10 Ways to Deal With Work Burnout

Stressed woman sitting at desk in office surrounded by paperwork
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Advertising, marketing, PR, and design are industries that seem to pride themselves on how hard they work their employees. There’s a famous saying used by many creative directors and executives over the years: “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother showing up on Sunday.” Basically, if you’re not ready to work 24/7, we don’t want you.

However, with the advent of social media, the problem has increased exponentially. Now, advertising messages are being pushed out around the clock, and they're not all automated. Someone has to create and schedule the messages, and it is leading to more stress, poor health, and worse.

While you might not be able to leave your job, there are ways to deal with burnout. Take a breath, relax, and check out the following 10 tips showing how to deal with burnout at work.

1. Take a Vacation

Talk to your manager as soon as possible and take a break. Not a five-minute break, and not a couple of days at home. You need a complete and total cut-off from work. Basically, you need a vacation.

Explain why you need time off without whining or getting emotional. Be rational when you lay out all the reasons you deserve a break, and why you will be an even better employee when you return.

Ideally, you should be gone for at least two weeks with zero office contact. Don’t make yourself available for calls. Don’t check your emails. If at all possible, go somewhere that is the complete opposite of work and do whatever makes you genuinely happy. If that’s laying on a beach drinking cocktails, climbing mountains, or white water rafting, do it.

If you don’t have any vacation days left, ask for an unpaid break. Find a way to make it work financially even if it means a staycation. Don't underestimate the harmful effects of burnout.

2. Find a Release

Burnout can build, leading to a pressure cooker of stress. If you don’t open that release valve from time to time, you are going to explode. Perhaps not literally, but you’ll crack emotionally, have outbursts, or maybe do something that could hurt your career.

Generally, physical activity is ideal for stress release. For some people, it’s CrossFit or martial arts. For others, it’s paintball battles, soccer, racquetball, or bowling. Many people enjoy video games, while others prefer a shooting range or a dozen laps of the pool. The way you release your aggression and frustration is not important, as long as it’s not harmful to yourself or others. What matters is that you find a way to let off steam.

3. Take a Break From Alcohol and Caffeine

A lot of people deal with the stresses and strains of a hectic work life by turning to the bottle or dosing up on coffee, energy drinks, cigarettes, or even food. While these can sometimes be soothing in moderation, you can quickly become dependent upon them, especially if you’re using them to cope with significant or growing stress at work. Dependency leads to addiction, which isn't good.

Although something as simple as coffee seems harmless, it can rob you of much-needed sleep and put undue strain on your heart. There's no secret to the dangers of alcohol and tobacco, and poor eating can lead to weight gain and associated health problems. So, while you may think you need them more than ever, find something else to calm and soothe your nerves. Take a walk, engage in a hobby, or simply sit quietly.

4. Ask for Different Responsibilities

Burnout in advertising agencies can not only happen from overwork, but also from working on the same few clients for months at a time. As the old saying goes, "a change is as good as a rest," so talk to your manager about taking on different responsibilities. Will your boss assign you a different account? Can you work with clients who require you to leave the office more for meetings, photoshoots, and events? Perhaps you can swap accounts with someone else who is feeling worn out.

If you are good at your job, the agency will not want to lose you and will want to help you feel better at work. It can cost up to 400 percent more than your annual salary to replace you, especially if you’re a talented creative. The agency would much rather put your skills to good use on a different account than to see you walk.

5. Have a Heart-to-Heart With Someone Close

Another way to relieve a little pressure is to share your problems, thoughts, and concerns with someone who genuinely cares about your well-being. It could be a spouse, your best friend, a neighbor, or a trusted co-worker, although be careful about sharing too much with someone at work who is known to spread gossip or might use the information against you.

The person you talk to doesn't have to be in the same industry or understand exactly what it is you do. They simply need to be a shoulder to cry on, which is often all you need to release some of that bottled-up frustration and despair.

If you cannot find anyone to talk to, another option is to write a letter to the person, or people, who are adding to your burnout, such as your boss, a co-worker, or a client. Put down everything you want to say, but DO NOT send it to them. This is merely an exercise to get your frustrations off your chest.

6. Find Ways to Make Work More Fun or Interesting

In advertising and design, exciting projects can alleviate some of the problems that come with an exhaustive schedule. Yes, you’re busy, but you’re having so much fun it’s not an issue. When you’re burning the candle at both ends on projects that do nothing to inspire you, that’s when burnout can really take hold. When this happens, find ways to make the jobs you’re working on more fun.

One creative approach used by copywriters and art directors is to challenge each other to get specific words or phrases into the ads, like trying to get “hot air balloon” or “goat rodeo” into dry copy about insurance. Make it a game regardless of the outcome. It may get rejected. It may pass without anyone noticing. It may even sell more product.

7. Work Away From Your Desk

A change of scenery can do you a world of good, even if you’re still working 12-hour shifts seven days a week. Most ad agencies will let you work remotely from time to time, especially if you’re looking for inspiration. Find a local coffee shop, museum, or park.

Avoid working from home. When you are experiencing burnout, you need to make every effort to separate work life from home life. The last thing you should be doing is bringing work home with you. That association compounds the problem, and before you know it, you associate home with the same feelings you have at work. Draw the line, and do not cross it.

8. Take Advantage of the FMLA Laws

Known as the Family and Medical Leave Act, FMLA is a federal law that guarantees certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year without the threat of job loss. It’s often used for a major life event, such as the birth of a child or significant illness. But severe burnout and mental stress can qualify as a reason to use FMLA protection.

See a doctor or psychologist, explain what is happening, and get written proof that you are unable to perform your duties to a satisfactory level due to your stress, burnout, and anxiety. Yes, the leave is unpaid, so you will have to weigh that against the amount of time off you take. In many cases, four weeks is more than enough to recharge and get back to your old self.

9. Get Plenty of Sleep, Exercise, and Eat Well

It goes without saying that when we get stressed, we look for ways to soothe and comfort. For many of us, that involves eating comfort foods, drinking alcohol, and collapsing on the sofa to binge-watch TV. However, those activities rarely cure burnout and, in fact, can make you feel worse. Don’t reach for the chips and the remote. Instead, create a plan to exercise more and eat healthier foods. Get a good eight hours of sleep every night. A few weeks, or months, of this and you will feel ready to take on the world.

10. Quit Your Job

As a last resort, if the stress is too much, you may have to quit. For some people, it’s a choice between quitting and finding a more reasonable way to earn a living, or persevering to the point of a breakdown. In that case, it’s really no choice at all. You cannot afford to become so mentally and physically ill that you end up incapacitated. So, find a way to quit.

Ideally, you’ll want to have another source of income lined up before you leave your job, and have enough of a gap between quitting the old job and starting the new one to refresh. But if it’s either quit or risk your sanity, then quit. You will find other ways to earn a living, be it freelancing, or finding a new career path altogether. In fact, some people quit to start a completely different line of work, and become happy and stress-free.

Burnout is serious and it's effects on your mental, emotional, and physical health shouldn't be underestimated. Do whatever you can to relax and recharge, and find a way to maintain a good work/life balance.