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I'm working in the EU at a job where the expectation is that you will work 12+h/ day. When I open my laptop on the weekend I see half of my team is there. (It's a typical Monday though Friday office job). Things also get escalated very high and you have to explain yourself for things you weren't even responsible for to the level +3 vs. yours. Add to that zero support or interest from your boss and injustice.

I'm currently interviewing, get good feedback including some offers. Realistically speaking I will want to give my notice within 1-4 months - I'm searching for a senior, well-paid position, so the pool isn't that huge. I'm in a high-demand job and if I just wanted any job I would get it without issues.

The current situation is unfortunately affecting me quite a bit. I even got some physical symptoms. I imagine quitting every night.

How to prevent the situation from affecting my well-being?

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    If you've got the financial savings to ride out a few months, you could give in your notice now? You'll have a notice period to serve anyway, and you can stop working overtime.
    – Kaz
    Aug 2, 2022 at 23:15
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    12+ hour days and people working weekends is not "a typical Monday though Friday office job"
    – HorusKol
    Aug 3, 2022 at 1:03
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    @nvoigt, EU. Unpaid overtime is illegal here and I'm well passed my probationary period. They can't fire me without me having done something very stupid, which I won't. I've now started to leave after 8h too. But: this contributes to the stress, since some people are very unhappy about that and want to prove that I'm not doing my job. To be honest, I even tried therapy and I run into a therapist that happened to have had some clients from my (big) company. He told me that the problems I'm complining about are typical.
    – user32589
    Aug 3, 2022 at 5:40
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    The question in title somewhat misses the point. It's not about how to endure stress, it's how to avoid it. Trying to endure something that inherently and consistently applies a negative force is an inefficient way to solve the problem. Translating from my native language, we call this "mopping while the faucet is open", i.e. you're not cutting it off at the source.
    – Flater
    Aug 3, 2022 at 12:02
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    @Ivo That is illegal all over the EU (though there are legal exceptions/exemptions possible), not just in the Netherlands Aug 4, 2022 at 7:58

5 Answers 5

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I'm currently interviewing, get good feedback including some offers.

My suggestion is to immediately take one of those good offers. This will end the stress of not knowing how long you will have to suffer this stressful work environment at your current job.

Work-life balance is important. No amount of money can compensate for the significant stress you are facing, which already affects your physical health also as you wrote "I even got some physical symptoms".

So, again, take one of the best job offers you currently have. In the future, if you want more money, then continue to look for better jobs with higher salaries.

Once you decide which job offer to take, try to cut the notice period at your current company as short as possible. Leave your current company ASAP. This will help your well-being tremendously for sure.


Edit:

I'm in a high-demand job and if I just wanted any job I would get it without issues.

Then, clearly, the solution to ending the stress at your current company is already in your hand. It is totally up to you now.

I don't think that there is any good way to ease the stress or pressure you endure at your current company because this seems to be the "company culture" approved or enforced by upper management.

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    Bear in mind as well that if you take one of the good jobs now, you can always leave that one too if you find the perfect one... No need to put off waiting Aug 3, 2022 at 14:39
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    you don't even have to wait to have accepted an offer before quitting.
    – njzk2
    Aug 4, 2022 at 11:23
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The other answer is already a good solution for any environment and quite frankly the easier solution even if you have protection. However, if you have protection by labor laws and your boss cannot just fire you over literally nothing, there is another one:

Work as per your contract and don't care. Stress is getting to you on two ways: physical exhaustion from working long hours and mental exhaustion from a toxic climate. If you manage to reduce both, you can manage to reduce the stress until you found a new job.

Reducing your hours is comparatively easy. Set an alarm. Leave on time. Done.

Trying to not let your bosses get to you, when they tell you your work is bad, is harder. Because you want to tell the thruth and you want their approval. Everybody does. But they are a big part of that toxicity of your current environment. If you manage to mentally shift your goals from "I want to be a good person, tell the truth and gain their approval" to "I know they are lying scumbags, so in return I will just tell them any lie they want to hear to get out of this shitty meeting" then you won't worry about it in your remaining spare time. Be warned, this shift is hard. Many are not prepared to make it. Espoecially if you are a good, hard working person. Lazy assholes already perfected this, you probably didn't even start thinking about it.

If you honestly don't give a thing about what your bosses or coworkers are thinking, your stress level will sink immediately.

However, again, this is a lot harder than it reads here. Controlling your feelings and thoughts is a lot more complicated than setting an alarm. Just quitting for another "good" job now, without optimizing your search for the "best" one is still a very solid way to get out of the situation.

