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I am a data analyst in the public sector and have been in various guises for the past 8-9 years. I am currently pretty well burnt out in my current role - all motivation has disappeared, work quality is way down and the only saving grace is that the pandemic has forced everyone to work from home so no one can see quite how bad it has got. I should say this isn't new, I have experienced symptoms of fairly hefty burnout in all of my previous four roles.

My question is: those of you that have experienced burnout and are now on the other side, were you able to achieve this in the same industry or did it require a more drastic change to get over it? As it stands I would be more than happy to never look at a spreadsheet or line of code again but I'm not sure whether this is the burnout talking.

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  • Stupid question - is the butn out due to work, or the scoail anxiety and working from home? I know quite a lot of people feeling very stressed and socially isolated because they miss mentally going to office. Know your enemy - in the later case, a new industry will not do anything.
    – TomTom
    Aug 12, 2020 at 15:10

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The book Rhinoceros Success has an entire section on renewal.

It's also called Sharpening the Axe

Since this has happened to you before, I strongly suggest you seek ways to increase your down time, and find ways to recharge, renew, and be more effective.

I am the poster boy for burnout in that it took me FIVE YEARS to bounce back.

What I had to do was to step back, focus on myself, get stronger and undo the damage by taking care of myself.

If you don't take care of yourself, you are of no use to anyone

The temptation is to keep going, and pushing yourself, but you do reach a point where it is actually counterproductive, as outlined in an article by the Harvard Business Review

To recover before you pass the point of burnout.

  1. Schedule time for yourself
  2. Exercise
  3. Maintain your health First
  4. Socialize (as much as possible, given current conditions)
  5. Spend time with family
  6. Do things you love
  7. Disconnect from anything that annoys you
  8. Leave work at work
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Changing careers might help but it's certainly not a guarantee that you'll never get burned out again, or even that the frequency of burnouts will be reduced. I'm a software developer and I sometimes get frustrated with it and think about changing to something else, but at the end of the day, software development is what I'm good at, and I know I can enjoy it in the right circumstances.

Ultimately the only one who can answer this question is you. I'd suggest thinking back and remembering why you work in this field in the first place - what attracted you to it? Think about the parts you enjoy, and try to nurture those.

I think burnout is something we all have to manage ourselves, firstly by becoming able to recognise it in its early stages, and then by being disciplined about tackling it.

For me, I recognise the early stages of burnout when I start consistently thinking: "Well, I'll just stay for an extra hour and get this last thing done." Doing that every so often, when necessary, is fine. Doing it consistently e.g. for a week or more means you're probably heading for burnout. Soon one extra hour becomes two, and so on.

From the sound of it you're already burned out, so by now you should be able to remember the whole process. The next step is: having recognised it, what can you do about it?

I suggest bearing a few things in mind:

  • Working longer hours doesn't necessarily mean you get more done. Your brain needs rest to be effective. As such, burnout is a vicious cycle. The longer you work, the less effective you become, so the less work you get done, so the more you feel like you have to work to make up for it, etc.
  • You have a life outside work; don't neglect it. I know everyone says this and it sounds patronising but honestly, it's extremely beneficial to go outside and get some exercise every day. People tend to underestimate this.
  • Your employer probably doesn't care that you're working to the point of burnout. So don't fall into the trap of thinking it'll gain you respect by people seeing how much of a hard worker you are. They'll just say "thank you very much" and swallow all your effort. What they will care about is if your productivity drops, which it almost certainly will if you're burned out.
  • Remember that there's nothing wrong with you for being burned out. It happens to most people at some point.

Nobody can tell you what to do in this situation. I can't read your question and say "Ah yes, you should be a fisherman/farmer/whatever instead." I'm sure there are plenty of fishermen and farmers who get burned out too. For me personally, there was a time in my current job where I was extremely stressed and burned out, working ridiculous hours and fretting about getting things done on time. It didn't help me or the project, which was doomed regardless of what I did. But I've learned from that and am still in the same role, yet feeling much more in control of my stress and burnout levels. So it's definitely possible to stay where you are and get things back under control as long as you're disciplined about it. There comes a point where you have to say "No, I'm not going to work an extra hour tonight, because I'm tired and I've had enough for the day. I'll come back to it tomorrow when I'm refreshed and more productive."

The other thing to consider is, are you burned out, or do you have career fatigue? In the latter case, if you're able, it may be good to have a relatively long break from work; say a few weeks or a month. Maybe take a sabbatical and do something else for a bit.

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Good answers already, my addition is that in my experience once you get to the stage you're in it cannot really be reversed in terms of job satisfaction. You can eke it out indefinitely for the income by basically focusing on yourself and treating work as a necessary chore.

Changing industries works, sometimes even changing workplaces works as you interact with new people and situations. Taking up an interesting hobby can help as well. The problem with changing industries in a major way is you lose all that expensive seniority and your experience depreciates over time as it becomes obsolete, as you get older this becomes more and more important especially if you're supporting a family.

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