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Manage your energy, not your time, to avoid burnout

Though not everyone gets to work in the rarified world of high finance, many will relate to author Carrie Sun’s anatomy of burnout.

In her new memoir, Private Equity, the former quantitative equity analyst charts her time as executive assistant to the founder of one of the world’s most successful hedge funds.

Ironically, she chose the job to achieve a better work life balance, planning to write in her spare time. What spare time?

She quickly moves from loving the role to being swamped by it. The sense of overwhelm, of being always on, endlessly interrupted and not listened to when she asks for help resulted in everything from disordered eating to injury.

In the office gym late one night she checks a text while running on a treadmill and ends up in hospital.

As her workload increases her ability to recharge her personal battery implodes. No amount of boss-gifted spa days or expensive therapies helps because the exhausting workload was only greater when she returned.

Of course she left.

The World Health Organization classifies burnout not as a medical condition but purely an occupational phenomenon. It is the result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

It characterizes it as feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, negativity or cynicism towards one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.

Surveys suggest a number of factors cause workplace disengagement, including lack of clarity around your role and expectations of you, lack of opportunities for development, and a feeling that your opinions don’t count.

In recent years pollster Gallup’s research has charted falling levels of workplace engagement, particularly among young millennials and Gen Zs.

Last year it found employees in the US feel more detached from their employers, with less clear expectations, lower levels of satisfaction with their organization, and less connection to its mission or purpose than they did four years ago. They are also less likely to feel someone at work cares about them as a person.

Around half of employees are disengaged––or “quiet quitting”, it found.

Among the most common causes of burnout, which can present as either loud quitting (leaving) or quiet quitting (staying but disengaging), is a sense of being treated unfairly, unmanageable workload, intense time pressure, and poor managerial communications or support.

Carrie Sun’s boss suggested she take time off to remedy her burnout, rather than address its root causes. But research suggests time out can actually make things worse.

According to a nationwide survey, a return to work after breaks and vacations often leaves people feeling drained, with 42 percent dreading the return to work and 50 percent reporting that burnout typically sets in within one week of returning.

Despite this, only 8 percent of respondents said their employer had measures in place to address employee burnout.

Many of us turn to energy management techniques to cope. The same survey found that exercising, prioritizing self-care, and listening to music are the top strategies we use to combat burnout symptoms.

It also found that a significant portion of the workforce is proactively setting goals to address burnout. One in six employees had made New Year’s resolutions focused specifically on preventing or managing burnout, with Gen Z leading the way at 26 percent.

Personal energy management is based on the understanding that time is fixed but energy can be expanded. Getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising all help, as can changing the way you work: learn to prioritize, delegate and say no.

Seek out labor-saving AI tools and put them to work for you. Be more self-aware about the things that either drain or boost your energy. Perhaps you’re most productive in the early morning, or a night owl who prefers to start late and work late. Adopt a lean business mindset personally, looking for ways to cut out practices that use up your energy needlessly.

If none of this works, do what Carrie Sun did and leave.

European style right to disconnect laws may not yet have caught on here but you can seek out employers who value workplace wellbeing and have the policies in place to back it up. You never know, you might even write a bestseller about the transition.

If you’re in the market for a new job, The Hill Jobs Board is the place to start looking. Here are three to get you going.

Arctic Campaign Director, Alaska Wilderness League, Washington DC

Work with purpose. The Director of the Arctic Defense Campaign will lead collaborative work to defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Western Arctic (National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska) from destructive oil and gas development.

Lead Data Warehouse Engineer, Beyond Finance, Chicago

Beyond Finance’s mission is to help everyday Americans escape the endless cycle of crippling debt. Enjoy mentorship, catered lunches and a free fitness center as its Lead Data Warehouse Engineer.

Executive Assistant, Tribal Tech LLC, Alexandria

Tribal Tech is a Native American, woman-owned small business providing professional services. It is searching for an Executive Assistant to provide high-level and comprehensive support at its client site in Washington, D.C.

Seeking a career change, a step up or a fresh start? The Hill Jobs has a wide variety of new roles you can browse today

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