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    Sick leave might be an alternative to just quitting. If OP has stress-induced physical symptoms, they are sick. Their doctor should put them on sick leave for this.
    – user29390
    Aug 3, 2022 at 9:02
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    Personally, due to psychological reasons, I took the switch from trying to not caring. What I found equally hard, if not harder, is switching back to actually caring and working when I later changed jobs to a place where I feel I should do so.
    – jaskij
    Aug 3, 2022 at 13:32
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    Becoming the kind of person who deserves to get fired is not a good idea. Better to leave for a better job or just quit if no good job is available at the moment, or even take sick leave due to stress.
    – bob
    Aug 3, 2022 at 21:48
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    @jaskij there's not caring about the unfair feedback and expectation and not working which are two very different things, what was suggested here is he sticks to his contractual hours and still work and deliver. He may even discover he actually produces more in 8 hours a day than in 12 hours a day when he's not stressed nor tired.
    – Maxime
    Aug 4, 2022 at 8:55
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    @computercarguy You can dream. Here in Europe, the US Democrats would be a far-right party. (The Republicans would be considered to be batshit crazy.) So, excuse me if I'm sceptical. Unless you completely change your political system to something more democratic, nothing will change fundamentally.
    – user29390
    Aug 5, 2022 at 5:13
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I'm currently interviewing, get good feedback including some offers.

There's a reason why we say "Out of the frying pan into the fire".

In the OP's position I would do in-depth research before and after each job interview and during the interview ask the kind of questions which young interviewees forget or feel too awkward to ask, e.g. Why is this job open? Do coworkers socialise outside work? How will my performance be evaluated? When are employees expected to work over the weekend? etc. The OP needs to carefully evaluate a future employer's culture and ethos before quitting their old job. They need to feel safe and valued, so securing a job with less responsibility and less stress will probably mean accepting a cut in salary.
It will be worth it; health comes first.

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    I always try to do that, but the truth is you can never know. I currently have my third boss since I started working at the current company (I've been in the job for under 2 years). The first one was ok, I felt she was on my side at least to some degree. The remaining two have been horrible. They didn't solve problems, they created them. You can never know no matter how well you prepare.
    – user32589
    Aug 3, 2022 at 10:28
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    @user32589 Three different bosses in two years is a bit of a red flag. I would continue to do job interviews and not be afraid to say that you will not work more than XX hours per week. I once told an employer I would not want to work more than three days a week, and they accepted. Mind you I have 30 years work experience
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 3, 2022 at 10:44
  • TBC this discussion was held before I signed the work contract.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 3, 2022 at 12:34
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Bear in mind this is from the position of a senior programmer/technical consultant:

For me that means:

  • I can solve 99% of my problems myself. You give me a task and I'll "get it done".
  • I can judge 99% of the priorities of my tasks without needing hand-holding.
  • Yes, I need big chunks of time to focus in order to do my job well, but I still shouldn't lose a LOT of focus from minor distractions.

Stress is a delicate balance of choosing what you prioritize in order to do your job to the best of your abilities without succumbing to it. You should care about doing your job well and quickly. You should NOT care about satisfying someone being overbearing and having stupid expectations.

You CAN literally ignore coworkers wherever they are on the hierarchy if they interfere with your capacity to do your work WHILE you still do what they ask you to. Especially in a senior position where you are expected to be able to work independently.

So when you get a question:

  • If it's not something you can immediately reply (or with 30 seconds of Google Fu) or if something is on fire (YOU make the judgement call on that, NOT them) you should reply with when you will START handling their question (I advise 2 hours before you plan on stopping that day).
  • Make an appointment in your calendar for it.
  • Continue your work.
  • Any other communication on the topic coming in through the day you can quickly skim through. If it's relevant, add it to the appointment (or mark it as unread, you'll reread it anyway soon) or if it qualifies the issue for escalation you can re-evaluate it. Otherwise you don't NEED to respond.

Point is: YOU make the call if it warrants prioritizing. This isn't a power thing. It's about doing your job and managing your stress level. You were given a senior position/title because they trust you can manage your own more than a junior can. If they don't trust you with that the title is meaningless. Moreover, it's THEIR problem not yours.

Caring is a finite resource. I care a lot about my projects and the customers they are for. I will bring my laptop on holidays and field minor issues because I care. I will work until 2am, 4am to finish that synchronisation. But I choose what I care about.

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This is a great opportunity for you to work on your mind's traits, especially equanimity. The situation is what it is; you have already recognized it, and have taken first steps to rectify it. So far so good.

From experience, I'd recommend this:

Take care of yourself

  • Try to unclutter your life as much as possible. From your description I assume that your private life is non-existent anyways, or really fraught. If you have lots of stress in private life as well, e.g. because you try to get some hobbies etc. in, try to relax that as much as possible. The goal is not to reduce the time you spend in your private life even more, but to not fill it up with stuff you have no energy to do anyways, now. So that when you are off work, you get real relaxation time in.
  • Use any time you have made free on focusing on eating well (cooking real food if you are at home), and sleeping as much as you humanly can. If there is any kind of exercise you could be doing, even just a few stretching exercises at home, try to do that, it's good for your body and alleviates stress.
  • Get into meditation. Nothing mystical/religious, just plain old mindfulness meditation. Quick intro if you don't know anything about it yet:
    • Sit still, close your eyes, and just be aware of what happens. You can sit however you want, on a chair, sofa, big cushion, whatever. Don't force yourself into a posture you see in YouTube videos which hurts your knees or leads to nerves falling asleep. If you need, you can move (i.e. if some joint starts hurting, move; or if you get an itch, you can scratch it).
    • You do not need and should not try to reach any "goal" with this; for some people it is helpful to focus on your breath (i.e. on the feeling of the air cooling your nose or moving your breast or stomach), but this is not the "end goal". Just sit there, close your eyes, listen to whatever sounds there are, watch the darkness behind your eye lids, feel the feelings in your body (pressure, tingling, heat, cold etc.), be aware of how your emotions are doing (angry, frustrated, exhausted, happy, etc.), and if you notice that thoughts are appearing, just be aware of them.
    • Do not try to actively influence any of that. I.e. do not try to make your emotions go away. Do not be angry when you catch yourself thinking about work, but gently be aware of it and witness how the current thought dissipates on its own. Even if the whole session feels totally futile, as long as you are sitting still and doing nothing, it will do something. There is not a goal of "emptying your mind", just to be aware of everything that's going on.
    • Start out with 10 minutes daily and make it longer as you feel it's appropriate.
    • There are some great apps or online resources for guided meditations like this; I don't know if it's allowed to mention these here, but if you're interested, add a comment and I can tell you what works for me.

