JOB burnout is a common syndrome in today's pressure-cooker workplace, given the long hours many workers put in and the elevated stress levels that result.
One solution would be to quit and take a long break to re-evaluate life and work. Another, less radical option would be to take a short break to recuperate.
Ms Crystal Lim Leahy and her husband Mark nearly split up a few years ago because he was burned out from work. They saved their marriage by quitting their jobs and leaving their cushy life here to live in rural Australia.
Ms Leahy, 33, says they had reached the point where they no longer knew what life was about and they were unable to enjoy even the simple pleasure of watching their children grow up.
She was a banker turned headhunter who became an instant mother after she married Mark, who had a child from a previous marriage.
He had a 'highly stressful job as the managing director of a global investment bank - which meant constant travel, up to 20-hour workdays, conference calls on weekends and late at night, and being unable to turn off his phone even on holidays'.
'On holidays, instead of relaxing, we would look at buying property in the area where we were vacationing, discuss our financial portfolio, or quarrel or fret over the fact that no matter how much we had in the bank, it never seemed enough,' says Ms Leahy.
Their two-year break on Mornington Peninsula, not far from Melbourne - where there were no maids or chauffeur, but they did have four hectares of forest, a micro-vineyard, an orchard and a vegetable patch - provided the perfect tonic.
However, few people can afford a change on that scale. Also, quitting is not an easy option and not always possible.
You can consider less drastic steps, which can be effective too:
- Ask for a change within the organisation. It might involve a new project or task, a different area or a new team. This way, you would not run the risk of losing your income.
- Ask for help. If you have too much work and not enough time to complete it even though you are working nights and weekends, you can approach your superior to renegotiate your workload, says Mr David Leong, the managing director of human resources firm People Worldwide Consulting.
- Start an exciting or a fun project. This could fire up your enthusiasm for work in general.
- Hibernate in between big projects so you do not tire yourself out - that is, if you can.
- Take a sabbatical - again, only if your company or boss allows it and you can afford to.
- Do not think of a sabbatical as a beach vacation where you just sit around and do nothing. Take a course, or do volunteer work or something you have always wanted to do.
'For those who have worked too long and too hard, and are at a personal and professional crossroads, the best way to get fired up again is to stop and breathe. Once you're ready, move out of your burnout and jump back in with a new passion,' says Mr Leong.
- Go for short breaks. 'Most burnouts are temporary. Adequate rest and time off from the activities that led to the burnout typically do the trick,' says executive coach Paul Heng.
'People have varying levels of ability to bounce back from a burnout. For me, all it takes is a couple of days away from Singapore, doing nothing much except eat and rest.'
At one busy firm, the executive director does just that. When the stress gets to him, he takes an impromptu trip by himself to Vietnam, Thailand or some other place in the region.
- Go for a retreat - for yoga, meditation or emotional healing.
When things got rough, Ms Leahy and her husband attended a therapy retreat that put them through a programme called the Hoffman Process. It changed their lives and spurred their move to Australia, where she decided to start her own retreat business for senior executives called Legacy Process.
'Everyone seemed to be burned out and looking for direction,' she says. 'Not one person we knew in our social circle was truly happy despite the bonuses and luxurious lifestyles.'
She says she wants to use holistic therapy - combining physical, mental, emotional and spiritual approaches based on principles of psychotherapy, meditation and financial resource management - to help people discover how to put passion and purpose back into their lives.
She also wants to help them move towards a more meaningful work-life balance. 'Although many bankers know they want to leave the field after a certain period, it's scary for them to take the first step,' she says.
Her plan is to run a week-long residential retreat on the Mornington Peninsula four times a year.
It would not be for the average Joe, though. All included, the price would come to US$19,800 (about S$25,000) per head, although the first retreat, planned for August, will offer a 30 per cent discount.
'Burnout usually creates emotional exhaustion and de-personalisation at work. Recovery means recharging, and taking a new perspective on work and how to engage peers and superiors,' says Mr Leong.