4 steps to kickstart your job hunt while dealing with burnout

Nov 28, 2022

4 mins

4 steps to kickstart your job hunt while dealing with burnout
Sydney Pereira

Sydney Pereira is a writer and journalist based in New York City,

Burnout can leave you exhausted, cynical, and with less capacity to do your job effectively, according to the World Health Organization. But your burnout—or work-related stress that hasn’t quite escalated to burnout—doesn’t take a break if you’re looking for a new gig. Making a careful job search plan will be critical if you’re among the three in five US employees who report negative impacts on their life due to work stress, or one in five workers who are somewhat or very likely looking for a new job in the next six months.

Let’s be clear about burnout: the research firm Gallup says burnout is highly correlated with management problems, like unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workload, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and support from a manager, and unreasonable time pressure. And while it’s not your fault you burned out, you hold the power to take action in your own life to recover and prevent future burnout.

Cait Donovan, a keynote speaker about burnout and host of FRIED, The Burnout Podcast, notes that an individual approach through self-care may not solve widespread burnout within an organization. But, she says, “Is it going to be a major part of this individual person that’s standing in front of me recovering? Yes.” Here’s what else Donovan recommends.

Find what drains you

Before you begin looking for a job, Donovan suggests starting a “resentment journal” to find the specific parts of your life that are draining you. Then, scrap them from your daily life. “You’ll need to look at what’s happening in your day-to-day life and get rid of as many things as humanly possible,” Donovan says. Write down every aspect of your current or former job that was draining, irritating, or making you roll your eyes. “Those are the things that are costing you the most energy.”

This may look a bit like “quiet quitting”—the concept of when workers take a step back from going above and beyond in their jobs that, although far from a new concept, went viral on TikTok earlier this year. In the long term, doing the bare minimum at work is not a good idea for your mental health and morale, as well as the company or your colleagues, says Donovan. But while searching for a job in a short-term scenario, finding ways to cut back on how much energy you put into your job could be useful if you’re burned out while looking for a new job.

You should also assess what caused you to burn out, to begin with. Make a list of what was internal—such as keeping your email notifications on after hours, offering to work holidays, or signing up for extra tasks like managing a book club or baking cookies for the office holiday party. Take note of the external factors that weighed on you, too. Was it a micromanaging boss? A bullying workplace culture? These self-reflections will help you figure out what is sapping your energy and what to avoid in a new company.

Set “internal boundaries”

Before you find a new job you may have to stick it out in your current role a while longer and therefore need to find a way to minimize the effects of burnout. Setting boundaries is one way to do this, but it can be challenging when it requires you to confront someone—especially if that person is your boss. Start with the boundaries you can set that don’t require you to explicitly state them to another person. Instead, change your behavior first.

“If you’re pissed when you get emails at nine o’clock, stop checking your emails after 6 p.m.,” Donovan says. “You don’t have to tell anybody you’re doing that. That doesn’t have to be announced. That’s not a discussion. You hold boundaries that will help you that don’t need to be discussed with anyone else.” Find aspects of your job that aren’t required of you that you can cut back on without announcing it. “It’s possible no one will notice.” Doing so will give you the time and mental capacity to look for a new job—one that aligns with your values.

Make quality a priority

You may feel a lot of urgency to secure a new job as soon as possible, especially with mass layoffs rampant and a recession looming. One 2022 survey from the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors found 70% of millennials and Gen Z reported financial stress was affecting work productivity.

But that shouldn’t mean sacrificing the quality of your job search, whether it’s investing time into a stellar cover letter or investigating an organization’s time off policies. “You can’t possibly do that when you’re exhausted and filling out 20 applications a day,” Donovan says. Take breaks if you find yourself disengaging or dealing with a health issue that requires time away from the job applications. Donovan says: “If every single job [advertisement] you read sounds like torture, it’s time to step away.”

Schedule rest

Set aside time throughout your day to do restful and restorative activities. Donovan says that could look like letting yourself sleep in without an alarm to wake you. You may also find it helpful to build in a restful, sleep-like meditation called “non-sleep deep rest,”—a concept that Andrew Huberman, a neurobiologist researcher at Stanford Medicine, says he coined as an umbrella term for yoga nidra or hypnosis.

“You should be planning in sessions of deep rest during your day, and then adding in the job search in between,” Donovan says. “We put the job search as the very top priority, and then we get overwhelmed, and then we get into those coping mechanisms.” That could be scrolling social media for hours or binge-watching Netflix.

Donovan suggests starting with three 45-minute time blocks per day when you start your job search. That might not sound like much compared to an 8-, 9-, or even 10-hour workday you’re used to. But burnout can lead to a variety of physical and mental health symptoms, according to a 2014 paper in Burnout Research. And you should take them seriously. “Your body needs a break. Your brain needs a break,” Donovan says.

Key takeaways

Recovering from burnout will take time—three months to a year, according to the online therapy clinic, iPractice—and you shouldn’t rush back into the job hunt if it means starting a new job burnt out. Think of when you’re on an airplane: the flight attendant will always remind you that, in the case of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself, first, before helping others. Applying the “put your own mask on first” mentality to your recovery will help you thrive—in the long term—and keep your mental wellbeing a top priority. By evaluating where you’re at in your burnout recovery and creating a rebound plan to get back on track, you can set yourself up for success in your new job, whenever that comes.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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