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Feeling Chronically Unappreciated Can Lead to Burnout

You may work too many hours, too many weekends, and too many lousy shifts. You may be losing sleep, gaining weight, and wondering if you have better options. In today's economy, it makes sense to take a serious look at what you don't like about your job and how you can fix it. You may find things aren't as bad as you think.

The broad picture looks good, at first glance. According to Gallup, 83 percent of U.S. workers are satisfied with their jobs. Generally, employees are satisfied with the workplace itself (91 percent), coworkers (92 percent), the hours assigned (87 percent) and even their immediate boss (81 percent).1

But five out of 10 workers are totally dissatisfied with how their accomplishments are recognized (number one is on-the-job stress).1

Although Gallup reports that American workers are generally satisfied, economic upheaval and changes in the labor market have lowered percentages several points since 2008.2 If two-thirds of workers don't feel appreciated, that makes the outlook even gloomier. "When you feel that your boss doesn't fully value your work, you start to care a little less," stated author Liz Jazwiec.3

A paradigm shift has occurred since the mid-20th century, when loyalty was built on expectations of a long-term relationship with an employer. Today's workers want consideration, coaching, understanding, and advancement. As a result, says Kelly Services, the number one reason people want to leave a job is that they feel unrecognized and unappreciated.4

This shift in attitude is carried to an extreme in a 2000 story in a United Kingdom newspaper about George Turklebaum, a New York City proofreader, found dead at his desk in an office shared with 23 coworkers. The 51-year old man had died of a heart attack on Monday, but no one noticed for five days. His boss reportedly commented, "He was always absorbed in his work."5

Are You Appreciated?
Certainly, none of us wants to end up like poor George Turklebaum, urban legend or not. But feeling chronically unappreciated can lead to burnout, a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Burnout can hurt your health and family, and its root cause needs to be addressed. Clues to burnout include:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You're exhausted.
  • Most of your time at work is spent on tasks either boring or overwhelming.
  • You feel that nothing you do makes a difference.

Signs and symptoms of burnout, of which feeling unappreciated is one cause, according to one online resource are listed in the Table.6

Praise Tops the List
Knowing you're down is the easy part. Whether your employer doesn't show appreciation for your work or you're convinced your work is unrecognized, you can feel miserable. And once you attach your emotional well-being to a job, it's almost easier to feel unappreciated. No one else, after all, knows how much effort you expend.

Employers who believe that tangible rewards (e.g., benefits) create the most satisfaction are missing the obvious. While "happiness" is highly individual - for example, you can like your profession but dislike the company you work for - praise is at the top of a wants list for many.

As one San Francisco university marketing professor points out, "Praise does not cost anything to give, but its benefits on employee morale are priceless."7

Employer efforts to motivate appreciation can even worsen matters, what one business consultant coins "motivation by pizza." He states, "most of the standard motivational tools like promotions, bonuses, employee of the month awards, pep-talks and free-pizza-nights" leave workers "feeling manipulated, cynical, and demotivated."8 Increasing incentives are needed with time; as soon as the incentive is removed the motivation disappears.

TABLE: ARE YOUR UNAPPRECIATED? SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BURNOUT6

Physical Emotional Behavioral
  • Feeling tired and drained
  • Feeling sick a lot (lower immunity)
  • Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches
  • Change in appetite
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, defeated
  • Detatched and feeling alone
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating oneself
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs or alcohol to cope
  • Taking out frustrations on others
  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

Be Appreciated

This doesn't let your employer off the hook. There is plenty your employer can and should be doing to make you feel more appreciated outside policies and programs: written notes of gratitude, items published in a company newsletter, monetary incentives and opportunities for advancement.9 A personal interest doesn't hurt, either. Most of these techniques cost little.

But if your boss gives you the silent treatment and your organization leaves you feeling cold and uncared for, you can take action, too. A writer for a popular job search site offers the following tips:

  • Don't blame your employer. If you are underpaid and working longer hours, you can ask for a raise, supplement your income or start looking for another job. You are responsible for your income, not your employer.
  • Be proactive. Being overlooked in your job may have nothing to do with you. Tough economic times create stress at every level in an organization, and management is often consumed with "big picture" concerns. Give your boss regular updates on what you're doing to remind him or her you're eager to succeed and deserve to be recognized.
  • Focus on career development. Employers often see employees who want to constantly learn new skills as an investment. Seek educational opportunities, ask to be included in committees and initiatives, and suggest special projects. Chances are there is more than enough opportunity.
  • Support your hospital. Appreciation is a two-way street. During an economic downturn, employers expect employees to support the organization. It won't hurt to pitch in and help to make your hospital's vision successful.
  • Take care of No. 1. If you experience symptoms of burnout more often than not, it's time to do something about it. Avoiding gossip, taking walks during lunch, eating healthy snacks, and taking rest breaks are good ways to recharge your energy levels. Consider taking advantage of employee assistance programs, typically available at little or no cost.10

Being unhappy in your job can make you miserable, unproductive and less likely to be appreciated. If being unappreciated is the reason for your plight, this can create a viscious cycle. By paying attention to signs and symptoms and proactively making sure you are of noticeable value to your employer, you can get the recognition you deserve, leading to a happier workplace and better patient care.

Scott Warner is lab manager at Penobscot Valley Hospital, Lincoln, Maine.

References

  1. Gallup News Service. Gallup poll social series: Work and education. Available at: www.gallup.com/poll/149336/Americans-Satisfaction-Various-Aspects-Jobs-PDF.aspx. Last accessed Sept. 18, 2011.
  2. Mendes E. U.S. job satisfaction struggles to recover to 2008 levels. Available at: www.gallup.com/poll/147833/Job-Satisfaction-Struggles-Recover-2008-Levels.aspx. Last accessed Sept. 18, 2011.
  3. Small Business Digest. Two-thirds of workers don't feel appreciated. Available at: www.2sbdigest.com/Make-Workers-Feel-Appreciated. Last accessed Sept. 18, 2011.
  4. Kellyit. Five reasons people leave employers. Available at: www.kellyit.com/eprise/main/web/us/hr_manager/articles_june08_thetopfivereasons. Last accessed Sept. 18, 2011.
  5. Snopes. Working stiff. Available at: www.snopes.com/horrors/gruesome/fivedays.asp. Last accessed Sept. 18, 2011.
  6. Helpguide. Preventing burnout. Available at: www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm. Last accessed Sept. 18, 2011.
  7. Gardner M. Seven things employees want most to be happy at work. Available at: www.csmonitor.com/Business/2008/0128/p13s03-wmgn.html. Last accessed Sept. 18, 2011.
  8. Kjreulf A. Why "motivation by pizza" doesn't work. Available at: http://positivesharing.com/2006/12/why-motivation-by-pizza-doesnt-work. Last accessed Sept. 18, 2011.
  9. Essortment. How to make employees feel appreciated. Available at: www.essortment.com/make-employees-feel-appreciated-25908.html. Last accessed Sept. 18, 2011.
  10. Hering B. Feeling overlooked at work? How to get the kudos you deserve. Available at: http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-1500-Getting-Ahead-Feeling-Overlooked-at-Work-How-to-Get-the-Props-You-Deserve. Last accessed Sept. 18, 2011.

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