, tell them it’s that or four weeks sick leave. I remember a time where I was a bit overworked, arrived at a beach on Crete, laid down and watched a cloud going from the left of the sky to the right, taking two hours. Then I got up and felt a lot better. Thats what you need.

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You are right to take this seriously, burnout can end your career.

Your current company is not at fault, and neither were your previous employers. Nor does who is at fault matter in the least.

Yes, there are strategies to be employed in restoring yourself and living a richer, more rewarding work experience than you have had yet.

I hope I made every possible mistake we can make as burnout victims. From my experience, first and last: Nothing can replace the need for someone to talk to.

Begin an open-ended conversation with someone who understands burnout. Whether their knowledge is personal or professional, you must trust them to understand and to offer practical help, i.e., the kind of help we practice and learn.

It would be a mistake to have this conversation at work. It is very difficult for busy people who have not reached this stage to empathize effectively with a coworker in your situation, and you do not need another level of involvement there anyway.

Journal every interruption in your life. All the calls you get at home, on vacation, every minute you spend working outside your scheduled work hours: keep a book. Write it all down. It will lend reality to your impressions and feelings, and serve as a touchstone for what you went through when it is past. It will go past.

Beware the breakout impulse. We sometimes try to fix that deadening sense that nothing matters by making good and sure something does. You sound levelheaded, but be aware that people in your situation are prone to making big mistakes just to put some meaning back into life. When you are feeling trapped, go take a walk. Middle of the morning at work? Go take a walk. Set your phone on the desk. "I needed to get away for a minute to think." But don't think. Walk.

Beware the escapist impulse. You certainly need a vacation, but it needs to happen in the context of a renewed sense of purpose. You have things to fix in your everyday life. This is a great time to examine your personal habits and pare back activities that take more than they give. Escapism can lead us into too much video gaming, too much tv, too much alcohol, too much not being present because the present feels meaningless. You need more time with yourself, not less. Walks are good.

Set boundaries. Deciding where and when you will be interrupted and imposed upon is no one else's job, no one else's fault, no one else's problem: set boundaries. I will expand on this in comments if you ask.

Please hear this spoken kindly and gently-- your mind and body are fed up with your attitude toward your life. You are not going to get your thirties back, and your forties are wailing at the thought of swirling down the work drain. Work is great and can be very meaningful in the context of a full, richly experienced life. You do not have to build a castle wall around your personal place, a picket fence with a little gate will do just fine. Cultivating what's inside there is the important thing. Walks are good.

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