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I have reached a point where each day I feel in pain and headache for not being able to handle the stress at work. I really think I cannot take it anymore and will get ill if I just keep working without taking a few days off.

I am sure that I will be more productive if I return with a fresh mind and body and have better insight, start from scratch with addressing the multitude of issues. But I need to hit the "reset button" sooner than later!

The only thing this will mean is that I will have to escape from the problems/responsibilities for some time, which is obviously not good for the company - and may not look professional.

As an alternative, could I just say I suddenly got ill from fatigue/exhaustion and go to a retreat/holiday/outdoors?

16

Basically, you need to deal with the source of the problem, not treat the symptom (stress).

Having some time off is just going to mean you are returning to the same stressful issues compounded because they have been neglected in the time you have been away.
This situation should be dealt with by figuring out...

  1. If your workload and/or work environment is unreasonable?

    In this case you will need to speak to someone above you and have them lower your workload, hire more staff, stop taking on more business than they can handle as well as make sure the working environment is not unreasonable. Also make sure you are delegating tasks that can be delegated and not trying to micromanage and are the other people around you taking on their fair share of work?

  2. If you have the skills you require to perform the functions of this position?

    If the workload is fine but you are stressed because you don't have the skills to keep up then you need to speak to your boss and either arrange training or a position change.

  3. If you can deal with the stress levels expected in the position?

    If not then you don't have what it takes to perform this in this position. This is nothing to be ashamed of, some people are just not cut out for certain types of work. I myself get stressed fast in customer facing positions.

  4. If the situation is simply untenable (Courtesy of @blrfl)

    You should also seriously consider that the position is one that is not only beyond your abilities but is beyond the abilities of anyone and it is time to leave before you burnout trying to do the impossible.


Additionally

Here are some links to further discussions on this topic:-

  • 3
    I would add a fourth question: "Is the situation simply untenable?" Some jobs reach the point where it's simply time to go, and you'll be much better off jettisoning the whole situation. I burned out, stuck with it for a very long time, paid dearly for it and am in the middle of what will probably be a very long recovery. – Blrfl Jan 10 '14 at 14:23
  • extended the answer as to that point – Ross Drew Jan 10 '14 at 14:28
  • 1
    I would add another point: "Is the work environment unacceptable?" A noisy environment, a bad relation to coworkers or a bad leadership style can be more stressful than the work itself. – Philipp Jan 10 '14 at 15:30
  • I've integrated that point a little but I don't think it's a point of it's own. More an undertone for the whole post. – Ross Drew Jan 10 '14 at 15:41
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"The only thing this will mean is that I will have to escape from the problems/responsibilities for some time, which is obviously not good for the company - and may not look professional."

If you are stretched & stressed out from work related issues, escapism from such situations usually does not work for prolonged intervals of time (personal experience) , you might successfully "reset"but if you don't have a plan to make things better (on personal,professional & team front) you could well slide into being jaded again.

I would not recommend suddenly saying I got ill ....

Be honest, is my advice

Talk to your boss in detail and try an convince him why you need to ... "But I need to hit the "reset button" sooner than later!" and discuss with him a plan on how to avoid going into the same mode after your break. Explain to him what those issues are and how those have gradually affected you and how you are in the situation that you are currently in.

Ultimately this looks like a case of your own well being and who better than you to make a case for it.

6

You could take a sick-leave.

Psychological health problems are just as much a reason to stay away from work as physical health problems.

But to improve the situation in the long-term, you should bring up the reason why you are stressed out in the first place and discuss with your superior what can be done to improve the situation. You having to quit due to burn-out syndrom won't be in the best interest of the company.

The stress factor could be your work itself:

  • When you have too much workload, you should suggest to reduce it.
  • When you feel unqualified, you should ask for training or mentoring.
  • When the responsibility is stressing you out, you should ask for someone to review your output and catch mistakes.

But the work environment could also be a stress-factor:

  • When you don't get along with your coworkers, you should ask for a relocation to another department.
  • When the office environment itself stresses you out (too noisy, too uncomfortable, too ugly...) it should be improved.

And there is also your private life, which you should consider. When you can't relax off-work and recharge your batteries, it will impact you on-work.

  • Do you have a fulfilling social life (friends, family, love etc.)?
  • Do you have a good way to relax after work and at weekends?
  • Do you sleep well?
  • Do you watch your health?
  • In addition, psychological issues could also play a role. For example feeling extremely insecure can really be a source of stress. Talking this through and dealing with it could really help. You could do this with a good friend, (or even better) a psychologist. Some companies even employ doctors/psychologists who you could use. – Paul Hiemstra Jan 11 '14 at 8:21
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If your job provides paid vacation (or paid time off including vacation and sick together), then it is easy. You simply ask your boss if taking vacation for the following days will be ok. It's good to ask so that if there is something coming up that you don't know about, your boss can let you know of a better time. Then, you make sure you have things covered: work that will be due during that time is done or has someone covering it; people know who to call for various contingencies; email and phone are set up with out of office messages.

If your job provides vacation but it is not paid, you'll need to add the following: make sure you can afford the unpaid time. (I don't know how common this is.)

If your job does not provide vacation or you can't afford the time off, then it's a harder question. What will it do to your health and job performance if you don't take the time off anyway? It may be better to take unpaid time over losing your job because you can't deal with it. It may be worthwhile talking to your boss to see if you can come up with some sort of break that will help and still work for them.

By the way, there is nothing unprofessional about taking vacation. And if you consider yourself essential, then you or the company has a problem, because people leave jobs for various reasons all the time, and there needs to be a way for the company to keep functioning in those situations.

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The earlier you plan it out and give some notice, the better this will go. Even a normal, fun, not stress-related vacation serves the purpose you describe - to let the employee clear his head, focus on something not work related and come back fresh.

The trick is how to work it out when your office is under heavy stress and you need a break sooner rather than later.

This is a point where I don't think you need to go into great detail on why you need a break, only that you need a rest break. One thing to consider is where in the near-term workload would a break be easiest on your team. Is there an upcoming deliverable that you could take a break after? Are there certain days in the week that are slightly easier than others? When making a proposal for time off - look for the win-win here.

Also - start prepping your boss with the idea that work has been high stress and when you come back, you'll be looking to take an active role in reducing stress. Reducing stress likely does not mean reducing work load, but changing the way work and communication flow so that you can better address priorities in a way that works better for your own frame of mind and the business in general. Your manager can help, but you are the one who knows where the stress is coming from, so you will have to be a key player in reducing it.

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Is it possible that the best stress reliever in your situation is a long, long vacation - like a change to another employer? :) You need to review your situation, identify the sources of stress, and decide what you are going to do next.

As a hardened technical professional in a naturally stressful environment, I don't let stress get to me - and I learned to do that the hard way. Add enough stress, and you could gift yourself with a heart stoppage or a stroke if you are in the right age bracket - late middle age - and in the right weight class - read, overweight. Whatever you chose to do, now or later in you career, you should take the attitude in the meantime that "this job isn't worth dying for". Cut any intellectual and especially emotional ties to the stress and let it fly right above your head.

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