If you’re considering quitting your job because of workplace stress, you have plenty of company.
Record numbers of American workers are saying enough is enough, frustrated by what they believe is low pay, little opportunity for advancement, not enough respect for the job they do and the struggle to balance work and personal life.
This workplace exodus — popularly called the “Great Resignation” — has strong links to our mental health and an increase in disorders like depression and anxiety, which have spiked since the pandemic began more than two years ago.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with changing jobs. But if you’re experiencing burnout, it’s also possible to stop short of joining the Great Resignation by improving your outlook on work and creating a healthier work and home balance.
The Great Resignation
Americans were quitting their jobs in big numbers well before the COVID-19 outbreak that began in the spring of 2020.
That percentage briefly tapered off in 2020, when the economy tanked and jobs became scarce. But the Great Resignation came roaring back in 2021 with a record-setting 47.8 million Americans leaving their jobs. And that trend is continuing in 2022. One survey found nearly half of the nation’s employees are seeking new jobs.
The big question, of course, is why so many people are willing to leave what may seem like safe, secure jobs and foray into the unknown.
Why Stress Is a Culprit
A key reason is stress, which is made worse by the pressure of a pandemic.
We naturally tend to approach reward and avoid punishment. But stress can turn that paradigm on its head.
Increased stress levels can make rewards seem less valuable. In other words, you might get a reward or plaudit at work but it seems less meaningful or fulfilling if you’re under a lot of stress.
Alternatively, chronic stress can reduce your sensitivity toward punishment and make you more impulsive. If stress is making work seem like punishment, you may be more willing to accept the unknown of new employment, or even no employment.
Coping with Stress and Burnout
One of the main contributors to feeling burned out at work is a lack of sleep. People suffering from chronic stress have a hard time sleeping, and that can affect your ability to concentrate and react. Sleep allows your brain to process and make sense of the day’s memories. It’s also fundamental to encoding learned information.
Without enough sleep, you can become irritable, less responsive and less engaged. Your work performance can suffer and cause even more stress and more burnout.
To get the rest you need:
- Put yourself on a sleep schedule and stick to it.
- Avoid stimulants like coffee late in the day, and don’t eat right before bed.
- Make sure your room is dark and quiet.
- Avoid using electronic devices in bed, due to the light spectrum they emit.
In addition to a good night’s rest, here are some other steps you can take to feel better about your job:
- Get yourself on a regular exercise schedule. It might mean walking, running, cycling, yoga — whatever works for your abilities and lifestyle.
- Improve your diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are far preferable to processed, sugary foods.
- Do breathing exercises at work, especially if you’re starting to feel anxious. Take a deep breath for 4 seconds, hold it for a couple of more seconds, then 4 seconds to let it out. You’ll be surprised how this simple exercise can reduce anxiety and promote calmness.
- If you work at a desk, whether at home or at an office, get up at regular intervals and take a walk.
- For employees who now work remotely, you might begin to feel disconnected from your co-workers. Make time to reconnect in a personal way.
- Be honest with your employer. Reach out and let them know things have gotten rough. If your workplace has an employee assistance plan, consider taking advantage of it.
What Employers Can Do
Employers have a responsibility to foster a mentally healthy workplace. It’s the right thing to do, and it helps keep employees from joining the Great Resignation.
Your workers need to feel that they’re being productive and should be regularly reminded that they’re doing amazing things every day.
Leadership means giving your employees time to recharge and coming up with ways to reward them for completing tasks.
It’s a difficult time for both employers and employees. By working together, you can increase job satisfaction and give workers a reason to stick with their jobs.
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