If you work as an association executive, you’re no stranger to long hours and hard work. It comes with the job. Annual meetings don’t run themselves, teams need leaders and new programs often need extra effort. But if your energy is constantly low, you view your work cynically or hypercritically, you find it hard to concentrate or you’re not sleeping well, you might be dealing with more than just overwork. You might be suffering from job burnout.
Burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis like the flu. Instead, it’s chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been managed well, and it can affect your physical, emotional, and mental health.
How to Identify Burnout
If you can identify burnout, you can develop strategies to change your situation and recover. The first step is to assess how you feel. Are you stressed or dealing with something more serious?
If you’re stressed at work, you might feel you have too much on your plate, and you simply work harder to get everything done. If burnout is the issue, however, the reverse is true. You may experience a lack of enthusiasm for getting anything done. You might be tired or plagued with headaches or muscle pain. You might notice your temper is short and your mood is generally darker than normal. You might be isolated and unable to meet your responsibilities.
Once you have identified the symptoms, you can start to examine your environment for possible causes.
Common Causes of Burnout
Check your work environment for stressors that can contribute to burnout:
- Lack of agency. Are you able to influence decisions about your job, such as your workload, assignments, or schedule?
- Lack of resources. Do you have what you need to do the job easily and well?
- Unstated expectations. It’s no secret that a lot of association staffers wear multiple hats. But, do you know what your supervisor expects of you? Which tasks are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves?
- Difficult workplace dynamics. Are you supported at work or do you feel undermined by colleagues? Is your boss a micromanager? Do you work with a bully?
- High energy requirements. Is your job chaotic or monotonous? Either situation can require constant energy to stay engaged – leading to fatigue and burnout.
- Network support. Are you isolated or do you have a network of friends, family, and coworkers to support you?
- All work, no play. Do you spend most of your time working? Do you lack the energy to interact with friends and family or develop hobbies?
Any of these causes can contribute to burnout. If you experience more than one, your burnout risk may be higher, as well. So what can you do?
What Can You Do About Burnout?
Sometimes, simply recognizing burnout can help you start to take action to make things better. Here are some strategies for dealing with burnout:
- Step back from your job. Take a vacation, if possible, or a few days off. Use your time away to evaluate your situation and develop strategies to mitigate the problems you face.
- Check-in with your boss. Even if it means having a conversation with your executive director – it’s important to check in to talk about changing expectations, adjusting work priorities, or other solutions.
- Seek support. Reach out to your support network of family, friends and co-workers. Consider joining an ASAE community to talk to other association staffers who might feel the same or who have overcome similar feelings! If you need extra help, reach out to a mental health professional.
- Restructure your workday. If possible, take a few minutes out of the office periodically during the day. Plan a coffee break. Take a walk. Treat yourself to lunch with friends.
- Exercise. You don’t have to train for a marathon, but if you can, take a walk or ride a bike. Take an exercise class or go for a swim.
- Plan an enjoyable activity. Sing, dance, paint, do yoga, arrange flowers, play golf, read, or do anything else that you enjoy.
- Sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep can help make everything easier.
- Be mindful. If you’re new to mindfulness, you might consider using an app to guide you in meditation or breathing exercises. Becoming more mindful can help you face situations openly and without judgment.
Finally, you might consider changing jobs within your current association or finding one with a different association. Not everyone can simply quit their job, but as you recover, you may discover new opportunities.
Ongoing Health Care
Whether or not you change jobs, your work to overcome burnout can help you understand yourself better and avoid burnout traps in the future. Aim for jobs, bosses, and cultures that will support you. Expect the best from yourself but learn to manage your workload and stress levels so that you have the support and satisfaction you need.
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.