Unlit: Burnout in Librarians

Unlit: Burnout in Librarians

We’ve all been there at least once. The day has been frustrating, an endless parade of ridiculousness, and your choice of beverage isn’t helping. There are a thousand emails and a full voicemail inbox. That project you were working on isn’t going as planned, either. You want to go home or to wherever relaxation is. I like to cuddle with my kid, have some Cheetos, and shop online. Others unwind with a glass of something, knitting, a hot bath, etc. Unfortunately, the battle against burnout is common, and everyone deals with it differently. Defined by Alison Green of “Ask a Manager” as “being a very particular type of stress that causes the sufferer to feel physically and emotionally drained and unable to perform at work at the same rate that they had been able to in the past.” It’s existed forever, but the term was officially coined in “the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions.” Though helping professions usually refer to medical professionals, it also applies to librarians.

Causes of burnout, according to the article “Library Burnout: It’s Common and Okay to Admit!“, “…include having unreasonable expectations, having an overwhelming and unsustainable workload, having trauma somehow associated with work, being disengaged from the work, passive-aggressive workplaces, and poor work-life culture. Additional factors can be poor communication, ineffective management, or unassertive workers (who may not be communicating their own ideas or needs).” Indeed listed several factors of burnout causes as well, and they are in alignment with what the other sources have said:

  • Lack of control over your work

  • Excessive workload

  • Unclear job goals or expectations

  • Lack of manager support or recognition

  • Unchallenging or monotonous work

  • Working in a stressful environment

  • Having different values than the company

If you aren’t sure if you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout, take a look at the following list from the ALA of what to look out for. It was created by Dawn Rosenberg McKay, a career planning expert who ran a job information center at a large public library for five years and has identified several symptoms of burnout:

      • Source: Library Burnout: Causes, Symptoms, Solutions

        • fatigue

        • irritability

        • crying jags

        • anxiety attacks

        • loss of appetite

        • weight gain due to lack of exercise or overeating in reaction to stress

        • teeth grinding

        • insomnia

        • nightmares

        • increased drug, alcohol, or tobacco use

        • forgetfulness

        • low productivity

        • inability to concentrate

Many of those symptoms can be attributed to physiological or psychological conditions. It could be burnout if they are recurrent while at work and not away from work. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step toward a solution. There are three signs indicating burnout:

  • Physical signs: Physical signs of burnout may include frequent tiredness, headaches and body aches.

  • Emotional signs: Burnout may affect your emotions by severely reducing feelings of accomplishment, fulfillment, and self-approval. It may cause a decrease in motivation, optimism, and positivity.

  • Behavioral signs: Behavioral changes may include a lack of desire to socialize at work or increased procrastination. It might also include a decrease in punctuality and responsibility.

Once you’ve determined you’re burned out, the next step is to find ways to battle it. However, you won’t need to fight if you can prevent it from the get-go. McKay lists some great ways librarians can both battle and prevent future burnout:

  • Use your vacation time, lunch breaks, etc. Get away from the job when you can.

  • Know your limitations. Don’t be a perfectionist.

  • Go home on time. Don’t stay late.

  • Don’t take work home with you. Set realistic limits and keep to them.

  • Identify activities that help you relax and make time for them. Take a class, exercise, develop a new hobby. (Employers—if you offer tuition reimbursement, make sure your employees know about it.)Beware of “preparing to live syndrome” (PtLs). Valerie Railey, writing for the AALL Spectrum, a publication of the American Association of Law Libraries, says workers who suffer from PtLS envision “a future point at which all will come together” instead of focusing on non-work related goals now (2008, 41).

  • Develop a network of supportive family and friends. You are entitled to a life outside of your job.

  • Ask for new job duties. Maybe a lateral move (to a new boss, new duties, new co-workers) would help your situation.

  • Consider a job change. Is it a case of “right profession, wrong organization”? Or is a career change in order?

If you find that you’re still burned out after doing everything you can to remedy the problem, it can sometimes be best to make a more significant change, as McKay suggests. I know many people, including myself, who have made considerable changes in jobs, relationships, etc. Librarians are multifaceted in their skill sets, so if your current role is determined to be the problem, it may be ideal to search for something else. However, you might consider some self-reflection if it isn’t the role or the colleagues related to it. I did this, and it was immensely helpful. I even found that joining a support group online was a great way to see how like-minded individuals coped with stressors.

Burnout is common, but it doesn’t have to be. What are some good ways you’ve prevented or addressed burnout?