Dealing With Work Stress and Burnout

Last Updated Nov 25, 2008 4:43 PM EST

Executives are under constant stress and the economic crisis sure isn't helping. When stress, frustration, and anxiety reach a boiling point and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight, that's called burnout.

I'm no shrink, but I have experienced burnout and it's really bad news. If you're either not aware of it or fail to take action, you can end up doing things you'll later regret. You can irreparably damage your career or personal relationships.

Burnout is double-trouble for executives. First, like other high-stress jobs, they're prone to it. Second, they have a relatively high threshold for stress and anxiety and are less likely to do something about it.

According to a publication from the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) called "Stress ... at Work":

"The nature of work is changing at whirlwind speed. Perhaps now more than ever before, job stress poses a threat to the health of workers..."

The report goes on to quote a number of studies:

According to the Families and Work Institute, 26 percent of workers report they are "often or very often burned out or stressed by their work."

According to a survey by Yale University, 29 percent of workers report they feel "quite a bit or extremely stressed at work."

According to Northwestern National Life, 40 percent of workers report their job is "very or extremely stressful."

The data is sobering, if not downright depressing.

What to do about it
If you're experiencing burnout and obvious fixes like seeking counsel or taking a sabbatical don't help, then my advice is to get out. I'm not kidding. You can figure out what went wrong and psychoanalyze yourself later. There's just too much at stake. Put some serious distance between you and your job, get some perspective, and then put yourself back together.

And don't forget about your staff and, if you're a board director, your executives. Learn to recognize the signs and encourage them to get help. It'll benefit you and your company in the long run.

But that's just me. If you're interested in advice from qualified professionals, the CDC's NIOSH has some great resources on managing workplace stress and dealing with burnout. Check it out before you reach the boiling point.

And share your experiences with workplace burnout, stress, and anxiety so your fellow managers know they're not alone.