Professionals who work with people are educated over and over again about the concept of “burn-out” and how to avoid it. The problem with watching out for burn-out is that some professionals (myself included) skip burn-out and go straight to melt-down. Burn-out is harmful to health and may eventually (gradually) lead to career damage. Melt-down, however, is so sudden and explosive it can lead to instant damage to careers and personal damage (emotionally and physically).
How can one prevent melt-down? How is it possible to anticipate going from “I love my job, isn’t this fun” to “I’m quitting my job, leaving my family, and joining a commune” in a seemingly split second. While melt-down may not happen often (once in 3 years) the damage can undo three years of professional growth and reputation. The best advice I can give is to build in self-care in your day to day (and year to year) life (professionally and personally) and schedule self-care as mandatory not optional. For me, it’s forcing myself to take extended time off on a specific calendar time frame whether I want to or not.
In a previous job (following a melt-down where I basically left work suddenly after e-mailing my boss) only to slink back in on Monday to begin repairing the damage. Fortunately for me my boss attributed my melt-down to a recent surgery and overlooked it (mainly because I did have a very strong professional reputation). Following this incident, I forced myself to take off exactly 1 week every 6 months and that worked for that job.
Fast forward to now and my recent new job where I just love my work so much I convinced myself I did not need a full week off every 6 months or even every year. I cancelled my planned vacation in January and only took 3 days in conjunction with a weekend. I went on a cruise so I felt quality was worth more than quantity. Well–melt-down happened and fortunately I left my boss out of it and reached out to another senior member of management (a psychiatrist). I’m sure it was discussed with my boss with much filtering. As far as I can tell there was no harm done, I learned to enforce work boundaries better AND reinstitute my mandatory vacation plan. (If you’ve followed me for long, you’ll know that enforcing boundaries of any kind is extremely challenging for me.)
Back to my prevention plan! Given the responsibility of my job, the innate stress, and the significant amount of overtime involved, I have implemented a new time-off pattern of one week every 4 months (instead of 6 months). For this particular time in my life that will be what it takes. Keep in mind, if I do take three weeks a year off, I will still forfeit leave at the end of the fiscal year-or I can donate it to someone else (so this isn’t an unreasonable amount of time off for this work-place). Either way, my career, professional standing, and health, is too important to risk losing it to become a beach bum following another melt-down situation.