Relax about the importance of your job

  • Convince yourself that your job is not a life-and-death issue.
  • If some manager tries to make you work faster, recognize that it's their problem, not yours. In the EU you are protected; your employee cannot bodily harm you or force you to do immoral etc. things.
  • Remind yourself that those people giving you a hard time are also human beings. They are very likely overwhelmed just like everybody else, and the fact that they're in over their heads results in an overall abysmal behaviour. It's highly unlikely that anyone is doing it intentionally to cause harm for their co-workers. Have pity with them, not anger; don't assume they are stupid or evil.
  • Your contract contains an hourly limit of how much you are obliged to work. Read up on that, and reduce your working hours. You are not interested in a career in that company, it doesn't matter if someone thinks badly about you.
  • Obviously, if you don't have one yet, request an employer's reference ASAP. In at least my EU country you are entitled to get one every few years, no questions asked, and it cannot contain negative things that you are not OK with (i.e., they cannot write negative about you simply because you insist on working within your contractual hours).

Activate a maintainable working mode

  • When going gets tough on the job, and you notice that your body is flooded with adrenaline, you're getting shaky, and just overburdened with stress, an immediate emergency activity is go to the bathroom (if you're in an office), sit on the throne, and do the breathing for 5 minutes. This stuff has measurable effect on stress levels; these 5 minutes will of course not change your problem, but it may calm down your body just a bit.
  • If there are discussions (like you mentioned - managers 3 levels up arguing with you), keep everything as objective as possible. Try to never make it about people, but always about objective facts.
  • You do not tell us which type of company you work in, but do try to establish some kind of activity/task tracking. Google "SCRUM", "Kanban", "Agile" - if you are in IT then you are aware of that stuff already. But a lot of the mindset behind it is very much applicable for any kind of work environment.
    • Try to read up on these concepts and figure out whether any of it can at least somewhat be introduced at your job; even if only privately for yourself. Being able to cut your work into little pieces ("stories", "tasks" ...) and making them and their status visible is an awesome tool to reduce the overwhelming feeling of everything just being too much. Also it allows you to always be very aware of which one thing you are working on right now. You can also then make your work very transparent to colleagues and higher-ups.
    • Use this to especially identify anything that can be prioritized away (even if you only use the old A, B, C, D scheme with the important/unimportant, urgent/non-urgent dimensions).
  • If you find yourself in a heated discussion with people yelling, especially if they yell at you, then immediately perform some emergency maneuver. It's a little hard to give advice that fits your situation, as I know nothing about it, but some hints:
    • If it's an online setting (video call), fake a technical issue (Alt-F4 on your chat app...), close your eyes and sit for 2 minutes before going online again.
    • If it's a face-to-face situation, do not respond quickly to anything. Let them yell, and when they're done, let there develop an awkward silence. This gives them a chance to think about what they've said just now, and it gives you a chance to calm your thoughts and respond in a calm matter.
    • Don't be afraid to respond with something like "I think it's a good idea to open the window for a minute to let fresh air in" (if face-to-face) or "I think we should have a short break, let me refresh myself and I'll brb" (if online); adapt as you see fit.
    • If someone has you defend about some issue you had nothing to do with, just explain "I wasn't involved with this and do not know the details; let's get in Joe, he should be more knowledgeable about it".

If the burnout hits you

As far as I can tell, the light at the end of the tunnel is the oncoming train, in your current situation.

If the time comes, you will notice that it's over. If you start crying after a phone call and cannot help it, if you cannot sleep at all anymore, if you consciously feel that your body is a wreck and just flooded with adrenaline all day; if you feel that you are constantly in a state of panic and deathly fear; if you develop thoughts about killing yourself, then set an autoreply in your mail client, switch off the PC and the smartphone, head to your doctor, and be done with it.

Depending on where you are in the EU, certainly if it's in Germany, you can go to the emergency room in any hospital and just check yourself in. Tell them that you are burned out and are having concrete suicidal thoughts, and you will receive help. At this stage, this is a bodily issue, a concrete medical issue, not something "in your mind" to be ashamed off.

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