You pushed yourself in college to get the best grades possible, sacrificed your free time for grades and graduated with plenty of debt. Your motivation, however, pushed you to quickly climb the corporate ladder in pursuit of fortune and approval from your peers. Your corporate finance position comes with a price tag of 60-plus hours of work per week, and your weekends are spent exercising your thumb muscles on a Blackberry, reading work-related literature, and, generally, burning the midnight oil whenever your company demands it.
If you have an overbearing fear that leaving early exposes you as a target for the vice presidents and partners, and tend to disregard sources of stress as "passing inconveniences," you could be a prime candidate for burnout.
Signs of Burnout
For anyone working at the big financial firms, the tendency to stay very late is seen as a perverse bragging right on "industriousness," but this can only go on so long before symptoms of burnout emerge. These include:
- "zombie-esque" feeling
- emotional and mental exhaustion
- cynical and apathetic feelings
- frustrated and irritated feelings
- feelings of inadequacy
Unfortunately, burnout can lead to common and negative scenarios specific to finance employees and managers:
- Unnecessarily short tenures at what would have otherwise been a fruitful career track at a bulge bracket firm or a well-regarded corporate finance department.
- Irritability or lack of motivation within the context of a team environment. These are hardly traits that inspire decision-makers to place you in roles of managerial or leadership responsibility.
- Apathy and unhealthy levels of cynicism in social settings. People may nod at your statements, but will cringe or be repelled by your fleeting views.
- Lost friendships and relationships. Not spending enough quality time with your loved ones results in lost relationships. Additionally, being overwhelmed with work means that you are constantly talking about yourself and your circumstances. Friendships and relationships are a two-way street.
- Negative health consequences, such as weight gain, increased heart risk, drug use or compulsive behavior.
Here are 10 powerful steps that you can take immediately in order to prevent burnout:
- Diet and Exercise
Ordering late-night pizza three days a week won't cut it. Sure, it's coming out of the CFO's budget – under "miscellaneous expenses," but you're paying with your health.
Take the stairs, walk briskly and create the time to undergo 30-minute exercise routines every other day to avoid the weight gain that can often accompany high-stress lifestyles.
- Outsource and Delegate
Lack of perceived time and high volume of work can easily lead to burnout. If you are hard-pressed for time - and most finance professionals are - outsource and delegate as much as you possibly can.
Find out if concierge services are offered in your contract, to ease the everyday tasks that you can't find time for. If those services are not offered, consider researching online to identify grocery delivery services or hiring a dependable college student or part-time personal assistant to run various non-work related errands.
- Fight for Sleep Time
This is simple enough; you can burn out if you don't get enough sleep, so you've got to proactively fight for your sleep time. And no, coffee is not a viable alternative for rest and relaxation. Remember, there is no substitute for seven-plus hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Complicating your approach to problem solving can lead to burnout. The most successful business executives and historical leaders boil things down to core issues.
- Cut Off the Time Thief
While it's important to maintain good relationships with coworkers, avoid spending too much time socializing when you're on the clock. Cutting off the "time thief" saves valuable time, so try to steer clear of drawn out water-cooler chit chat and in-office gambling pools that could keep you away from your desk. (In addition, learn more about how to increase your productivity by reading Dealing With 10 Coworker Personality Conflicts.)
Besides idle conversations at work irrelevant to these deliverables, time thieves clog your inbox and voice mails with low ROI emails and messages. If you sense that someone is wasting your time, move on.
- Become Inspired
Being burned out can lead you to feeling "zombie-esque," apathetic and cynical. Unfortunately, these are not inspiring traits that cause one to be vaulted to positions of managerial and leadership responsibility. Go online and read inspirational stories, examples and quotes from people that you admire, as inspiration is one truly authentic way to revitalize yourself and get your juices going.
- Disciplined Breaks
Every hour or so of good, fast-paced work, take a five-minute break. Walk to the bathroom or water cooler, just sit at your desk and close your eyes or read inspiring business quotes online. Alternatively, you can be thankful and grateful that you have a great job when dozens of other qualified people out there would gladly take it if the opportunity were presented. This temporary mental break, which goes on a recurring basis throughout the day, can help you prevent feeling overwhelmed or rushed.
- Weekend Retreats and Vacations
Finance imprints a large chunk of number-crunching processes in your mind. Weekend retreats are your mini-vacations, the two-day escape from the quantitative world into the qualitative world – a time to smell the roses. Weekends are also simply a time to catch up on sleep, and tune out the information overload.
You should also try to space out your vacation time, so that you can take approximately one week of vacation every three to five months, depending on your work levels during that period. Have a reserve week, in case of emergencies.
- Find Someone to Confide In
Having a close friend provides you with a mental and emotional outlet. A confidant enables you to "blow off steam" from time to time by sharing your concerns, and by getting some outside feedback. A friend with other complementary interests can also take you away from your (often unfounded) concerns, and away from that narrow focus on calculations and mind-numbing work details. (Also consider if the city you're living in is right for you, read Top 10 Cities For A Career in Finance to learn more.)
- Quiet Personal Time / Reconnecting to Self / Meditation / Prayer
Personal quiet time of at least 15 minutes, either in the beginning or at the end of each day, serves as your mental and emotional "trash bin" to delete all the data clogs and other junk in your brain. This is the time to reconnect with your self and slow down your life, even if only for a few minutes.
If you feel overworked and burned out, corrective action should be taken immediately. Otherwise, you are risking losing your job, suffering a breakdown or losing important friendships. These approaches can significantly improve the quality of your workday, and in the long-term, will make you a more productive and happier finance professional.